Remember 1979? That was the year the Jazz basketball franchise brought its perennial NBA doormat act to Salt Lake City from New Orleans, where the team couldn't draw flies to its games in the 40,000-seat SuperDome.
Despite the change of scenery, the transplanted organization decided to keep the team name in hopes of salvaging what little identity the franchise had. No one seemed to care the new location - Utah - and the nickname - Jazz - made absolutely no sense together.The team won 24 games that first Salt Lake season and lost 56. Twenty different players wore the Jazz uniform during the course of the year, including unforgettables like John Gianelli and Greg Deane. The cheers of 7,800 or so hardy fans who showed up to watch the Jazz get humiliated regularly seemed to echo inside the cavernous Salt Palace arena.
Flash forward a decade. In 1989, the Jazz boast the league's premier power forward and All-Star MVP and arguably its top point guard, defensive center and sixth man. The team has a shot at 50 wins - the mythical demarcation that separates the NBA's elite from its merely good.
The Utah Jazz are now a solidly established franchise, not only in their own hometown but among other NBA cities - where some pro basketball beat writers have touted the team as a legitimate title contender this season.
And the Salt Palace is bursting at the seams with Jazz fans, who last season bought up every ticket to 45 of 47 games. The arena is suddenly too small for the still-growing Jazz. Who'da thunk it back in '79?
So now Larry Miller's putting up $45 million, Salt Lake City's chipping in $20 million, and the Legislature has given its blessing. In three years the Jazz will have the new 18,500-seat downtown arena they've been wanting.
But the tentative arena deal leaves many questions unanswered. For starters, where will the arena be built? Redevelopment officials say that answer may come fairly quickly, but other questions are likely to linger.
What's going to happen to the Salt Palace after the Jazz and other tenants move into the new arena? How will the new arena tie into Salt Lake's proposed 1998 Winter Olympics bid?
Then there's the big question some people don't even want to know the answer to: What happens if the arena deal, for some unforeseeable reason, falls through? Then what?
Here are some of the more common questions people have directed to the Deseret News about the proposed new arena - and some answers.
Q. Do the Jazz need a bigger arena because they need to sell more tickets to pay for those big-money contracts the team recently gave Karl Malone, Thurl Bailey and John Stockton?
A. A rising team payroll is the major reason a bigger arena is needed, but don't blame only the Mailman, Big-T or Little John. The current collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and its players union prescribes annual increases in the minimum salary placed on the payrolls of NBA teams.
As a result, the Jazz would have been locked into annual payroll increases for at least the next five years - even if those big new contracts had not been given, says team general manager Dave Checketts. The Jazz team payroll this season is $7.2 million. By the 1992-93 season, the payroll will be $10.8 million. Welcome to high finance NBA style.
Q. So when will the new arena be ready for the Jazz to move in?
A. According to projections, architects need 10 months to design the new building and a full two years for construction. If that proves true, the 1991-92 season is the first the Jazz could possibly play in a new arena - and that's assuming design work will begin immediately (an advertised request for architect proposals has already gone out) and that there are no delays in construction. Checketts points out that if ground-breaking is delayed beyond September of this year, the Jazz may have to wait until 1992-93 to occupy its new home.
Q. The deal calls for Miller to pay up to $45 million to build an arena and Salt Lake City to pay $20 million for the land to put it on. Will the city - with its budget already strained - raise taxes to get that additional $20 million?
A. Not directly. The city's Redevelopment Agency will issue bonds to borrow the estimated $20 million needed to buy land and provide infrastructure - such as utility lines - and parking for the arena. The land will be leased to Miller for a nominal sum. The bonds will be repaid over an estimated 15-20 years using a combination of parking revenues, a portion of property taxes paid on other redevelopment projects and a portion of the property taxes Miller will pay on the new arena.
Q. Word is the land the RDA buys for the new arena will be tax exempt. Does that mean Miller doesn't have to pay taxes?
A. No. Miller won't own the land the arena sits on, but he must still pay all property taxes on improvements to the land. In other words, on the arena. Miller's annual arena taxes, estimated at up to $700,000, will go toward paying off the RDA's debt. Another portion of those taxes is earmarked to go to the Salt Lake City School District for reasons explained later.
Q. I remember some initial concern with the redevelopment proposal at the Legislature because Salt Lake schools and libraries would lose some tax revenues. Who will lose tax money because of the deal, and how much?
A. To make a very complicated answer simple, schools will not lose a dime. Some other local taxing entities, including city libraries, will lose some tax revenues. (See accompanying list of losers.) All you masochists who want to know more - read on:
To ensure Salt Lake City School District doesn't lose money because of the arena deal, the state will contribute an additional $500,000 annually from its school fund to the district. Another $300,000 annually from Miller's arena property taxes likely will go to the district. Together, those revenues will erase a potential $800,000 annual loss of tax money to city schools because of the arena.
The city's participation in the deal is based on a complicated formula called tax increment financing and on recently passed piece of legislation - HB390. (See accompanying illustration.)
Q. Aren't two downtown sites being considered for the arena? Where are they and who will decide which is chosen?
A. Site A is Block 79, just south of the Triad Center, bounded by South Temple, First South and Third and Fourth West. Site B is Block 50, two blocks directly south of the Salt Palace, bounded by West Temple, Second West, and Third and Fourth South streets. (See map.)
The RDA will handle negotiations with the owners of the two properties and, with input from Miller and the Jazz organization, strike a deal for one site or the other. The availability of nearby parking will be a major factor in which site is chosen, said RDA Director Mike Chitwood. Both sites are projected to cost about the same - around $9 million - so price differential is not a big factor.
Miller says he needs 7,500 parking spaces within two blocks of the new arena. The city's parking development will probably provide about 1,500 of those spaces, so other existing parking spaces near the arena must be available. An RDA consultant will analyze the availability of existing parking near the two sites.
Q. Which site is preferred, and when will we know the final decision?
A. Without question the Jazz prefers Site A, across South Temple from the Triad Center - where the team's corporate offices are located. Individual city officials have expressed reservations with Site B, as have some Site B property owners whose businesses would be displaced if an arena is built there.
Chitwood said he hopes a site decision can be made quickly. The RDA board, which is also the Salt Lake City Council, is scheduled to meet on March 16. No decision is likely before that date, and one may not be made even then.
A parking lot and a few warehouses occupy Site A, which is owned by First Interstate Corp. and Travelers Insurance, owner of Triad.
Q. Reports at one time had Larry Miller considering southern Salt Lake Valley locations for his new arena. Why has he now decided to build downtown?
A. The fact is Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis and Salt Lake County officials sold Miller on a downtown arena. Perhaps more accurately, they let Miller sell himself on downtown.
Last spring, after the Jazz had seriously looked at potential arena sites in Sandy, Murray, West Valley, Midvale, South Salt Lake and the unincorporated county, DePaulis and County Administrative Services Director John Rosenthal approached Miller and asked him to give them a little time to organize a task force to study the feasibility of a downtown arena.
Miller relented, and county officials asked him to serve on a task force subcommittee. He did, and in the process of the feasibility study, Miller became convinced any new arena should be built downtown.
Q. Is the new arena tied somehow with Salt Lake's proposed 1998 Winter Olympics bid?
A. No. While organizers of the Games would surely utilize the new arena should Salt Lake ever be awarded a Winter Olympiad, the two sports-related proposals are entirely separate. Checketts said the Jazz and the Salt Lake Winter Games Organizing Committee have held only very preliminary discussions involving coordination of their separate efforts, but probably will pursue the idea further at some point.
Q. I've read about a number of proposals for the Salt Palace arena once the new Jazz arena is built. What will happen to the older building?
A. The only thing certain now is that the Salt Palace arena will not be operated in competition with the new Jazz arena. Economic projections show that despite the possible desirability of having two arenas available for events, Salt Lake is too small a market for two arenas to be operated profitably.
The proposal put forth by the recently disbanded arena feasibility task force would have the Salt Palace arena gutted and renovated at a cost of $40 million to provide needed convention facilities. But that proposal has yet to be studied and is by no means final.
DMJM, the local consulting firm hired to assist the task force, suggested the Salt Palace might be remodeled for use as a proposed science center - comprising educational exhibits, a giant-screen theater for showing specially made science documentaries and a relocated Hansen Planetarium.
Q. When the feasibility studies started last year, the science center and numerous other facilities were mentioned in that same breath with a new Jazz arena. What happened to those other ideas?
A. An independent science center task force has been established to solicit private industry donations to build that facility. The feasibility task force recommended the science center be developed only as a privately financed project.
A feasibility task force subcommittee also recommended two new theaters, of 150 and 700 seats respectively, be built to accommodate Salt Lake's performing arts groups, perhaps as part of an arts complex in a remodeled Salt Palace. Some arts groups are now trying to raise money for those theaters, but there is no sign of any support for public financing.
The idea of moving the state fair and the Salt Lake County fair to a downtown location went nowhere, and although a subcommittee recommended more study, the concept appears dead.
The proposal for an Olympic-size speed skating oval caused some early battles among task force members, but it also lies dormant now. It will be up to the Winter Games organizing committee to revitalize it.
An early proposal to develop a downtown heliport as part of the package of projects was judged deserving of further study, then promptly forgotten.
Q. When the Salt Palace was built 20 years ago, no one could have conceived that community needs would outgrow the arena so quickly. How can anyone be sure the new Jazz arena won't be too small 20 years from now?
A. No one can. County officials originally proposed a 25,000-seat arena that could potentially draw the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament and the NBA All-Star game to Salt Lake.
Miller could build now an arena bigger than the proposed 18,500 seats if he chose to. But that's unlikely for several reasons. First, Miller has said he thinks an arena larger than 18,500 seats is too big to provide spectators with an adequate view of a basketball game.
Second, the more seats an arena has, the more it costs to build. So a facility of more than 18,500 seats would take more money than the $45 million Miller has committed to. Third, although the feasibility task force recommended the new arena have built-in future expansion capability to 22,500 seats, the cost of designing in expansibility is nearly as much as simply constructing the additional seats as the arena is built.
Checketts said designed-in expansibility doesn't appear to be financially feasible for the new arena. But Miller said he'll look carefully at the expansibility option.
Q. How do the Golden Eagles and other Salt palace tenants feel about moving to a new Jazz arena?
A. Although he had reservations throughout the feasibility study process, Golden Eagles owner Art Teece said he is satisfied now that the Eagles will have a home in the new arena. At one time he was concerned that the Jazz move and the closure of the Salt Palace would leave his hockey team out in the cold with no place to play.
But not everyone is comfortable. Rock concert promoter Jim McNeil admits concerns about having to negotiate with the Jazz organization for concert dates in the new arena.
"I'm not sure closing the old arena is a solution," McNeil said. "I think Salt Lake needs two arenas. We need that ability to grow."
But McNeil acknowledges it's not likely the Salt Palace will stay in business after the new arena is built.