Utah lawmakers pass bill for new downtown NBA/NHL arena after last-minute changes

Mar 1, 2024, 10:52 AM | Updated: Apr 16, 2024, 9:22 pm

A rendering of a new Utah Jazz/National Hockey League arena in Salt Lake City that team owner Ryan ...

A rendering of a new Utah Jazz/National Hockey League arena in Salt Lake City that team owner Ryan Smith released on Tuesday. A bill that would pave the way for the new arena in the future cleared the Utah Legislature on Friday. (Ryan Smith, X)

(Ryan Smith, X)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers have approved a bill that paves the way for a new arena in downtown Salt Lake City that could be the home of the Utah Jazz and a potential National Hockey League team.

Utah senators voted 22-4 Friday to concur with changes that the House of Representatives made to SB272 Thursday night before the House voted 50-20 to approve the measure. The bill now heads to Gov. Spencer Cox’s desk for final approval.

Rep. Jon Hawkins, R-Pleasant Grove, the bill’s House sponsor, introduced a substitution on Thursday that tweaked the name from a reinvestment to a revitalization zone. It also adds new language tied to downtown safety concerns, including new public safety, homelessness mitigation, transportation and parking plans for the zone.

However, Hawkins said changes don’t change the essence of the bill. It still sets up the framework for an NBA or NHL owner — such as Ryan Smith and the Smith Entertainment Group — to approach Salt Lake City and the state and agree to a plan to revitalize the area, including with a new arena for the Utah Jazz and an NHL franchise.

Updates to places like the Salt Palace Convention Center or Abravanel Hall could also be included. All government-related funds would be covered through bonds issued by either by the city, county or state on top of any private funds directed toward investment.

Those entities will now work together to produce a master plan for those changes, which would be approved by both the Salt Lake City Council and a zone committee that would be formed.

“With the Olympics coming in 10 years or so, we want our capital city to be vibrant, to be a great place for families to come and enjoy to offer — not only as a city, but as a state,” Hawkins said. “It brings our capital to life again.”

Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, the bill’s sponsor, didn’t debate the changes and there was very little discussion of the bill before Friday’s vote. The Senate had voted 21-7 on Tuesday to advance the bill to the House before it was amended, requiring a Senate revote.

He had previously adjusted the bill to allow for Salt Lake City to opt into a 0.5% sales tax increase that would be dedicated to the zone if it so chooses. That’s estimated to generate $54 million to $83 million annually, depending on if it’s imposed just in Salt Lake City or across three qualifying cities, according to state legislative financial analysts.

Smith, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson celebrated the bill’s passage after endorsing it throughout the legislative process.

The three said they believe the state needs a “thriving downtown in its capital city” so it can continue to blossom, in a joint statement shortly after the Senate’s vote.

“With today’s passage of the Capital City Reinvestment Zone bill, we are poised to invest deeply in Salt Lake City’s downtown experience,” the statement reads in part. “There’s a lot of work ahead of us, and we’re thrilled to have this seminal opportunity to partner together to reimagine the downtown experience — to create a comprehensive, visionary plan that generates a vibrant, safe, and fully activated downtown.”

Downtown Salt Lake City’s population is still projected to double in the coming years as it becomes increasingly residential again. At the same time, the trio said they believe there’s an opportunity to build on existing experiences.

That includes keeping the Utah Jazz downtown and potentially bringing in an NHL team on top of other arts, culture and entertainment opportunities, including the latest Broadway shows, “world-renowned concerts,” and global events like the 2034 Winter Olympics, Smith, Mendenhall and Wilson said.

“This is a great day for all Utahns and we look forward to continued collaboration toward our goal of creating an unrivaled experience in downtown Salt Lake City,” they wrote.

The bill also received another major endorsement on the penultimate day of the legislative session, before the two chambers voted. Doug Andersen, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said the church supported any efforts that ensure Utah’s capital city “remains vibrant and attractive, both for those who live and work here as well as those who visit.”

The church’s headquarters, Temple Square and other properties are all near the arena and reinvestment district.

“We’re pleased with the potential this has to refresh and revitalize downtown Salt Lake City while presenting a safe and family-friendly gathering place for generations to come,” Andersen told KSL in a statement.

SB272 was passed two days after HB562 cleared the Utah Legislature, setting up a similar structure for Salt Lake City’s Fairpark neighborhood and the framework for a potential Major League Baseball stadium. Cox has until March 21 to sign or veto either bill.

Contributing: Lindsay Aerts, KSL TV

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Utah lawmakers pass bill for new downtown NBA/NHL arena after last-minute changes