In April, Gail Miller announced her company was leading the charge to bring Major League Baseball to Salt Lake City.
Just months later, she started buying land next to where the group hopes an MLB stadium is built.
The purchase — as well as the company’s stated interest in even more land nearby — is the latest indication that Salt Lake City has entered a new stadium era, where interest in attracting pro sports plays an outsize role on the region’s political and investment landscape.
The Larry H. Miller Company closed on a 12-acre site that was home to ABF Freight shipping and logistics company at 55 S. Redwood Rd., according to Salt Lake County records. It’s among the only privately controlled land that isn’t owned by Rocky Mountain Power to the east.
The purchase sets the stage for the Miller group to control land that sits adjacent to the preferred site for a stadium should the MLB expand or relocate a team to the capital city.
The company may also be under contract with a shuttered hotel immediately north of its new land, at 1659 W. North Temple. The hotel, a former Ramada Inn, was on its way to becoming one of the biggest deeply affordable housing projects in the city last year before the plan fell through.
A developer had amassed millions of dollars in subsidies from the state and city before mysteriously backing out of the project in the autumn. The subsidies the developer collected would have covered a third of the estimated cost of the project and were returned.
In November, the Miller group told The Salt Lake Tribune that it was interested in the Ramada Inn, which would give the company control of nearly 18 acres next to Rocky Mountain Power’s additional 100 acres west of the Jordan River.
“We continue to evaluate those parcels but have yet to close on any transaction,” Amanda Covington, a spokeswoman for the company, told the news outlet. “We are committed to working with local leaders and stakeholders who deeply understand the critical needs of this community, including those who face challenging circumstances and who are building their American dream.”
It’s not clear if that means the company plans to fill in where the previous developer left off in creating housing that’s affordable to Salt Lakers making low wages. (Mayor Erin Mendenhall told the Tribune at the time that any future owner should create low-income housing on the site.)
The Miller Group hasn’t closed on the Ramada Inn site, and it’s not clear if the company has the property under contract or if it will instead focus on its 12 new acres south of South Temple.
Even then, it may be too early to know what the Millers plan to do with the budding assemblage, which was purchased via a limited liability corporation called CPT Dev, LLC, which is managed by Larry H. Miller Real Estate and governed by three Miller executives: Brad Holmes, Mike Kunkel and Sarah Starkey.
The Larry H. Miller Company has not responded to multiple requests for comment from Building Salt Lake.
The Millers helped form an advisory board that’s dedicated to helping the west side of Salt Lake City.
“If we are successful in securing an expansion team, we will use this platform to support organizations and initiatives focused on the west side, its families and local businesses,” Gail Miller said in December.
There has been no recent news about the Miller-led effort to attract an MLB team to the site, but the purchase of land by Utah’s wealthiest family is likely to add more fuel to the bid in the early days of Salt Lake City’s new stadium era.
SLC’s new stadium era
Salt Lake City political leaders are currently courting Big League Utah, the Miller-led entity that launched Utah’s bid for an MLB team, as well as Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith in an effort to build a cluster of pro sports in the capital city.
Smith is actively pursuing a National Hockey League team in Utah and has attracted attention from the biggest names in hockey.
Given NBA and NHL teams often share arenas, Smith’s pursuit of pro hockey has helped ignite fears that he’d move the Utah Jazz out of its current location Downtown.
If he’s like other modern sports owners, Smith is likely looking for opportunities to generate more money by controlling more entertainment surrounding his marquee stadium. That opportunity is more difficult at the existing location of the Delta Center.
Land to the north is largely controlled by the LDS Church. The Gateway is west, and the Convention Center is east. With existing hotels and new development filling in much of the remaining space, there’s not much room for Smith to go in the existing location.
And with the likely need to build a new arena for an NHL team, Smith would need more room somewhere for just the stadium alone.
But modern professional sports owners don’t want just a stadium. Instead, they’ve been eyeing a model where they can seek an ownership stake in more than just the in-season revenue-generating activities.
The Chicago Bears recently bought a former horse track in the suburbs with enough land to create a mixed-use district and possibly gambling facilities near a new stadium for the perennially middling NFL team. (The team is actively engaged in arena politics, playing surrounding towns and Chicago off each other to try to score the best subsidies for its redevelopment.)
Others point to the redevelopment that occurred near the new home of the Atlanta Braves. The area, known as the Battery, includes mixed-use buildings and structured parking that provide year-round activity and cut down on the amount of land dedicated to parked cars surrounding the stadium.
In Chicago’s Wrigleyville, the Ricketts family showed how owners can revitalize urban areas around their arenas. The family spent $750 million to redevelop much of the real estate surrounding the 110-year-old stadium, which was already tucked into an urban neighborhood.
Salt Lake City is entering its own era in which professional sports arenas are front in center in city, regional and state politics.
The Millers have apparently chosen the Power District. Does Smith want to stay put, join the Millers or move to greenfield space south of the city?
The city is apparently doing its due diligence to learn what it can and should offer. City officials took at least two trips to study cities’ stadium areas last year.
In September, they were in Milwaukee on a city exploration trip, during which they learned about the Deer District surrounding the Milwaukee Bucks stadium.
Earlier last year, city officials attended a Pittsburgh Pirates game during a trip to learn about revitalizing Downtown areas. The mayor was present for both trips.
If Salt Lake City is gearing up for a political showdown, she’s apparently doing her homework.