Now that the Utah Jazz have commanded respect from the National Basketball Association, they are seeking it from their host city.
In recent weeks, Jazz President Dave Checketts again has been talking about the professional basketball team's need for a bigger facility.Same game, second half.
Talk of suburban flight flared two years ago, after the Salt Lake City Council voted down a $70,000 rent subsidy for the Jazz that Mayor Ted Wilson had earlier promised. Since the county and the state each agreed to the rent subsidy, the City Council was pegged as unwilling hosts who raked in the profits but weren't willing to share in subsidy duties.
County Commission Chairman Bart Barker said any discussions with the Jazz are prefaced by the fact that Utah's professional basketball team has a long-term lease with the Salt Palace.
"Our response is we have a 13-year contract with you and that will be up in about 10 years," Barker said.
However, Barker said, the county has been aggressive at looking at options to meet the professional basketball team's need for more seats. The Salt Palace is among the smallest arenas in the NBA. "We are committed to meeting those needs in whatever way might be necessary."
"I do think the concern is serious. Some (suburban) cities have made some very strong offers. If their (the Jazz) perception is that the current host city has no interest in providing visible support - in real ways that are meaningful to the Jazz - then they may have to take a hard look at where their long-term interests may lie.
"They may decide there may be a more supportive host somewhere in the valley," Barker said.
Fred Ball, Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce president, said the threat of a Jazz move is more than just idle talk.
"It would be a tragedy if the Salt Palace were to become dark 85 nights a year. We must keep the sports franchises playing in the Salt Palace," wrote Ball in a letter to the City Council.
"I have seen the proposals for new sports arenas at the county fairgrounds in Murray, on a site in the vicinity of the South Towne Mall in Sandy, and at the former Vitro tailings site in South Salt Lake. Originally, we thought
this might be an idle threat. We no longer believe that."
Ball said city officials need to show their commitment to the Jazz.
"I think that the city has got to let people know that it is important that we want to have them there," Ball said. "I heard someone say the other day that downtown is not dead yet, but is terminally ill. And if the Jazz and the Golden Eagles move, that would provide the last death knell," Ball said.
City officials say they strongly support the county-owned Salt Palace and fine arts complex, and showed that by participating with the county and the state to lobby for legislation to fund the facility's deficit. But they feel the Salt Palace is a county-owned facility, and city residents already support the Jazz through the county taxes they pay.
"We have not received one word from the Jazz. We have not received one word from the County Commission," said Councilman Tom Godfrey.
"In my mind, they need to talk with the County Commission. In fact, this would be a good time. There's a real positive feeling about the Jazz right now."
Godfrey said if the public had to vote about a bond issue to build a bigger arena for the Jazz today, it would probably pass, tax reform or no.