A new home for the Utah Jazz is only one facet of a broad proposal by county officials to build a new and larger arena at no cost to taxpayers, one of the plan's originators said Monday.
"It is much, much broader than just an arena," said Sam Driggs, director and general manager of the Salt Palace.The facility not only would serve as a new home court for the Jazz, which hardly has room for its players' gym bags at the 12,444-seat Salt Palace, but also as a possible site for such big attractions as the NCAA's Final Four basketball tournament, Driggs said.
The arena, whose site location Driggs would not identify, would also accommodate larger conventions in the city, thus bringing more tourist dollars into the area, he said.
"Right now we're not saying where it's going to be located because we don't know," Driggs said, adding that officials are considering a number of "appropriate areas" that need further study before a final determination could be made.
Jazz owner Larry Miller wants a facility that would hold 18,000 cheering Jazz fans, while county officials have their sights on a 25,000-seat arena, the minimum number NCAA officials say is necessary for the Final Four, Driggs said.
Driggs would not specifically comment on funding mechanisms to build the facility or the possibility of financial backing from Jazz management but said, "We believe we have some solutions that would not increase any taxes."
Other new basketball arenas under construction in National Basketball Association cities in the nation that are similar in size to the proposed Jazz arena cost between $54 million and $65 million.
The Jazz have suggested in the past a willingness to partially fund the construction phase of a new arena and also to control the building of the arena and possibly its ownership once the entire plan is in place.
The existing convention center is funded by bonds paid for with revenue from a hotel and motel room tax.
Driggs reserved further comment on the proposal for a Wednesday morning press conference to announce the plan.
County Commissioner Bart Barker, who oversees Salt Palace operations, said there no specific plan yet. He would not elaborate on any of the several concepts he said are being considered.
"It's important enough that we would be acting imprudently if we discussed it early . . . it might jeopardize the concept," he said, adding that the Salt Palace Advisory Board will meet Wednesday to discuss the plans.
In the past 18 months, the Jazz have done pre-feasibility studies on various sites around the valley for a new arena, and until now has always listed expansion of the Salt Palace as an option.
But now Miller said expanding the Salt Palace is out, for three reasons: not enough good seats could be added, the cost of renovation would almost match the cost of a new arena, and the NBA off-season is only about five months long, not enough time to renovate an arena without affecting the game schedule.
The Jazz decided this spring that they must have a plan for a new home in motion by the end of the summer.
Meanwhile, an intra-governmental group including Briggs; John Rosenthal, county director of administrative services; and Barker has proceeded with a plan for the new facility.
"We're seeing a really strong unity develop," said Miller, impressed by the way the group has proceeded. Miller calls the movement "a pleasant surprise."
Jazz officials declined to say more about the project until the county reveals more about its plans. Basically, the Jazz are putting their own plans on hold and giving he group until Aug. 1 to put everything together among the city, county and state governments.
"We'll have a solution to the problem by the end of the summer," said Miller.
Jazz officials are raising ticket prices for 1988-89, expecting to bring in about $700,000 more. Their payroll has increased by more than that for each of the past two years and is expected to keep escalating under the terms of a new collective-bargaining agreement between NBA players and owners.
The increased number of bookings in the Salt Palace creates the potential for conflicts with the Jazz. In fact, if the Jazz had finished high enough in the standings to warrant opening the first round of the playoffs at home, the team would have had to play the first two games at an alternate site because another convention was booked into the Salt Palace.
After nine seasons in the Salt Palace, the Jazz sold out 44 of 46 home games last season, giving some indication of how quickly an expanded facility might fill up.
Building would have to start today to be ready for the 1990-91 season, leaving 1991-92 as a realistic start-up time, officials said.