The Utah Jazz and Vivint Smart Home Arena have been key pieces of downtown Salt Lake City's economy for more than a quarter century. And as the Larry H. Miller Group, owners of the NBA franchise, plan for a $100 million renovation of the arena, officials expect the investment to be well worth the cost. According to an economic impact analysis commissioned by the Jazz and Salt Lake City, the roughly $100 million project would mean an estimated economic benefit of $173 million for the Wasatch Front.
Over the expected 25-year life of the arena, Miller Sport and Entertainment will invest an additional $2.8 billion in arena operations resulting in $4.3 billion returned to the Utah economy in the form of salaries and wages paid; services, supplies and materials purchased, and taxes paid.
"We were very conservative in how we approached this," said Christine Richman, an economic analyst at GSBS Consulting who complete the analysis. "The arena … is an important asset to the vibrancy of downtown and the economic impacts reflect that."
Jazz officials have not publicly said how the project will be financed; however, it is expected that the Miller family will contribute the vast majority of the money. When the Millers built the arena in the early 1990s, the only public support came via a 10-acre donation from Salt Lake's Redevelopment agency. Vivint Smart Home Arena president Jim Olson said financing for this renovation would be "consistent with the funding mechanism and plan when the arena was originally built."
Jazz officials believe the arena has and will continue to help spur growth and development in the surrounding area.
"When you look at the past 25 years and the development that has happened around the arena, it's nothing less than significant and impressive," Olson said. "We think that by renovating the arena into a first-class venue, our plan is to get another 25 years out of it and we'll see the same type of growth and development."
Natalie Gochnour, an associate dean of the University of Utah's business school, reviewed the Jazz's economic impact analysis. As the chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, Gochnour also helped produce another report, EnterpriseSLC, which aimed to identify key projects needed to improve Salt Lake. Among the top priorities: extending the life of the arena.
"The arena is recognized in the minds of business leaders and small business owners in Salt Lake City as a major economic asset. I think it's easy to understand why," she said. "There are 40-plus home games a year. Every home game brings visitors to the urban center. Those visitors use restaurants or parking lots or clubs, contribute to the vibe of downtown, make downtown a destination, if you will. The arena is seen as a big part of the economic fabric of the city."
Officials believe improving the Jazz's arena and new ownership of the Gateway will help drastically improve an area that has struggled some since the opening of the City Creek Center in downtown.
"I have always felt, even with the Gateway's troubles, that the bones in that area are really good," Gochnour said, citing the access to public transportation and high-traffic attractions and businesses such as the arena and BYU's Salt Lake center.
Six arenas used by NBA teams last season were older than Vivint, which debuted in fall 1991 as the Delta Center.
The Jazz have been working with Icon Venue Group, a company that oversees the development and construction of facilities throughout the world. Icon recently has been involved in the restoration of Wrigley Field in Chicago and the construction of the new Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. SCI Architects, which oversaw the renovation of Madison Square Garden in New York City, will also be part of the Jazz's renovation efforts.
"We feel like we're going to do something in a significant way to make the building feel new again," Jazz President Steve Starks said recently, "and return it to first-class status within the NBA."
Olson said the renovation will be more than cosmetic.
"We will be addressing issues everywhere," Olson said. "Everything from fan engagement, how they get through the arena, food, technology issues with video and wifi, to security."