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HAPPY 20TH BIRTHDAY, PALACE - SEEMS LIKE YOU’VE ONLY JUST BEGUN

SHARE HAPPY 20TH BIRTHDAY, PALACE - SEEMS LIKE YOU’VE ONLY JUST BEGUN

Tell the truth. You can't really be 20 already, can you? I remember when you were just a youngster. And now you're 20 years old. That's two decades.

Two decades of politics, two decades of boosterism, two decades of Ringling Bros., boat and RV shows, hockey brawls, barbershop quartet conventions, Neil Diamond concerts, rodeo cowboys.And two decades of controversy - some of it trivial, some not - dogging you nearly all the way.

Happy 20th birthday, Salt Palace.

We've got a little something for you. From all of us who've ever visited over the years. No, it's nothing really. Just a look back at some of the moments in your life.

Think of it as a slide show of sorts. You know, embarrassing snapshots of you as a baby, naked on the bearskin rug. That kind of thing.

After all, we can pretty much remember the really important moments. Like how the ABA Utah Stars won a championship while one of your tenants. And all the good times we had watching the Utah Jazz win two NBA Midwest Division crowns. And the Golden Eagles winning numerous league cups, in two leagues no less, on your ice.

That's not even to mention all the great concert performances, or the gun shows, or the Festivals of Trees or any of your other festivals and shows we went to.

Of course, we can't leave out the part about how you've put millions into our local economy and tax coffers by drawing all those out-of-state conventioneers here to meet at your facilities and spend money in our shops and restaurants.

And we all know that if it weren't for you - and for those people who dreamed you up and brought you into existence - we would have missed out on a lot of that stuff, just because there isn't anyplace else around here where it could have happened.

But to have some fun, it being your birthday and all, we decided to do this flashback - stretching even to the days when you were but a gleam in a city commissioner's eye.

1961 - State lawmakers passed enabling legislation for a city-county civic auditorium, a project that had been discussed off and on since the 1920s. Unfortunately, a year later the auditorium bill was declared unconstitutional in district court. Legislators had to pass a constitutional version in 1963.

1962 - A City-County Civic Auditorium Committee was set up to explore your feasibility. Of course later in the decade Salt Lake City would pull out of the project altogether, threatening your very existence. And at one point in the mid-'60s, Mayor J. Bracken Lee tried to block your construction. But voters in November 1962 didn't know all that would happen when they approved a $17 million bond issue to pay for you.

1964 - In June the committee chose your home.

1965 - In March, your name was chosen. Thankfully, "Salt Palace" beat out suggestions like "Bonneville Coliseum" and "Deseret Coliseum" in the Name-That-Arena competition.

1966 - You were back in court again. This time a lawsuit forced the rebidding of your construction contract after it had already been awarded.

1967 - Ground was broken in March. During excavation, the remains of three people were uncovered in what experts guessed was a pioneer-era family burial plot. The adult and two children were never identified, and their remains were later reinterred in a modern cemetery.

1968 - A worker was killed in a crane accident.

1969 - In June, you were completed like some troubled movie production, three months behind schedule and $2.2 million over budget. The delay in opening, blamed by the contractor on bad weather, forced the relocation of about a dozen events that had been booked into your facilities for April and May. It would take the next 15 years to work out your bugs, including poor sound systems, leaky roofs and fire code problems.

And October saw the beginning of the Great Salt Palace Beer Battle. Your managing board voted to reverse a beer ban imposed earlier and sell beer at professional sporting events. That set off a wave of community outrage and protest, and the whole matter ended up in court. A year or so later, there was another beer skirmish, this one over that burning historical question, "Should we sell draft or canned beer at the Salt Palace?"

1970 - Rock 'n' roll was here to stay. After some arrests for drug and alcohol offenses during concerts by Brazilian rocker Carlos Santana and a popular '60s band war, serious consideration was given to banning "hard rock" performers from your arena. The ban never materialized.

1971 - You'd been open less than two years when your first expansion project was begun, to provide 100 convention meeting rooms. Now, 18 years later, the main rap against you is that you still don't have enough meeting rooms.

1975 - Your first financial scandal. The county attorney's office claimed your managers were deliberately issuing misleading financial reports. An audit turned up no missing funds, but poor cash-handling practices were identified, some of which still existed 12 years later when another scandal was uncovered.

1978 - Your managing board voted against allowing 10 performances of the X-rated musical "Oh, Calcutta!" to be staged in your Little Theater. The East Coast (of course) production company took you to court again. The federal judge ruled the board couldn't refuse to rent public facilities to the producers. But city vice squad cops promised to attend the play to make sure community decency remained unviolated.

1979 - The presence of pro sports expanded with the Salt Lake Stingers of the Professional Volleyball Association joining the Golden Eagles as tenants. Unfortunately, the Stingers didn't last long, but they did provide spectators (all four of them) a chance to see Wilt Chamberlain play pro volleyball with his visiting team, the uh . . . uh, the uh, well, whatever team it was that Wilt was with. Oh, yeah, the Jazz came to you that year, too.

1981 - Not one of your better years. First, voters discovered benefits of the $16.5 million expansion bond issue they had approved in 1980 had been "exaggerated" by convention boosters. The money would only build 120,000 square feet of new exhibit space instead of the 200,000 boosters had promised. Later it was discovered the projected cost of expansion was already running $1 million over the approved amount.

Then there was the big fight over whether Second West should be closed to accommodate the expansion. Perhaps foreshadowing things to come, an audit report blasted your poor management and inadequate accounting techniques.

1982 - The Jazz's first complaint about your high rent.

1983 - The Jazz, by now your dominant tenant, played some "home" games in Las Vegas and moved their corporate offices to the Triad Center, fueling speculation that the team was on its way out your door and perhaps out of town.

In November, Salt Palace II opened behind schedule and, at $22 million, over budget just like the original but more expensive. However, people didn't care about that. Instead they were offended because the exterior of the addition was a hideous off-blue color. Everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief when the temporary protective blue coating was removed.

1984 - Things looked bleak when the Central Hockey League folded and threatened to drag the Golden Eagles into history along with it. The snooty International Hockey League eventually deigned to let the Golden Eagles join, allowing them to remain your tenant. The Jazz won their first Midwest championship.

1986 - The first serious talk of a new Jazz-owned arena surfaced. The team wasn't happy because it still thought the rent was too high, and because Salt Lake City pulled out of an agreement with the county and the state to subsidize the team's rent payments.

1987 - Dark days. Your director resigned and later pleaded guilty to stealing hockey tickets and returning them for cash refunds. Following an audit, seven other employees were terminated and charged with various misdemeanors. Charges against two were eventually dropped, and one was given back his job and awarded back pay by an arbitration council.

1988 - As lost convention bookings mounted, officials set up a task force to study the feasibility of a new arena and convention facilities. Jazz owner Larry Miller eventually decided to build a $45 million arena. Your convention facilities were deemed cramped, gauche and tacky. Remodeling would cost some $16 million, interior decorators said.

In addition, $50 million more is needed to build additional meeting rooms, a banquet hall and more exhibit space.

1989 - A new task force is set up to explore remodeling your arena to provide the needed convention facilities, and possibly space for a new science center as well.

All in all, you've had a pretty full and interesting first 20 years.

*****

(Additional information)

'Party' Thursday

An awards dinner and Salt Palace birthday celebration is scheduled Thursday with a reception at 6 p.m. and dinner to follow at 7 p.m.

A half-day seminar Friday morning at 8 a.m. will emphasize the importance of remodeling and enlarging the Salt Palace convention and exhibition facilities.

Attendance is by invitation only.