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Negotiations to keep the Delta Center name on its arena were going nowhere, so the Utah Jazz turned to a company whose owner was much like their own leader, Larry H. Miller.
Like Miller, Steve Creamer was a self-made businessman, proud of his Utah roots, with a history of varied ventures and, as Creamer joked, "we're both bald."
They are now business partners. The Jazz announced Monday that EnergySolutions, Creamer's hazardous-waste-services company, had purchased naming rights to the downtown Salt Lake City arena for an undisclosed price. The 10-year agreement covers signage outside and inside the arena, advertising and hospitality opportunities.
Dennis Haslam, president of Larry Miller Sports & Entertainment Group, said the Jazz were proud to have their arena carry the name of a firm based in Utah but operating globally, even if that operation - which includes running a low-level radioactive and hazardous waste disposal facility in Tooele County - leaves the arena susceptible to mocking nicknames.
Already, "The Dump" is one suggested alternative to EnergySolutions Arena. There are also implications for the state's new tourism brand: "Utah: Life Elevated." Observed Vanessa Pierce, executive director of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah: ''We might as well remake our motto: 'Waste, Elevated.' ''
Responded Haslam: "This is not just a landfill in the west desert. This is a company that is very progressive and future looking, that is making a huge investment in what Utah will look like in 10 years and our country will look like in 20 years."
Creamer said he was willing to invest partly out of respect for Miller, who could have sold the Jazz and let the team move elsewhere. ''But that's not what Larry Miller's about. . . . What he's done for Salt Lake City differentiates it from a lot of other same-size communities around America,'' he said. ''This [naming agreement] is also saying this company is here for a very long time.''
The agreement also says it is not Envirocare of Utah, one of four companies that merged this year to become EnergySolutions. Former Envirocare owner Khosrow Semnani was implicated in a bribery/extortion scandal involving a former state regulator, and the company was ridiculed by environmentalists for turning Utah into a national waste dump.
Creamer is not ashamed of his business - "I'm very proud of what I do" - adding that naming rights figure into an aggressive branding campaign to educate the public that disposing of low-level radioactive waste is not dangerous. But it is essential, Creamer contended, predicting a resurgence in nuclear power because of concerns that coal-fired power plants accelerate global warming.
The United States, he added, ''has to have nuclear energy and it doesn't work without us. [Waste material] has to be properly taken care of and that's what we work very hard to do.''
Miller acknowledged that "some people might vaporlock or panic" over the Jazz/EnergySolutions union, but insisted that ''There's no need for that. The first thing I'd say to anyone who is uneasy or would make a controversy out of it is, 'Find out what you're talking about.' . . . It's a safe business and a necessary business based on alternatives going forward."
Added Haslam, noting that Miller Sports & Entertainment officials did due-diligence checks: "We have a confidence level with the business practices at EnergySolutions and the business they're in. They are cleaning up the country. Becoming a solution to nuclear energy problems is important."
EnergySolutions is owned by Creamer Investments and a pair of private equity firms: Lindsay Goldberg & Bessemer in New York City and Salt Lake City-based Peterson Partners.
Creamer, 55, also is well known in Utah business and political circles.
A former state employee in transportation and environment quality, he has been involved in numerous public works projects in rural Utah. He helped establish a garbage landfill in Carbon County and did engineering work on the Quail Creek Dam near St. George that failed. He also pushed unsuccessfully for a road linking Vernal and Moab through the Book Cliffs and promoted Syn-Crete, an experimental concrete overlay that didn't work when used in 1989 to resurface a stretch of Interstate 15.
Monday's announcement brings an end to Delta Air Lines' 15-year run as the arena's namesake.
"Delta was a very good partner," said Haslam, but in negotiations that started in spring, ''we weren't able to get together on all of the elements of what makes a relationship. We didn't get to the point where somebody said 'yes' or somebody said 'no.' It wasn't going the direction we had had hoped and they had hoped.''
He admitted Delta's bankruptcy proceedings concerned the Miller group. "It was something we worried about, whether we could even go forward with Delta, considering its bankruptcy situation."
Added Miller: "It was not so much a function of [Delta] not being able to afford it, but they were distracted by weightier matters."
Delta spokesman Anthony Black said the airline learned a short while ago it was out of the running. It had right-of-first-refusal through Sept. 30. "Beyond that date, we were not officially the naming-rights owner of the building and ultimately we were not able to reach a mutual agreement on the naming rights," he said.
* Tribune reporter PAUL BEEBE contributed to this story.