The Salt Palace is dead. Long live the Salt Palace.
In a royal succession that began in the 19th century, was renewed near the middle of the 20th and is now preparing for a third coronation that will launch it into the 21st, the new Salt Palace complex now under construction will join Temple Square and the Delta Center as Salt Lake's most recognized landmarks.The original Salt Palace, located on 900 South between Main and State, burned to the ground in 1910. Its successor, built in the 1960s on West Temple between 100 and 200 South, was razed last winter, creating a mini-mountain of white brick rubble that now rests at Blandfill, a commercial land-fill in Magna.
The new Salt Palace is on a fast track. Footings and foundation work for the new facility are half completed, said W. Sands Brooke, project manager for owner/operator Salt Lake County.
"Hughes and Huber, Hunt, Nichols really hit the ground running (construction began May 11) because we are on an enormously aggressive schedule," said Brooke. "The facility has to be completed by January 1996 for the American Bowling Congress, which is bringing 40,000 people to the city."
That convention will see the new Salt Palace exhibit hall filled with 30 portable bowling lanes, which are in storage at a Salt Lake area warehouse.
Robert S. Ayelsworth, executive vice president of Huber, Hunt & Nichols Inc., the Phoenix-based construction firm that won the Salt Palace contract with a bid of $70.35 million, said the schedule is doubly challenging because of the technical problems.
"This is an extremely complicated project," said Ayelsworth. "I would compare it to the Dallas Convention Center, the Phoenix Civic Plaza and the expansion of McCormick Place in Chicago." Specializing in civic and sports arenas, Huber, Hunt also built The Pyramid in Memphis, the Superdome in New Orleans, Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami and many others.
Huber, Hunt is building the new 511,000-square-foot facility (the finished structure will total 793,298 square feet when connected to the existing exhibit space on South Temple) in a joint venture with local contractor Herm Hughes & Sons. Ayelsworth and Herm Hughes president Glenn E. Hughes hasten to point out that all of the project sub-contractors and vendors are Utah companies.
Ayelsworth said about 80 people are on the site with that number expected to top 200 by the end of the year. By the end of this month, passers-by will be able to see some structural steel going up with completion of the framing scheduled for February when the work on enclosing the structure will begin.
Many of those closest to the Salt Palace project think it could just as easily be called "The House That Bradley Built," but Salt Lake County Commissioner Jim Bradley has taken as much heat as he has praise for his leadership in the decision to raze the old facility and its "drum" (Acord Arena) in favor of a newer, more functional complex.
"Whenever you mess around with the Salt Palace, you are in for trouble," conceded Bradley, "but we think we have done a good job in blending a beautiful building with a functional facility that will make a real statement for the city."
Bradley said the glass tower, the building's most prominent feature, serves several purposes.
"It will become a prominent landmark," promised Bradley. "It will make the Salt Palace visible from blocks away, and it announces the main entrance on West Temple - people always said you could never find the entrance to the old facility. It also, psychologically, replaces the drum (Acord Arena) in people's minds, creating some familiarity."
One element in the new Salt Palace that is sure to generate controversy is a series of windmills that will be constructed on the south front of the complex in place of a row of trees originally scheduled for the space.
These are working but not functional windmills that are intended more as sculptures than anything else. Bradley said the artist, Patrick Zentz of Montana, claims they will set up a "harmonic resonance" in the glass tower. Or something.
"When I first heard that I said, `Uh oh," but we put it out to (an art jury) and they picked (the windmills) number one. It adds to the intrigue and interest," said Bradley.
A steel sculpture titled "Breeze" by Utah artist Ursula Brodauf-Craig will adorn the exterior. Utahn Paul Heath will create 55 brightly painted images of Salt Lake City's "eclectic niches" for an interior stairwell. Utahn Neil Had-lock's cast bronze sculpture "Maran" will be located on South Temple, and Nebraskan Jun Kaneko will cover an interior wall with a mosaic of 1,468 colored ceramic tiles that will represent the Salt Lake Valley.
Bradley said convention centers in Denver, Portland, San Diego and San Francisco - considered the city's main convention business competitors - were studied before signing off on the design.
"We wanted something beautiful, and the convention planners told us they want something that works. We also wanted to be sure that we integrated the Arts Center and Abravanel Hall into the complex - the old Salt Palace didn't do that. We wanted the whole block to be as beautiful as Temple Square while being totally functional. We think we've succeeded."
Principal architect for the project is Thompson, Ventulett, and Stainback, based in Atlanta. Consulting architect is Gillies Stransky Brems Smith Architects of Salt Lake City.
Brooke noted that the old theory of convention-facility construction was modeled on casino design: Trap the customers in a large windowless room and don't provide anything that might distract them from gambling. The new concept, he said, is to provide an airy, light ambience.
The new Salt Palace is a joint venture between the county, state and city. The city and state each put up $15 million and the county committed to the balance of $55 million. The $15 million over the $70 million construction contract goes toward architectural and engineering fees, demolition, furniture, fixtures and equipment.
There were six bidders for the Salt Palace construction contract among eight who were pre-qualified to bid on the project.
"We wanted builders who did not have a pattern of getting involved in litigation and who we felt could do the job and not be intimidated by a project of this size and complexity," said Brooke. The difference between the high and low bidders for the project was only 2 percent - "a very tight spread and very competitive," he said.
The old Salt Palace, with its Acord Arena, served a variety of functions, including the home of the Utah Jazz and the principal venue for large rock concerts, circus performances, rodeos and such. That role is now being filled by the Delta Center.
That means, said Brooke, that the new Salt Palace will be totally oriented to conventions. Salt Lake has had to compete directly with such one-purpose facilities in other western cities. Those in charge of marketing for the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau made it clear that they wanted to go after more meeting-intensive groups, such as medical associations. The new facility will accommodate them nicely.
Crown jewel of the new Salt Palace will be its 36,000-square-foot ballroom, far and away the largest in the state. Brooke said it will accommodate 2,000 to 3,000 people for a sit-down dinner, more than triple the current capacity of any local hotel.
"You are going to have a first-class level of finish that will rival any ballroom in the United States," he promised. "It will be very elegant."
While the Delta Center has a no-compete agreement when it comes to arena events, Brooke said the Salt Palace would still be able to bring in bleacher-type seating for high-profile keynote speeches at conventions. He cited speeches by the president of the United States as an example.
In addition to the ballroom, the facility will have 55,000 square feet of meeting rooms and a 256,000-square-foot exhibit hall (including the current exhibit space.)
Although convention centers are not supposed to generate a lot of traffic - conventioneers are supposed to walk or take cabs from their hotels to the convention facility - some 325 new parking stalls were created last year in back of the Doubletree Hotel. When added to the ramp on the south end and additional stalls that will be created on the south end of the new exhibit hall, total parking will number 600 stalls.