An Olympic-size speed-skating rink and expanded convention space may be included in the proposal to build a new arena for the Utah Jazz in the downtown area, Salt Lake County officials said Wednesday.
However, sites for the new facilities and a way to raise the estimated $60 million, not including the rink, needed for construction have yet to be found. The arena and rink would likely be built near the county-owned Salt Palace arena, and officials say a 25,000-seat arena could be ready for the 1991 basketball season.The arena also might force the closure of First South at Third West.
In the first candid discussion of plans for the facilities, County Commission Chairman Bart Barker said the rink would provide the U.S. Winter Olympic team a necessary training site. The rink also might help the state attract the winter games and could also be used as an equestrian park.
While the proposals still are little more than vague concepts, county officials said detailed plans may be complete by the end of summer. A group that includes business and government leaders will meet soon to begin working on details.
Barker said the entire project could be built with money from private businesses, although the county still wants to retain ownership. County leaders do not want taxpayers to pay the bill, he said.
"I don't have any interest in a proposal to increase property taxes," Barker said. "There is a timing here that we've never had before."
Barker was referring to unprecedented community excitement over the Jazz, which recently lost a seven-game series with the Los Angeles Lakers. He also was referring to growing concerns over the lack of convention space downtown.
The Water Pollution Control Conference recently canceled a planned 1991 convention in Salt Lake City because it needed an additional 25,000 feet of exhibit space, he said. The convention would have brought 10,000 visitors to the area.
The American Chemical Society has threatened to cancel its 1996 show in Salt Lake City unless 12 more meeting rooms can be found. Each room would have to seat 100 people.
"We are losing our ability to compete with cities that have always been our competition," Barker said, noting that Seattle, San Diego and Denver are spending large amounts of money to expand facilities.
County leaders began meeting quietly with business, religious and government leaders three weeks ago about the need for a new arena and added convention space. Barker said he was surprised by the reaction.
"Virtually every group grabbed hold of it with amazing enthusiasm," he said. "The enthusiasm built so fast and strong that we had to accelerate the time when we could discuss it publicly."
Funding may include federal money, private investment, bonds, land swaps, money from the Salt Lake Redevelopment Agency, hotel and motel room taxes or partnerships with private landowners, Barker said.
County officials said the current Salt Palace arena would still be in daily use, accommodating concerts, ice hockey, conventions and other shows. Because of new facilities in other cities, the 12,444-seat Salt Palace will be the smallest arena in the National Basketball Association next season.
"Nine months out of the year, the Salt Palace can be booked solid," Barker said. "We're turning down so much business there right now at the times when people want to use it."
Plans also include switching locations of the Hansen Planetarium and the Arts Center and building an Imax-type theater. The state fair also may be moved to the Salt Palace, although Barker admits that part of the plan is controversial.
County officials hope the new arena would attract the NCAA Final Four tournament and an NBA all-star game.
Much of the land around the Salt Palace is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Barker said.