Salt Lake County will spend up to $300,000 in the next three months to study whether to build a new downtown arena for the Utah Jazz and larger convention facilities.
Commissioners agreed Monday to spend the money and said they soon will meet with state and Salt Lake City officials to form a committee to study the proposals and hire a consultant.Commission Chairman Bart Barker, whose office has been the driving force behind the plans, said the money for the study is small compared with what the county is losing in convention business.
"The money lost in losing one large convention far exceeds what we're talking about here," he said.
Barker said the Water Pollution Control Conference recently canceled a large convention in 1991 because not enough space is available in Salt Lake City. Other groups have threatened similar action unless more space is available.
The study may cost less than $300,000, Barker said. The county decided to appropriate the money rather than try to get the city and state to contribute because plans must be quickly finished.
"At this point, this is a county facility," Barker said. "It would seem counterproductive to spend the next six to eight weeks trying to raise money for a study."
County and city officials and downtown merchants are worried suburban cities may offer to build a new arena for the Jazz. The loss of the team would be devastating to downtown, supporters of the plan said.
The county will not have to raise taxes to fund the study. Barker said he also wants the arena and convention facilities to be built and maintained without an increase in property taxes. The consultant and committee will be charged with finding a way to make that possible. The facilities are expected to cost about $60 million.
Barker said the committee will study possible locations for the facilities as well as how private businesses can help fund construction.
The arena would likely be built near the county-owned Salt Palace, and officials say a 25,000-seat arena could be ready for the 1991 basketball season.
County officials hope the new arena would attract the NCAA Final Four tournament as well as an NBA all-star game.
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.
The construction plans may also include an Olympic-size speed-skating rink that could be used as a practice facility for the U.S. Winter Olympic team.