The Utah Jazz will spend up to $15,000 to study the feasibility of expanding the Salt Palace arena to meet the team's need for a larger home, Jazz president Dave Checketts told a Salt Lake County task force Tuesday morning.
Checketts told the task force members, appointed by county commissioners last month to examine the need for a new downtown arena, he believes building a new arena is a better idea than expanding the Salt Palace.But Checketts admitted his bias for a new arena was based on his opinion, not on data, and that the feasibility of expanding the current arena should be evaluated before a commitment is made to build a new facility.
"I'm just afraid you would spend almost the same money to expand the Salt Palace as would be spent to build a new arena, and you'd get an inferior product," Checketts said.
Cost estimates to build a new arena range up to $30 million to $40 million. Expanding the existing arena could cost as much as $20 million to $25 million.
Checketts' offer - to hire the architects and engineers who originally constructed the Salt Palace to study the possibility of adding more seats - has a couple of benefits. It will save the county up to $15,000, but more importantly it will allow the study to begin almost immediately.
Had the county authorized the expansion study, it would have had to go through its regular contract bidding process to hire the consultants, which would have taken more than a month. The Jazz offer gives the task force a month's head start on determining whether a new arena is needed.
The proposal to study the feasibility of expanding the current arena was first made by John W. Gallivan, publisher emeritus of the Salt Lake Tribune. Gallivan proposed that the designers of the Salt Palace study plans to determine if up to 6,000 additional seats can be suspended from the sides of the arena.
The study is expected to take less than a month.
Checketts has said the Jazz would prefer to see an 18,000- to 19,000-seat arena designed for basketball built downtown. But Tuesday he said he and team owner Larry
Miller are open to the idea that expanding the Salt Palace may prove feasible and meet the team's needs.
The Jazz want a bigger arena to play in because a new collective bargaining agreement between the National Basketball Association and its players union will double the Jazz's annual team salary to more than $10 million over the next five years.
Jazz fans can live with outspoken coach Frank Layden and with out-of-shape backup center Mel Turpin, Checketts said. But they couldn't live with a doubling of ticket prices to support the higher player salaries.
Thus the team needs not just more seats to sell tickets for, but more good seats that bring in top-dollar revenues, he said. But seats are not the only issue.
"The bigger issue is: Can we be a first-class city and a first-class sports franchise?" Checketts said. "The Salt Palace is not just too small; it's outdated.
"The main reason we're talking about a larger arena is that we want to build a world-championship NBA team here. A championship brings a certain pride that binds a city together. That's what we want."
Parking at the existing arena is woefully inadequate, the Jazz president said. The team would like to have 7,500 parking spaces within two block of the arena.
Checketts told the task force he's convinced there are enough events to keep two downtown arenas viable. He also committed the Jazz to participating in funding of construction costs should a new arena be built. The extent of Jazz participation was not discussed, however.
The Jazz are interested in managing a new arena if one is built. Checketts also disclosed to the task force that the organization's business plan calls for bringing back Triple-A baseball to Salt Lake and possibly bringing additional professional sports franchises to the city.