Take us out to the ball game. Please.
Wednesday a coalition of Utah business and political leaders announced a formal campaign to bring a Major League Baseball team to Salt Lake City. The timing is just right. The vision of a location for, and surrounding development with, a stadium site is well-thought-out. The whole community should get behind the effort.
With a few cautions.
Big-time sports development can be a boon or a bane for a community. Whatever willingness city, county and state officials may have to sink a lot of taxpayers money into the project should be tempered with consideration of just how much the community might get in return. And be undertaken with maximum transparency.
The community and elected officials at all levels must have as their primary focus the impact of a ballpark on the surrounding neighborhood. The potential for the land around the stadium to be a thriving, year-round neighborhood, with retail and hospitality businesses and housing that would include many affordable units, is at least as much a recommendation for the plan as any sporting activity could ever be.
Gov. Spencer Cox, a supporter of the MLB effort, is right when he says that there is a significant difference between socialism for the rich and community investment. Public funding of surrounding infrastructure that builds up the whole of the neighborhood, not just the ballpark, could be in order, and would follow the example set by the creation of the once and future Delta Center on South Temple downtown.
Significantly, that home for the Utah Jazz basketball team was created by the late Utah mega-businessman Larry Miller. His family and his Larry H. Miller Co. successor corporation are part of the Big League Utah coalition that is now looking at building a major league stadium on North Temple, west of downtown and across from the Utah State Fairgrounds.
It is just the right site for the planned ballpark. The 100 acres owned by Rocky Mountain Power has already been envisioned, by RMP and others, as a prime location for redevelopment of land now mostly ignored. It already has light rail access and is near the region’s major highways and airport.
As a community, Salt Lake City could well benefit from a major draw that would go a long way to end the view of the West Side being a separate, remote community and make the North Temple neighborhood a spot that East Siders go to, to enjoy themselves and spend money, not just speed through on their way to the airport.
The potential downside ramifications would be nothing new to our community and — again, with proper oversight — could carry the seeds of their own cure.
Salt Lake City’s West Side neighborhoods are already suffering from spreading gentrification — a trend found in many cities where once-affordable rental units and middle-class owner-occupied homes get pushed aside by newer, fancier, and much more expensive, residences. There’s money to be made, but often not by the people who live in those neighborhoods now, people who then find it difficult to find new homes.
It will fall to City Hall to take a leadership role in making sure that a ballpark development is a tide that lifts all boats. That, notably, never really happened with the ballpark for Salt Lake City’s minor league baseball franchise at 1300 South and West Temple.
In recent years, the very label “Ballpark Neighborhood” became synonymous, fairly or not, with a broken-down, crime-plagued part of town. That team, the Salt Lake Bees, announced only recently that it was decamping from the Ballpark Neighborhood for shiny, new, privately funded digs out west in the Daybreak development.
Even though the Bees are still a Miller family property (they sold the Jazz in 2020), the Millers join other boosters of the major league effort in rightly arguing that a downtown(-ish) site for the new stadium is the right one. It would follow the example of existing and planned downtown MLB sites in Phoenix, Baltimore, Detroit, San Francisco, Denver, St. Louis and, maybe, Kansas City, boosting the downtown rather than abandoning it for some remote spot near Country Road and Plowed Ground.
This campaign will be a lot more complicated than build it and they will come.
It helps that Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred is already campaigning to expand MLB from 30 to 32 teams, even as two of the current franchises — Oakland and Tampa Bay — are said to be looking for greener grass.
Salt Lake City, of course, is not the only city in the running. Key rivals, where efforts have already begun, include Portland, Oregon, Las Vegas and Nashville.
The Wasatch Front population of 2.6 million is already a bit larger than any of those communities, and stands to keep producing more potential baseball fans at a rapid clip.
Which is all the more reason why the busy, crowded, multiplying population of Salt Lake City needs the calmer, reflective, green pastime that is Major League Baseball.
Check out the article by The Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board in The Salt Lake Tribune.