LOCAL NEWS

Ryan and Ashley Smith have a vision for future of downtown, and believe it’s possible

Jul 9, 2024, 10:36 PM | Updated: Jul 10, 2024, 6:56 pm

 SALT LAKE CITY — Ryan and Ashley Smith are building professional sports teams.

Their teams recently completed the NBA and NHL drafts, and as owners, they have become community leaders who have a vision for the future of downtown Salt Lake City. The Smith Entertainment Group and the Salt Lake City Council agreed on what the city would receive from ticket sales.

Meet the couple trying to revitalize Salt Lake City: Ashley and Ryan Smith

The kitchen table

Many of the big decisions the Smiths have made over the years have come from one place — their kitchen table.

“A lot of them, yes, they do,” said Ryan Smith, chairman of the Smith Entertainment Group.

Ashley Smith, co-owner of Smith Entertainment Group, said the area lends itself to focusing on discussions.

“It didn’t happen intentionally but now, it is a place where we come together and shut everything else out,” Ashley Smith said.

SLC Council votes to endorse downtown redevelopment plan with tax increase

“We also chose a round table,”  Ryan Smith said. “Because we all want to be able to look at each other.”

He was speaking of their family of five children.

“There’s a feeling that we’re all together and having one conversation,” Ryan Smith said.

Many of the big decisions Ryan and Ashley Smith have made have come at the kitchen table. (KSL TV)

Decision to purchase the Jazz

The decision to purchase the Utah Jazz came at the kitchen table. In 2017, the Smiths said they realized their lives revolved around basketball. All seven members of the Smith family were all in.

“She’s like, all we do is go to basketball,” Ryan Smith said. “We go to Jazz games, BYU games, go to UVU games, like we are out doing basketball and our kids are playing. Like our lives are basketball. It really became clear that like that was a big focus, and we wanted to get involved with the NBA.”

However, the Smiths said they were told it’s nearly impossible to become an owner of an NBA team.

“No one gets the team they cheer for growing up,” Ryan Smith said, but the Smiths did. Majority ownership happened in the fall of 2020.

A rarity in team sports

Ashley Smith is one of the few female team owners in the sports industry.

“It’s such an incredible opportunity to be stewards of this organization, but there is a lot to sacrifice as well and especially with our children,” Ashley Smith said. “I very vividly remember sitting where you’re sitting, and Ryan sitting here, kind of saying, can it be a vehicle for growth and for improvement and for community and for all of these greater things, although we love basketball.”

Ashley Smith, co-owner of Smith Entertainment Group, said her family has the same vision and focus for the Utah Hockey Club as they do for the Utah Jazz. (KSL TV)

Ashley Smith said they have the same vision and focus for the Utah Hockey Club.

“The NHL completely made sense because it’s another vehicle for growth and another exciting side of Utah,” Ashley Smith said.

Ryan Smith added, “If you’d have told us at the beginning of the year, that we’d be sitting here with a hockey puck dropping in Utah in less than 100 days, it was on no one’s bingo card. We’re kind of looking at why is all this happening, right? I think the world of sports, entertainment, arts and culture, they’re a huge part of the community. This is a way for people to come together.”

Future of pro teams in Salt Lake City

All of these plans will include keeping the Utah Jazz and the new Utah Hockey Club in Salt Lake City.

“We live south (of Salt Lake City). It would be a lot easier for us, a lot more economical,” Ryan Smith said. “However, as part of that mission of Utah, as part of the arts, as part of entertainment, as part of that, it’s the right thing to do for our state, to be able to actually create this city that can breathe all the way through, from east to west.”

Ryan Smith is talking about the plan from the Smith Entertainment Group to create a corridor from the Delta Center to City Creek.

“Downtown should be the number one place where a business goes to have success and we’ve got a ways to go for that,” Ryan Smith said. “We’ve made a lot of progress. (Salt Lake City) Mayor (Erin) Mendenhall has been incredible, (Salt Lake County) Mayor (Jenny) Wilson’s been incredible. They, everyone, wants the same thing, and it’s just about executing and getting together and doing it.”

“I think the world of sports and entertainment and arts and culture. They’re a huge part of the community. This is a way for people to come together,” said Ryan Smith, chairman Smith Entertainment Group. (KSL TV)

“And so, that’s one of the things I love about the state, as we’ve gone through this and we’ve seen everyone kind of pulling in the same direction, it’s pretty exciting. We don’t speak for the state. That’s not our role. We do have influence over what we work on, and it is a big microphone, and we’re not afraid to use it, because it should be used. That’s why you have it there. It should be used to do good,” Ryan Smith said.

‘Do good and improve’

“I think my hope for our children is that they learn they can make a change,” Ashley Smith said. “They learn that the end goal of everything should be to do good and improve so and that you’re only going to get there through hard work and failure. So that would be, for me, what our children will learn from this is seeing the hard work, the fear, the uncertainty going anyway, all in the name of growth and unity.”

The Smiths also recognize the passion many people have for parts of this redevelopment, particularly Abravanel Hall  a county-owned building whose future is ultimately in the hands of Mayor Jenny Wilson and the Salt Lake County Council.

“We think it’s crazy that there is a narrative out there that we’re not supportive of the arts.  Abravanel Hall needs to be there in one form or another, as part of this, it’s incredible,” Ryan Smith said. “We want the arts there; we want something nice. We want (somewhere) that people can gather there, and Abravanel is a great piece of the culture in the city.”

Whether it’s the arts or sports, the Smiths said, the idea is to bring people together.

“I want the whole state holding up trophies,” Ryan Smith said. “If that happens, which we’re pretty confident it’s going to, everyone’s a part of it, that’s how we feel. This is a labor of love.”

They imagine a revitalized downtown Salt Lake City and they believe it’s possible.

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Ryan and Ashley Smith have a vision for future of downtown, and believe it’s possible