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Jazz who? Arena gets a makeover

Published: Sunday, Feb. 3 2002 12:00 a.m. MST

In the perfect world organizers envision, Olympics fans will walk into the Salt Lake Ice Center and have this kind of reaction:

Jazz?

What Jazz?

It's the same building, the same green seats, the same home of the Utah Jazz, but the Delta Center is no longer the Delta Center — even if the glowing sign outside still says so.

As of midnight, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee assumed temporary ownership of the arena, renamed it the sponsor-neutral Salt Lake Ice Center and began preparing for Olympic figure skating and short-track speedskating competition, which begin with pairs figure skating Saturday.

The ice, built up gradually over several days, will be uncovered Monday, and skaters will start practicing on the finished ice surface Wednesday. That meant Delta Center workers had to scramble after Saturday's Jazz game against Portland to begin reconstructing the arena, plucking out 1,200 seats to make room for media tables, pushing back bleachers and breaking up the hardwood.

"Our responsibility is to get rid of an NBA basketball look," said Doug Knudsen, the Delta Center's vice president of facility services.

Within two hours after Saturday's game, the Delta Center looked like a giant going-out-of-business sale, and Jazz tokens were disappearing fast.

Gift shops once lined with John Stockton posters and Karl Malone bobblehead dolls were empty, shelves naked, cardboard boxes everywhere. Outside, U-Hauls and 18-wheelers waited to whisk away any Jazz remains for warehouse storage.

SLOC's mandate: Everything had to go — down to the phones in the press room.

And not just Jazz paraphernalia. The ads ringing the arena — from Cream O' Weber to Budweiser — will be covered by SLOC, and even snack bars will take on generic signs such as "Refreshment Area."

Building officials are no strangers to rearranging. Knudsen has been doing it — here in the Delta Center and before in the Salt Palace — about 60 times a year for 33 years, altering the arena from rodeo stadium to circus venue to Britney Spears concert venue.

But this time, it's different.

"We've never changed it to this extent," he said. "The Olympics is once in a lifetime."

The changes are the most drastic in the arena's 10-year history.

The Olympic ice oval is nearly double the size of the basketball floor, requiring the removal of seats and reducing the arena's attendance capacity from 20,400 to fewer than 16,000. The Cricket Superscreen hovering over the basketball floor will be lowered to allow four giant display screens above it. What's more, NBC will rewire the sound system, build its own TV platforms and make room for skater-coach zones — or what Knudsen calls "kiss-and-cry areas."

In all, it's been a lot tougher than putting together a demolition derby.

"It hasn't been bad, but it's been frantic the last couple of weeks," said Blake Smith, the Delta Center's production manager.

By Feb. 28, everything gets back to normal. The Salt Lake Ice Center name becomes Olympic history, ownership returns to Larry H. Miller, and the moving trucks come back with basketball standards and Jazz sweatshirts.

Then, when Jazz fans return, team officials hope their reaction will go something like this:

Olympics?

What Olympics?

"That's our hope," Smith said, "that no one notices anything happened."


E-mail: slewis@desnews.com