Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller says he doesn't much like the idea of his team playing in a 25,000-seat arena that county officials have suggested as a possible new home for the Jazz.
A venue that size is too big for basketball, Miller told an options committee studying the feasibility of building expanded convention facilities and a new downtown arena.Miller said he prefers an 18,000-seat facility that would allow spectators a closer view and would better preserve the spirit of the game.
"The Marriott Center (at Brigham Young University) seats 22,800 and it's a marvelous facility," Miller said. "But if you're sitting high in one of those corners it's a long rifle shot down to the basketball floor."
County officials have suggested the 25,000-seat figure because a larger arena would be better able to compete for national political conventions and large business and trade fairs.
The new arena, additional convention facilities, an Olympic-size ice-skating oval and having the the Arts Center and the Hansen Planetarium swap buildings are among the ideas being studied by a Salt Palace Expansion Feasibility Task Force appointed by Salt Lake County commissioners.
Miller is a member of the task force and of a concepts and options committee charged with exploring what types of new facilities are needed.
He told the committee he had been ready to finance and build an 18,500-seat facility with 7,500 parking places in one of three suburban Salt Lake County locations and move the Jazz there for the 1990 basketball season.
He was convinced it would be impossible to get city approval for a new downtown arena, and only a last-ditch effort by city, county and downtown business leaders caused him to set his suburban plans aside to see if a downtown arena is feasible.
Miller stressed that he wants to work with local officials to study the downtown option, and he realizes that a new arena would be not only a home for the Jazz but must be available for multiple uses.
"The last thing I want people to think is that I'm giving ultimatums. The Utah Jazz are a community resource, and they should remain a community resource. But not just for 12,400 people," he said, referring to the seating capacity of the team's current home, the Salt Palace arena.
Miller said economics dictate that a larger arena will be built as a home for the Jazz. A new collective-bargaining agreement reached earlier this year by the National Basketball Association and the NBA Players Association likely will more than double the Jazz team payroll over the next six years to more than $10 million annually.
If the Jazz were to remain in the Salt Palace arena, ticket prices would have to double just to keep up with the increasing payroll. Miller said that is obviously not an option available to the team.
"The new players contract means the NBA probably doesn't belong in Salt Lake City. But I'm kinda stubborn," said Miller, who bought the team three years ago to keep it here and has turned down lucrative offers from prospective buyers who would have moved the team to other cities.