While a parade of speakers raved about the new $54.1 million E Center of West Valley City here Friday, 11-year-old Kayla Martin's eyes were scanning the ceiling of the 10,800-seat hockey arena.
"It's big. . . . I think it's pretty awesome," marveled the Stansbury Elementary School sixth-grader. "And they have more than one bathroom."Kayla, who has been to five or six Utah Grizzlies games and already considers herself a budding hockey fan, wasn't the only one who was impressed.
Many of the 2,000 or so area residents who turned out for the 10 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony - and most of the dignitaries who were doing all the talking - were circulating through the arena in an advanced state of "gee whiz."
"I really like it," said Keith Hafen, a 17-year-old Taylorsville resident. "I'm really impressed, and I notice the sight lines (from the seats to the floor) are really good."
Hafen also said West Valley City won't be the only beneficiary of the sports and entertainment events scheduled for the E Center.
"It's close enough that it will benefit Kearns, Magna, Tay-lors-ville, West Jordan, Murray and all the surrounding communities," he added. "I'll be here as often as I can afford to come."
Even 76-year-old J.R. Clegg, who said he used to be completely against the construction of a hockey arena in West Valley City, admits he's become something of a begrudging E Center convert.
"I probably never will come here for a game," said Clegg, who maintains he doesn't like hockey and several other sports because they are too violent. "But I may come for concerts and plays. . . . I'll support it whenever I can.
"I'd have to say they've done real well" in financing and building the center, he said. "Overall, this project is all right."
Clegg was in agreement with Frank Joklik, chief executive officer of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, who called the E Center "a tremendous achievement . . . that will enhance the quality of life in this part of the valley."
Joklik, one of several speakers at the grand opening ceremony, told listeners he was "tremendously impressed - not only by the design and beauty of the building, but by the enthusiasm" of the team of people that erected the arena in a remarkably short 18 months since groundbreaking.
Utah Grizzlies co-owner Donna Tuttle said the E Center "is more than a business venture" for her and co-owner David Elmore.
"This is a nurturing, loving" relationship, she added, noting the team is responsible to manage and maintain the E Center. "We take this responsibility very seriously."
Elmore praised city leaders for their support and cooperation in developing the arena as a multi-purpose entertainment center.
"Never have I encountered a city where people were so enthusiastic and so willing to take chances," he said.
Mayor Gearld Wright told the crowd that the city has high aims and indicated the E Center has been a worthy target.
"This building is going to be a home for every kind of entertainment you can imagine," he pledged.
Following the speeches, thunderous music pulsed through the arena's high-tech sound system while about three dozen pairs of scissors made short work of a blue ribbon stretched across the center of the hockey rink.
A rainy drizzle and cool temperatures forced the ceremony inside but failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the people who turned out for the historic event.
Later in the evening, there were dances and other entertainment by members of West Valley City's American Indian, Asian and Pacific Island communities.
And the entire day was capped off by a fireworks show outside the 300,000-square-foot arena.
During a VIP reception at the center Thursday night, City Manager John Patterson announced that the arena not only was finished on time but "came in under budget."
He later explained the contractor, Turner Construction, has indicated a small $5,000 construction contingency will be returned to the city. Other savings also are anticipated, the city manager said, but the actual figures have not yet been calculated.
Patterson said he expects the money will be used to provide some additional amenities or possibly offset part of the initial bond payments on the center.
City spokesman Ted Nguyen said that as many as 15,000 people had visited the E Center by 5 p.m. Friday, and he predicted the total first-day turnout would be considerably larger because of the fireworks show.
"I think this is great for the city," said Patti Griffith, who has lived in West Valley City for 19 years. "It's about time people realized what this city has to offer.
"In all the years I've lived here, I've had to leave the city for entertainment or go to restaurants," she added. "Now I can stay here."
Then there were your hard-core hockey fans like Lorraine Langton of Salt Lake City.
Langton, who is a longtime season ticket holder along with her son, said she was initially disappointed when the Grizzlies decided to settle in West Valley City instead of the State Fairpark.
But she admits she's happier having seen the new arena.
"This is beautiful," Langton said. "And we're only 10 minutes away from here on the freeway.
"The Delta Center never was a good hockey arena," she added. "The team lost a lot of season ticket holders there because they couldn't get seats where something wasn't in front of them."
Not so at the E Center, where short sight lines and a state-of-the-art seamless dasherboard system make every seat a good one.
"I'm nothing but a hockey fan," said Langton. "And I'll be back."