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SLC's tallest buildings, ticket fees for housing and more in NHL arena development deal

Posted at 7:54 PM, Jul 02, 2024

SALT LAKE CITY — A proposal before the Salt Lake City Council would allow building heights to rise to a stunning 600 feet in the downtown sports, arts and entertainment district that would house a remodeled National Hockey League team arena.

It was one of many parts of a wide-ranging briefing Tuesday on the multi-billion dollar downtown district surrounding the Delta Center. The district would run from the Delta Center east toward Abravanel Hall and the Salt Palace.

"We have lots of options," said Mike Maughan, an executive with Smith Entertainment Group, which owns both the Utah Jazz and the new Utah Hockey Club. "This is because we’re invested in Salt Lake City, we’re invested in this community and we’re invested in the state of Utah."

Proposed zoning would include an increase in large electronic signs, which some council members expressed concerns from their constituents about. An eyebrow-raising heliport has been designated "conditional." While the Smith Entertainment Group proposed "unlimited" building heights, Salt Lake City staffers recommended a 600-foot cap with council approval on designs of any building over 75 feet.

That would still be the tallest buildings in the city, but Smith Entertainment Group didn't commit to building that big.

"I think it’s important for everybody to have that kind of flexibility as we look at what’s possible," Maughan told FOX 13 News.

Council Chair Victoria Petro said she was not concerned about the height, noting that building vertically needs to happen.

"Going high is not a super concern for me even though I empathize with people who don’t like it," she said Tuesday. "The truth is, we're just like Manhattan but instead of rivers boxing us in, it’s mountains."

On Tuesday, Mayor Erin Mendenhall showed the council a draft agreement between Smith Entertainment Group and the city. The deal would keep both the Jazz and the Utah Hockey Club downtown for at least 30 years. If they depart early? Smith Entertainment Group (owned by billionaires Ryan and Ashley Smith) would owe Salt Lake City potentially hundreds of millions of dollars.

"It's a true negotiation," Mayor Mendenhall told reporters on Tuesday. "I feel great about the public benefits, about the security of the teams, about the revitalization, about so much more than the Delta Center."

The proposed agreement includes protections for JapanTown, which has faced threats of the wrecking ball before. Located behind the Salt Palace, there would be efforts to preserve the church and other historic buildings.

"With anything there’s always going to be some negative impacts," Jani Iwamoto, a former state senator who represents the Japanese Community Preservation Committee, told FOX 13 News. "But I think the city has tried really hard to help with this and SEG, too."

The fate of Abravanel Hall and the Salt Palace would be part of separate negotiations Smith Entertainment Group must undertake with Salt Lake County, which owns those facilities.

The proposed deal gives SEG control over a pair of "gathering spaces" including walkways and rights of way within the special district. However, they must submit to nondiscriminatory laws. SEG must also agree to create a space for Salt Lake City police and security to work out of if someone is arrested there and invest $5 million in public art.

"What is fantastic about this agreement is the ticket fee that was a point of our serious negotiation," Mayor Mendenhall said.

The proposed fee ranges from $1 to $3 on any ticket sold at the Delta Center. The money is earmarked for a special fund for affordable housing and public art that can be used citywide.

Still to be decided is a .5% sales tax hike that the Utah State Legislature authorized to help develop the downtown district and lure an NHL team to Utah. That could pump $900 million into the development plan (SEG intends to invest billions of its own in the construction). The Salt Lake City Council could vote on that as early as next week. The Utah State Legislature appears to have the final say on any agreement and tax deal.

While optimistic, Salt Lake City Council member Darin Mano confessed he is nervous with such a big vote pending.

"I'm still nervous about the outcome of this and making sure we’re not making mistakes or repeating mistakes and I hope my fears are unwarranted," he said. "But I'm nervous still."

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