SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Fairpark just finished its newest addition: a 10,000-seat arena built in time to host the state's annual Days of '47 Rodeo, which has been held at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in the past.
State lawmakers approved the $17 million facility last July, after years of debate on the future of the Fairpark and whether the state should step in to save the home of the Utah State Fair. When lawmakers met last year, Gov. Gary Herbert said "we either need to invest money into it and fix the buildings and the structures out there — or raze the buildings and subdivide it and sell it off."
When breaking ground on the project last fall, officials said the new arena is expected to make the Fairpark more self-sustaining by drawing additional revenue from larger events like the rodeo that starts July 19.
The bulk of the cost for the new arena was shared by four groups: $10 million from the state, $3 million from Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County and $3 million from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Jeff Kooring, the Fairpark's sales and marketing director, said in addition to the Days of '47 Rodeo, the arena will also host motorsports events, concerts, demolition derbies, equestrian events and other rodeos.
The LDS Church agreed to donate to "express our appreciation for your leadership on the project to upgrade the fairgrounds and feel confident that it would be a marvelous blessing for the people of the state of Utah," according to a letter from the church's Presiding Bishopric.
State legislators thanked the church for its donations and thanked public and private donors for coming together to support the Fairpark.
"This was a really good opportunity to bring the private sector and the public sector ... together to continue taking care of this place, which is really important to not only the community on the west side, but also the whole state of Utah,” said Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City.
Escamilla also said she hopes the arena will improve the northwestern side of Salt Lake City and the Rose Park area.
“I truly believe this will help bring more life to the west side,” she said.
Kooring also said the community surrounding the arena has been very supportive, in hopes that the arena will "clean up" the neighborhood.
"The community definitely looks at this as a way of improving the area,” he said. "The more money we make, the more we put back into infrastructure and improvements."
Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, who is the Senate chairman of the Fairpark committee, said one goal the Legislature had in funding the arena was to bring agricultural resources from rural Utah to the state's most populated city.
"It's a good deal for being able to manage our agricultural resources with the people that might never get the opportunity if we didn’t have a state fair,” he said. "It brings the farm and city together."
Larry Mullenax, executive director of the Fairpark, agreed, adding that he hopes restaurants and other businesses will open locations nearby.
"By securing restaurants, events, perhaps some retail shops, that would encourage residents along the Wasatch Front to make the Fairpark a destination,” Mullenax said.
Pat's Barbecue, a popular restaurant on the south end of Salt Lake City, plans to open a location near the Fairpark and employ local residents, said Mullenax.
"Pat (Barber) is embracing the community ... he’s going to be giving back to the community almost immediately,” he said.
Barber was not immediately available for comment.
Mullenax noted the residents surrounding the Fairpark have been very supportive and enthusiastic about the construction of the arena.
“The support that we’ve received from the various communities around the fair park has been overwhelmingly favorable,” he said. "They see the positive contributions that we’re making to this community."