When the public hearings convene this week in the Salt Palace regarding the proposal for a new downtown arena - one that's primary function would be to house the Utah Jazz in surroundings they'd like to become accustomed to - there will undoubtedly be strong emotions. As sure as the Lakers will sell out the Salt Palace when they play the Jazz this winter, someone will ask the following:
"If the Utah Jazz have enough money to pay their players a million dollars a year for seasonal work, if they have enough money to fly first class everywhere they go and give their coach a Mercedes Benz when he wins the division; if they can afford to pay Kelly Tripucka a half million or so just to get out of town, and if they've got access to all the athletic footwear they can wear free of charge, why should the public have to subsidize their new arena?"Such a comment will go over big, probably even draw a standing ovation, and re-establish the traditional battle lines between professional sports and the masses - as strange a coupling (you can't have one without the other) as civilization has ever seen.
The comment will be popular because it makes sense, and because it has a nice dose of self-righteousness thrown in for good measure.
Why should taxpayers who make an average of $25,000 or $30,000 a year pay for a building that will be used by millionaires who, in the process, stand to become even wealthier?
The problem is, logic and pro sports never have hung out in the same neighborhood together.
And it's on that premise that the hearings should begin.
Common sense could kill the whole project, and the loser in that event would be Salt Lake City.
The Jazz are going to be around for a long time. With NBA franchises on the market now for $50 to $60 million, that's a given. The only question is where will the franchise exist. The only answer is: wherever the franchise can get the best deal.
With Larry Miller as the Jazz owner, that doesn't mean leaving the state. Miller is as loyal to Utah as the seagulls. He thinks the Jazz are a natural resource, like Canyonlands. They'll move over his comatose body.
But the Jazz could move from downtown Salt Lake - and without any qualms from Miller.
They could move to West Valley City, or Sandy, or Murray (on the Miller Mile?), or anywhere else where a developer - private or public - decides to give the Jazz an especially attractive new arena deal.
Already, such proposals have been extended to Miller. It was when John Rosenthal, the director of administrative services for Salt Lake County, heard about these offers that he went into recent action.
Rosenthal and Sam Driggs, the manager of the Salt Palace, drew up a variety of plans of attack designed to keep the Jazz downtown. They will reveal them at this week's public hearings - scheduled three hours a day Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
One plan shows how the existing Salt Palace arena could be enlarged by 5,000 seats - but at a cost in the $20 million range, and with mainly endzone seats. Another plan shows how a new arena, in the 17,000-to-18,000-seat range, could be built west of the Salt Palace, at a cost of around $30 million.
Other plans show how the county, the city, the state, and the Jazz themselves, could creatively finance the venture.
No plans will show that any new developments will be profitable. The Salt Palace has been subsidized every year of its existence, and any improvements would only increase the public subsidy.
But the arena's value to the community has been incalculable these past two decades - in terms of tourist revenue, convention revenue, cultural and recreational development, and the solidity of the downtown economic atmosphere. Overall, the Salt Palace has been a big winner.
As the arena's biggest tenant, the Jazz not only contribute the most to the Salt Palace's budget, but also to its image.
The bottom line is, the Jazz can't be allowed to leave. If they need 18,000 seats, and there's an inventive way to create them, they should get their 18,000 seats.
Otherwise, Salt Lake could become another Brooklyn.
It was just slighty more than 30 years ago that Walter O'Malley, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, appealed to the city government there to do something about 32,000-seat Ebbets Field, the smallest ballpark in the major leagues. In order to pay his high-priced ballplayers, and keep pace with the other clubs in the National League, O'Malley needed a bigger park.
The Brooklyn public - through the Brooklyn politicians - said Ebbets Field would stay as it was.
In 1958 the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, and Ebbets Field was turned into an apartment building complex.
What Brooklyn did was logical, and it meant no additional bonds or public financing at the time. But, still, it was a decision that effectively ruled out professional sports - and the accompanying fringe benefits - in that part of the world forevermore.