Our capital city isn’t perfect. I could rattle off a list of projects we should pursue. As impatient as I am, I also recognize our community is making real progress on a host of important issues. Admittedly, I say this as someone who gets paid to be a cheerleader for an ever-rising downtown. But I also say it as a property owner, constituent, life-long resident and dog owner.
On Tuesday, Salt Lake County leaders voted to partner with Salt Lake City to help build and manage the new Utah Performing Arts Center. With 74 percent of county residents supporting the new center and a valuable contract to manage the facility, this was a prudent decision.
It also represented a bi-partisan sign of confidence in the future of our region. That kind of optimism, embodied by presidents like John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, asks us to look beyond the narrow confines of our present day-to-day concerns to envision the world as it could be. That is the kind of leadership it takes to shape the future we all want and create a community that represents the best of who are. That kind of community doesn’t happen by accident or laissez faire happenstance. That kind of community takes courage, vision and risk. That kind of community takes leadership.
The day after Salt Lake County’s endorsement, city, county and business leaders gathered on Main Street to announce that HKS/Pelli Clarke Pelli had been selected as the architects of the new center that will be built by Layton Construction. I was proud to see my mayor, along with my friends DJ Baxter, Helen Langan and two of my favorite council members Kyle LaMalafa and Carlton Christensen make this announcement. It has been a long time coming.
Four years ago, before I started working at the Downtown Alliance, I attended another ceremony at the same Main Street locale where religious, state and city leaders all committed to working together to realize this vision. At the time, our global economy was in a free-fall. People wondered if we were tumbling into another great depression. At the time I wondered if this proposed center was ever going to materialize.
Addressing legitimate concerns from the arts community and finding the money to make it happen seemed like a heavy lift. But buoyed by the completion of City Creek Center and encouraged by an improving economy, we are moving ahead.
I recently came across a YouTube video from 1989 called City on the Edge (see below)
The documentary spends some time talking about the development of the Delta Center—now known as EnergySolutions Arena. Two decades ago, one of our community’s great business leaders, Larry Miller, displayed extraordinary vision. His vision benefits us today.
After acquiring the Utah Jazz, Miller knew the team would need a new home to succeed. Through a few tears, he courageously committed to build the $80 million, 20,000 seat arena. Even today, $80 million is a lot of money, and it was even more back then.
Through Salt Lake City’s Redevelopment Agency, the public sector contributed $13.8 million to pay for the public plaza, and contributed $6.2 million to pay for land acquisition for parking at the Triad Center (more than 25 percent of the total cost).
There were a few naysayers then, too. Some people predicted the EnergySolutions Arena would be a giant white elephant that would never get used, sitting vacant and abandoned in the wasteland of the west side of downtown. They complained about the use of public dollars to support a private enterprise. But by any measure, this investment has been a good one for the Jazz and for the people of Utah.
Without Miller’s courage, commitment and willingness to take a risk, we would not have EnergySolutions Arena. The 17-million-plus fans who have attended Jazz games over the past 20 years may never have had the opportunity. ESA could not have hosted hundreds of concerts, Disney on Ice, years of Days of ’47 Rodeos or Olympic skating in 2002. Without this important venue, we may not have been able to host the Olympics. Without Miller’s vision for the west side of downtown, The Boyer Company may not have decided to build The Gateway.
Salt Lake City would be a different place today without Larry Miller. But the EnergySolutions Arena could not have been built without support from political leaders who bonded for millions of public dollars to make the vision a reality. Now, Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County have committed to using some of those same bonds to help finance the Utah Performing Art Center. Larry H. Miller’s commitment to this community lives on and his vision continues to benefit the people of Utah.
I applaud the leadership displayed by Mayor Ralph Becker and Larry Miller, along with Mayor Peter Corroon and other city and county leaders who are optimistic about our future. EnergySolutions Arena and the Utah Performing Arts Center are linked as regional entertainment centers in the heart of downtown. They certainly benefit their builders, just as they will benefit generations of Utahns to follow.
Two decades from now, our children will look back on the decisions we have made. Future generations will pass judgment about projects like City Creek Center, the Public Safety Building, the expansion of the Capitol Theatre, the new federal courthouse and the Utah Performing Arts Center. I’m no fortune teller, but I hope they will be able to say we embraced their future with a vision of optimism, courage and commitment.
This is the kind of leadership it takes to build a community