A study that ultimately will recommend whether a new publicly owned downtown arena is needed - and if so, how and where it should be built - is barely under way, but already some clear battle lines are being drawn by the interested parties.
Some of the conflicts have been public - like whether the study should look at moving the state fair to the Salt Palace or to a new downtown arena. But other confrontations are shaping up behind the scenes in committee meetings.The arena feasibility study is being done by a 15-member task force appointed by Salt Lake County commissioners, who are staying outside the study process and will receive the final study recommendations by Oct. 31.
The task force set up four committees to separately study options, costs, financing and management for any new facility. But some of the committees, which meet separately, appear headed for conflict with each other.
The arena study was initiated after Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller said he intended to build his own arena in suburban Salt Lake County and move the Jazz there for the 1990 basketball season.
Miller put that idea on hold to cooperate with the county's arena study. But it's clear Miller feels his team has outgrown the Salt Palace and needs a new home.
Everyone involved with the study agrees the team needs a bigger arena, but conflicting ideas have been presented on how to go about getting one.
One faction among the task force options committee is convinced that a new arena is not needed and that the existing Salt Palace arena can be expanded by up to 5,000 seats.
That view is not held by Miller and president/general manager Dave Checketts, who sit individually on two other committees.
They say the team needs a new arena with 18,000-19,000 seats, and their respective committees appear to be leaning toward that concept - perhaps with the idea that a new facility could eventually be expanded to hold 25,000 seats.
The Jazz say expansion of the Salt Palace won't work for several reasons. First, even if 5,000 seats can be added to the Salt Palace, and there's no guarantee they can be, those seats would be high in the arena - not the kind of top-dollar seats the Jazz must sell to support a payroll expected to double to more than $10 million in the next five years because of the NBA's new contract with its players union.
Second, a Salt Palace expansion project would take at least 18 months and maybe two years to complete and would put the existing arena out of commission during that time.
The Jazz would have to find another home floor during one and maybe two basketball seasons, and all the other events housed in the Salt Palace would have to find another site during that time as well.
Third, it's possible the expansion project could cost nearly as much as building a new arena.
All the committees agree that if Miller were to build a private arena for the Jazz, the competition would be devastating for the Salt Palace. The Miller facility and the Salt Palace would be competing directly for events, and a bidding war between them would be good for promoters but bad for the Salt Palace.
Some committee members question whether there is enough business to keep two arenas viable, should a new publicly owned facility be built. Others say there are plenty of events to go around between the Salt Palace and a new arena.
Jim McNeil of United Concerts, a rock concert promotion company, said as many as 40 touring rock bands each year have to pass Salt Lake concerts because the Salt Palace is already booked by the Jazz or other events during the bands' available tour dates.
In addition, each year five or six more so-called mega-concert rock acts like Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson won't even consider playing Salt Lake now because the 12,444-seat Salt Palace is too small and the roof of the University of Utah's Huntsman Center is not structurally strong enough to hang the elaborate backdrops and sound systems.
A bigger arena could draw those mega-acts, McNeil said. And he points out that many other events besides rock concerts often can't book the Salt Palace on the dates they need. A second public arena would solve that problem, he said.
The public will get an opportunity for a first-hand look at the workings of task force options committee this week at hearings Tuesday through Thursday in the Salt Palace Little Theater.
All three sessions are open to the public, but speakers will address the committee by invitation only on Tuesday and Wednesday, 3-6 p.m each day. An open-microphone session during which anyone may speak will be Thursday from 6-9 p.m.
The hearings are intended to help the committee gather comments from all parties who have interest in the development of a new downtown arena.