A ‘vast’ opportunity? Salt Lake names winners of possible Smith’s Ballpark future concept
There’s no guarantee that the future of the ballpark will look like any of the winning designs
Tessa Arneson was preparing to get up and out of her office and into a meeting Tuesday when Salt Lake City officials emailed her to let her know that she and her team were one of three winners of the city's Ballpark Next competition, a contest that seeks to highlight the many possibilities of a 13.5-acre plot of land currently home to Smith's Ballpark.
The founder of the local real estate development firm Maven District could hardly contain her excitement as she read the email.
"I gave myself a little squeal and a pinch. Called my teammates — couldn't get ahold of any of them — and was grinning from ear-to-ear as I walked into the meeting," she said, recalling the moment to KSL.com.
Her team's design focuses on turning the ballpark into a multisport stadium that's a hub for professional women's sports in the region, but it wouldn't only include sports. It could bring in music or cultural events while the surrounding neighborhood is also redeveloped into a more "diverse business ecosystem," to allow for the space to be more of an attraction year-round and not just on game day.
The concept received a $15,000 cash prize as the professional winner of the Ballpark Next competition, which Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced in front of a room filled with Ballpark residents and business owners Wednesday evening. Nicholas Tate Barney and his team from Utah State University won $10,000 for their design in the student category, while Oscar Arvizu won $5,000 for his design in the resident category.
Barney's design reimagines Smith's Ballpark — and its parking lot across the street — into more of a recreation and shopping/dining district. The shops would be similar to something like the Pike Place Market in Seattle, while the park would be complete with trees and a skating ribbon.
Arvizu had something similar in mind, but instead envisions turning the stadium into a sky garden with small-business stores, restaurants and pop-up stores included. A community/learning center and multisport courts could be built in the current ballpark parking lot.
There's no guarantee that the future of the ballpark will look like any of the winning designs, though. City officials wrote in the contest language that the city may use some or none of the submitted ideas when it goes through its solicitation processes later this year.
That said, the ideas submitted in the contest do offer a possible future for the area once the Salt Lake Bees leave after the 2024 season.
"Now that we know the Bees are leaving, we can reexamine what's possible for the ballpark," Mendenhall said. "We're going to think big. ... I almost don't want to define it too much because the opportunity of what it could be is vast."
Mendenhall launched the Ballpark Next competition in January, hours after the Larry H. Miller Company announced it planned to move the Salt Lake Bees out of Smith’s Ballpark at the end of the 2024 season and into a new stadium it plans to build in South Jordan's Daybreak area. The company's decision came several months after Salt Lake City had offered a legacy lease to keep the team in Smith’s Ballpark, which first opened in 1994.
The mayor explained at the time that the city started to plan out the competition as it became clear the Miller Company may not sign the lease, moving a project to enhance the area quickly so that the ballpark doesn't become an "empty pit or a public safety risk" after the Bees move.
The city ended up receiving more than 120 design submissions, mostly from residents who offered their views of what should happen to the ballpark once the Bees are gone. The designs were whittled down to the nine finalists earlier this month. More than 4,600 people voted in the final round of voting to determine the three winners.
Meanwhile, even though the Bees are leaving, Mendenhall said the Miller family is "absolutely committed" to the future of the Ballpark neighborhood. The Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation is backing a $100 million fundraising partnership aimed to help Salt Lake City as it finds a new use for the plot of land the stadium sits on.
"There's not anything really like this happening in the country," she said. "There's not a $100 million philanthropic commitment tied to a 13.5-acre development opportunity next to downtown, next to a (light-rail) station with an awesome neighborhood community, great local businesses in the fastest growing state in the nation."
The Miller Company is also behind a new push to bring a Major League Baseball team to Salt Lake City, which wasn't revealed until April.
What do Ballpark residents want?
Even though the future of the stadium is still a mystery even with the Ballpark Next contest wrapped up, it's becoming more clear what neighborhood residents want out of the space's future.
Feedback from about 150 Ballpark residents found that a project with themes of "community-focused," "shops/restaurants/local businesses," "arts/events/entertainment," "parks/garden/nature" and "sports/recreation" were most valued, as is the idea of making the site a year-round attraction. Themes like "new office space," "parking," "history/preservation" and "health/wellness" all placed at the bottom of the options the city provided them.
Those in attendance Wednesday were also asked to place stickers on a board with the same list of themes, and they essentially replicated the results. Year-round activities, park/green space/garden and sports/recreation rose to the top, while parking and office spaces dropped to the bottom. Amy Hawkins, the chairwoman of the Ballpark Community Council, said she believes residents keep picking similar themes because they know what the neighborhood needs.
"Residents throughout Utah thought housing would be good, but folks who live in this community see housing being presented by private developers at community council meetings month after month, so we don't really see the need to devote public land to that (idea)," she told KSL.com.
A few moments later, she pulled out her phone to play a video she recorded from her home Tuesday. The sound was difficult to hear because of the noise in the room, but she explained that it was the sound of a roar coming from the crowd at a Bees game near her home.
It's a sound that she doesn't want to disappear forever, which is why she wouldn't mind a project that keeps sports in the area.
As for those who own businesses in the neighborhood, Arneson explained that her team has studied the business needs of the area for nearly a decade, especially because her company has property in and around the Ballpark area. That's why her project also aims to help new business owners, especially women, to get their businesses up and running, filling a need on that end.
What happens next?
The timeline for any project is a bit murky simply because the Bees are scheduled to move out at the end of September 2024.
Mendenhall said that the city will continue crafting a community visioning process to better determine what the next process will be before the city begins to send out project proposals to professionals. The mayor added that the city is also not sure yet if it will send out a request to professionals seeking more ideas — possibly guided by the feedback and contest — or standard formal proposals for a project.
What residents and business owners don't want to see, however, is similar holdups like what has happened to the Fleet Block project, which is now several years behind its initial schedule because of a series of various circumstances. To that end, Mendenhall said that the Ballpark Next project may have a shorter timeline than most other city projects.
"That's also my biggest fear," added Salt Lake City Council Chairman Darin Mano, whose district includes the neighborhood. He explained that he believes it may mean that the project will lean more on ideas that are more shovel-ready than ones that would have to go through a more strenuous rezoning process.
It's also a fear that runs through Hawkins' mind, as pushes for improvements to the neighborhood.
"That would be terrible," she said, of the possibility of any delays. "I think we all agree that would be the worst outcome."
Correction: An earlier version referenced Pike's Place Public Market Center. That has been changed to Pike Place Market.