The same family that helped usher in Utah’s big league sports era in the 1980s after purchasing the financially struggling Utah Jazz to keep the NBA team in the Beehive State is ready to up the ante, and this time around the mission is to bring Major League Baseball to Salt Lake City.

On Wednesday, the Miller family and the Larry H. Miller Company announced a coalition of Utah leaders has been convened to position Salt Lake City as an ideal market for Major League Baseball. Big League Utah, a broad-based community coalition, said it believes Utah is the “Future of America’s Pastime” and has targeted a shovel-ready site for a new MLB ballpark at the 100-acre Rocky Mountain Power District on Salt Lake City’s west side.

“We believe in the power of sports to elevate and unify communities,” Gail Miller, co-founder and owner of the Larry H. Miller Company, said in a press statement. “Larry and I risked everything to acquire the Utah Jazz, and it was a tremendous honor to ensure it thrived as a model franchise. We now have an opportunity to welcome Major League Baseball to Utah and invite all Utahns to join us in this effort.”

According to the organizers, the coalition includes Utah’s federal, state and local decision-makers, business and community leaders, former MLB baseball players and potential investors.

“Over the past year, we have enjoyed our ongoing conversation with Major League Baseball and have formally registered our interest in Salt Lake being considered an expansion market,” Steve Starks, CEO of the Larry H. Miller Company, said in a statement. “We have strong reasons to believe we will be a viable candidate. The response has been universally enthusiastic as we have invited others to join the coalition. Anytime you’re in the running to add a professional baseball team to your market, you jump at that opportunity. Baseball becomes synonymous with great cities across this country. It helps form their identity.”

A rendering depicts what a new Major League Baseball stadium could look like in the Power District in Salt Lake City.
Renderings released Wednesday, April 12, 2023, depict what a new Major League Baseball stadium could look like in the Power District located on North Temple in Salt Lake City, according to Big League Utah, a group described as a “broad community coalition led by the Miller family. It consists of Utah’s federal, state and local decision-makers, business and community leaders, former MLB baseball players and potential investors. | Big League Utah

In a Deseret News interview Wednesday, Starks said Utah wasn’t ready to be a part of the conversation almost 25 years ago when the MLB last expanded the league. But, a lot has changed since then and the state is now well situated to host a team from the bigs.

“If you look at the growth of Utah over the past two decades it’s been phenomenal,” Starks said. “We have the nation’s strongest economy, No. 1 job growth, a very diverse economy and a young population. It’s a strength of market we weren’t able to offer the last time baseball expanded. But now we have so many tailwinds and so much momentum we’re getting noticed on a national level and are definitely in the conversation.”

What we know now about the MLB’s expansion plans

While MLB officials have said they aren’t ready to discuss league expansion plans until two teams that are currently pursuing new stadium deals in their home cities, the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics, lock down future plans, owners and fans appear to be ready for some new teams.

Starks said one of the most important steps in moving forward on a potential MLB stadium build in Salt Lake City has already been accomplished, with a site identified on the Rocky Mountain Power parcel on the city’s west side. The grander vision is for a mixed-use development that would incorporate and complement a new stadium, a formula that’s been successful in other cities like Atlanta and St. Louis.

Starks also noted the coalition is open to the various scenarios that could result in Utah hosting an MLB franchise including a new expansion team or a team looking to relocate.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox loves the idea, and said Utah’s central location, emerging national presence and experience as a host of big-time sporting events, will all play well in the effort to attract an MLB franchise.

Rocky Mountain Power District property in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 12, 2023. The company broke ground for new offices along with Gail Miller, who also announced plans to hopefully bring a Major League Baseball team to the area. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“Utah has the strongest economy in the country, is a top 30 media market, and is the fastest-growing state with the youngest population,” Cox said in a press statement. “These are the ingredients for a Major League Baseball market. As the Crossroads of the West, Utah has successfully hosted large sporting events, like the 2002 Olympic Winter Games and two NBA All-Star Games and is home to thriving professional and collegiate sports teams. We boast of the Greatest Snow on Earth, five national parks and 46 state parks. We are on the radar and pushing as hard as we can.”

At a Wednesday press event announcing the MLB pursuit effort and celebrating a groundbreaking for a new Rocky Mountain Power office to be built on the property, Cox noted the addition of a baseball team adds a great potential agenda item for travelers coming to Utah to visit state and national parks, Temple Square and other notable sites.

Cox also believes bringing a Major League Baseball team to Utah has the potential to elevate community unity and shared an anecdote about catching a Padres game in San Diego earlier this spring.

“We were there and I just couldn’t stop smiling because I knew this announcement was coming,” Cox said. “But looking around and seeing that city transformed on opening day, everyone was wearing their Padres gear and we got caught up in what was happening there.

“And I want that opportunity not just once or twice a year when I have to be traveling. I want that opportunity with my kids, with the grandkids I hope to have. I want to be able to sit at that ballpark and just relax and take in America’s pastime, the most special of all sports.”

Two former major league players, Dale Murphy and Jeremy Guthrie, also stumped on behalf of the Big League Utah effort at Wednesday’s event, as did Rocky Mountain Power President/CEO Gary Hoogeveen and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall.

Hoogeven also announced plans for three new buildings to be constructed on a section of the 100-acre property that also includes a potential stadium site, just south of the company’s current office on North Temple.

Utah joins a group of other cities across the country and in Canada that are also officially in the mix when it comes to pursuing an MLB franchise. Those cities include Utah neighbors Portland and Las Vegas as well as Charlotte, Nashville and Montreal.

Big League Utah organizers said the state has the highest median income of potential MLB expansion markets and outperforms other like markets in both ticketing and sponsorship revenue. The group noted Utah has a reputation as a family-friendly state and is also a leader in youth sports programs, including the Junior Bees, the largest MiLB youth program with 20,000 participants and growing, while the Junior Jazz, launched in 1983, is the longest-running junior NBA program.

“Salt Lake City is distinctly ready to be Major League Baseball’s newest home,” Mendenhall said in a press release. “The infrastructure we already have in place — from our world-class international airport, to our robust public transit system, our hotel and hospitality sectors, and our arts, culture and entertainment community — make us a perfect fit for this evolution.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall shakes hands with Steve Starks, chief executive officer of the Larry H. Miller Company, as they talk with Gail Miller at the groundbreaking of the Rocky Mountain Power plant on the west side of Salt Lake City on April 12, 2023.on Wednesday, April 12, 2023. Miller also announced plans to bring a Major League Baseball team to Salt Lake City. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“Our capital city and the residents of North Temple near the Power District are poised for an investment like this, and I welcome the opportunity to keep growing this cultural and economic hub of our great state and region.”

While Big League Utah wasn’t ready to share potential budget figures, recent MLB stadium builds have ranged from $500 million to the $2.3 billion it took to construct the new Yankee Stadium, which is both the most expensive stadium ever built and an outlier compared to other projects.

The Big League Utah coalition includes construction giant and veteran stadium builder Mortenson Construction, the firm that oversaw the construction of Truist Park for the Atlanta Braves and led by General Manager Sarah Narjes. Mortenson is the general contractor for the first phase of the Power District and has partnered with Rocky Mountain Power, the Larry H. Miller Company and Big League Utah to help attract Major League Baseball to Salt Lake City, according to the group.

“For nearly seven decades, Mortenson has been shaping skylines across the country while building a reputation as the best and most respected name in sports construction,” Narjes, construction manager for the Power District, said in a press statement. “We understand the high level of skill, knowledge and expertise required to develop and build complex projects. A well-designed and expertly constructed facility can positively influence revenue generation, performance and operations, the fan experience, and create lasting community impact.”

Correction: And earlier version misidentified the Tampa Bay Rays as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The team dropped “devil” in 2007.