A science center not a 20,000-seat arena received most of the attention Thursday during the final day of public hearings on the possibility of building a new downtown home for the Utah Jazz and expanding convention facilities.
The proposed science center, with a 75-foot-high IMAX theater screen and hands-on interactive learning exhibits to teach scientific principles, is often overlooked when talking about a downtown complex that could include a new arena and convention center and an Olympic-size speed skating oval.But the idea isn't being overlooked by Utah scientists, who gave the concept an enthusiastic endorsement Thursday.
"We as a nation are slipping further and further behind in the understanding of everyday principals that govern our daily lives," said Gilbert Moore, a Utah State University professor. "This is a plea for a strong science center for the state of Utah."
That support was echoed by Robert Miller, of the Utah Science, Engineering and Medical Archives. "A science center would greatly complement facilities at the University of Utah and would be a great tourist attraction," he said. "It would be a very rich resource for the city."
Thursday was the third day of hearings before a committee assigned to solicit and report comments on proposals for a downtown arena complex, but it was the first chance for the public to provide input.
The hearing was so lightly attended, however, it adjourned an hour and a half early, at 7:30 p.m., when no one else in the crowd of 60 people had comments.
Earlier sessions, Tuesday and Wednesday, had been reserved for the Jazz and the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau and other organizations that have a direct interest in the issue.
A task force appointed by Salt Lake County commissioners is exploring proposals for the downtown complex and related issues like parking, traffic and transportation.
The task force has an Oct. 31 deadline to submit its recommendations to the county commission on what new facilities - if any - are needed; where they should be constructed; how much they will cost to build and operate; and how the projects (estimated to cost between $30 million and $60 million) might be funded without a tax increase.
But not everyone favors the proposed concepts.
Ted Nagata, a member of the Japanese Church of Christ and a Jazz season ticket holder, said Thursday the church, 268 W. First South, expects compensation if it is displaced to make way for a new arena.
"We're one of the few groups who would suffer from this expansion," he told the committee. "If we become a sacrificial lamb, we want just compensation . . . equal to the cost of building a comparable facility."
Other property owners in the area have also complained that their businesses could be destroyed by construction of a new arena complex.
Jazz president Dave Checketts told the committee in an earlier session the team needs an arena with 18,500 seats to support an annual payroll that's expected to double to $10 million over the next five years because of a new NBA players labor agreement.
Residents of the Multi-Ethnic Senior Citizen's High-Rise, 120 S. Second West, asked that a new arena complex, if built, not leave them surrounded by what they called an "asphalt jungle."
Officials of the Salt Lake Arts Center supported the science center concept, but protested a suggestion to move the Hansen Planetarium and proposed science center into the arts center building, located immediately northeast of the Salt Palace.
State Fair Director Jackie Nokes told the committee moving the fair to a new arena is a bad idea because livestock exhibitions would draw flies.
"The flies are reality," she said. "We have to clean up immediately after livestock shows or the neighbors come to my office to complain about flies."