The Larry H. Miller Company will break ground on a new ballpark in South Jordan for the minor league Salt Lake Bees later this month.

But what happens to the longtime Triple A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels if the company’s all-in effort to bring a major league expansion franchise to Utah succeeds?

“We would keep them in the market,” said Steve Starks, CEO of the Miller Company, adding five major league clubs have their top minor league teams in the same metropolitan area.

Starks said having the Triple A team only 22 miles from the major league team would be a competitive advantage for developing players and acclimating to the team culture. It also would give fans the opportunity to watch hot prospects play in the minors and then in the majors as they’re called up, he said.

“We think that is a powerful ingredient,” Starks said. “As we have talked to other teams that have done it, they just say it’s been a huge success for them.”

Starks spoke to the Deseret News between sessions of the Larry H. Miller Summit at the Montage Deer Valley in Park City. The weeklong event themed “Doing Good. Together” included sessions with industry experts on philanthropy, investing, real estate and sports in Utah.

The business empire Larry and Gail Miller built has undergone a transformational change the past three years, including transactions totaling $5 billion. The Miller company sold the Utah Jazz to Ryan Smith. It peeled off the auto dealerships that helped make the its fortune and invested in real estate, a home construction company and a health care provider.

“We sold the Jazz but we didn’t get out of the sports entertainment business,” Starks said at the summit. “We’re builders. That’s our DNA. That’s what we’re excited about.”

The Millers’ big pitch: Inside Utah’s push for an MLB expansion team
Construction of an apartment building on North Temple in the Power District of Salt Lake City.
Construction of an apartment building on North Temple in the Power District of Salt Lake City progresses on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

While the Millers retained ownership of the Bees, they’re looking to get back into big-league sports. Now that the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s appear to have settled their stadium issues, expansion could be the next item on baseball’s to-do list.

Led by the Miller company, a coalition of prominent business and community leaders in Salt Lake City calling itself Big League Utah is making a case for one of the two possible expansion teams. The company likely would head up an ownership group.

Starks called the construction of what he said would be a first-class minor league stadium for the Bees a “wonderful analog” to what the company hopes to build for a major league team in the Power District on Salt Lake City’s west side.

“We get to test drive it,” he said.

The new Bees ballpark is part of the first phase of an entertainment district called Downtown Daybreak in South Jordan. The Miller Company bought the master-planned Daybreak community in 2021, including more than 1,300 undeveloped acres. The new stadium is scheduled to open for the 2025 season.

The company envisions a major league stadium in the Power District as part of a large-scale sports and entertainment complex along the lines of The Battery, a mixed-use development in Atlanta that includes Truist Park, the home of the Braves.

Do Utahns want a major league baseball team?

A Texas firm is finalizing an economic feasibility study, including an online public survey, for major league baseball in Salt Lake City. While Starks said he’s not ready to share the results, he said it provides a road map as to how to build a stadium and what amenities fans expect. He said it also showed a “robust” appetite for baseball.

“The report spotlights the fact that Salt Lake is poised to be a really strong MLB market,” Starks said.

The study, he said, shows Utahns have the money to spend on baseball games.

“We’re very fortunate to live in a state where we have the highest median income of any of the potential expansion markets and we would have the sixth-highest median income of any existing MLB market. We have a population base that has the capacity to buy tickets and a passion to want to buy tickets and attend baseball games in the summer in Salt Lake,” Starks said.

Should public funds be used to build an MLB stadium in Salt Lake City?
The Salt Lake Bees play a game with the Tacoma Rainiers at Smith’s Ballpark in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Nashville, Portland, Orlando, Charlotte, Raleigh and Montreal are among cities making pitches or being discussed as potential expansion sites.

Starks didn’t want to comment on other cities’ efforts to land a team, but said Salt Lake City checks all the boxes with a ready market, a sophisticated stadium plan, community and political support and a blue chip ownership group that has a proven track record in professional sports.

“Some markets just can’t get out of their own way or there’s so much infighting that it really becomes a stumbling block. For us, collaboration and that spirit of unity that we have, the can-do attitude gives us a competitive advantage. We believe that Major League Baseball is seeing that,” he said.

“Assessing our chances against all of our competitors, we’re really confident that we should be part of the future of America’s pastime.”

He is not alone in that assessment. Respected ESPN baseball analyst Buster Olney and retired Cy Young Award winner David Cone see Nashville and Salt Lake City as the most likely expansion cities.

Starks declined to say how much money the Miller company has put into its pursuit of a big league, which started about 18 months ago.

“We’re investing. We’re investing because we don’t want to leave this to chance. We’re all-in on this effort to bring baseball to Salt Lake and we’re seeking to do it the right way and our investment matches that,” Starks said.

Miller company board chairman Steve Miller, Starks and other executives have traveled to Minneapolis, Chicago and Atlanta to tour stadiums and meet with team owners to pitch Salt Lake City as an ideal expansion market. They’ve also met with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Starks said they’re talking with the best and brightest experts, including Theo Epstein, the former Boston Red Sox general manager and Chicago Cubs president who helped shape both teams into World Series champions. Epstein, who now works as an MLB consultant, attended the Miller summit this week.

And Starks said they won’t be satisfied with just bringing a team to Utah but want to build a championship team.

“Our ownership group will be comprised of people that have done it in the past, that are committed to it, that will be values-based,” he said. “We’re not just seeking to get a team. We’re seeking to get an expansion team and then build a winning culture so that we’re regularly playing playoff baseball in October. Part of our effort here is that we want to bring a World Series trophy to the Beehive State.”

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