Salt Lake City plans to revitalize downtown with a 0.5% sales tax

A map shows the proposed Sports, Entertainment, Culture and Convention District in downtown Salt Lake City. This area will include the Delta Center, Abravanel Hall, the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art and the Salt Palace Convention Center. (RE:IMAGINE Downtown SLC)

The Smith Entertainment Group is currently working on approvals with Salt Lake City to renovate the Delta Center and create a Sports, Entertainment, Culture and Convention District downtown.

On Tuesday, July 9, The Salt Lake City Council approved the adoption of an additional 0.5% sales and use tax over the next 30 years to fund the revitalization.

In a council meeting July 9, council member Victoria Petro said the approved participation agreement will be sent to Utah’s Revitalization Zone Committee. The committee will have 30 days to approve the agreement. If the committee approves the agreement, it will be sent back to the Salt Lake City Council for final approval.

If approved, the sales tax in Salt Lake City will increase from 7.75% to 8.25%. It will be imposed by the end of this year, according to the Utah State Legislature.

The SEG will be allowed to use up to $900 million of this tax money towards the project, according to the participation agreement.

The sales tax will apply to prepared food, admission to various entertainment events, electricity, repairs of personal property, hotel accommodations and more as outlined by the Utah State Legislature. However, some goods and services are exempt from this tax.

The Sports, Entertainment, Culture and Convention District will encompass the Delta Center and the area two blocks east, including Maurice Abravanel Hall, the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art and the Salt Palace Convention Center.

This revitalization plan was made possible by the Capital City Revitalization Zone Act passed on March 1 by the Utah Legislature. This act allowed for sales tax increases to be imposed for revitalization and the creation of a Revitalization Zone Committee to approve city revitalization project areas.

“This revitalization project will be transformative to our downtown area and provide lasting economic benefits to our state as it aims to restore Salt Lake City to its once and future glory,” Utah Rep. John Hawkins, a member of Utah’s Revitalization Zone Committee, said in a Utah Senate statement.

A rendering of the Smith Entertainment Group’s proposed renovation of the Delta Center in Salt Lake City. The Delta Center is home to the Utah Jazz and the upcoming Utah Hockey Club. (RE:IMAGINE Downtown SLC)

Mike Maughan, an executive within the SEG, will lead the development of this project. Maughan argued for the renovation of the Delta Center in a public hearing on May 21, noting the Delta Center, the Utah Jazz and the NHL’s upcoming Utah Hockey Club are projected to have an impact of over $600 million on Salt Lake City’s economy.

“This is about an opportunity to reimagine and revitalize our downtown community and create an incredible urban core,” Maughan said.

Some guiding principles of this project include sustainability, walkability, suitable parking, connectivity and the cultivation of a community gathering space, Maughan said.

The SEG has also agreed to implement various community support programs, impose $1-3 fees on Delta Center tickets to fund affordable housing, provide a space for security and police officers, display public art and work with the Japantown community on its possible revitalization. More information on the SEG’s public benefit initiatives can be found on the participation agreement.

“This agreement is about more than the Jazz or the new NHL team. This monumental investment will generate economic activity for surrounding businesses, activate underutilized spaces and help fund critical city services,” Salt Lake City Council member Chris Wharton said during the July 9 council meeting. “I would not support this agreement if I didn’t feel that it was a good deal for all of the city, not just the people who are going to use and interact in this space.”

However, some Salt Lake City residents revealed their skepticism of these plans at the public hearing. Commenters Bim Oliver and Meg Averett expressed their concerns about the impact the plan may have on the future of Abravanel Hall, the home of the Utah Symphony, and instead argued for its renovation.

“Abravanel Hall is one of our few truly world-class buildings,” Oliver said. “Guest conductors and visitors from around the world have praised it as a superior concert hall. Participating in the renovation of this extraordinary building would make a world-class statement that would represent the highest and best use of the additional revenues.”

Abravanel Hall is located within the proposed Sports, Entertainment, Culture and Convention District. Since the hall is owned and operated by Salt Lake County, the Salt Lake County Council will ultimately decide its future, according to the Capital City Revitalization Zone website.

“I am working diligently on a reimagined downtown and a district design that allows Abravanel Hall to remain in its present form,” Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said in a Utah Policy statement.

Commenters Levy Woodruff and Ryeleigh Hewlett noted the negative effect that the revitalization zone and sales tax increase may have on affordable housing.

“We cannot give away so much land, so much money to developers and neglect to provide housing that is so desperately needed for the hardworking people who will be cleaning these developments, who will be working in the stores,” Woodruff said.

Commenters Alex Hirai, John Little, Jeff Novak and Gopi Vijaya disapproved of the project because of its effect on taxpayers.

“I believe that the state has imposed a pretty unfair tax without voter approval,” Little said. “The City Council needs to represent citizens of Salt Lake City by showing some teeth and making sure we get the most out of this deal.”

Other commenters expressed concerns regarding the convention center’s impact on small businesses, the project’s impact on Japantown, a need to slow the development of the project, ensuring that culture is preserved, integrating safer public transit and prioritizing the public’s basic needs and values instead of the project.

The revitalization zone project was also met with support by other Salt Lake City residents and businesses at the hearing.

“Our data shows that sports, arts, entertainment and conventions are the major drivers in the growing downtown economy,” Downtown Alliance Executive Director Dee Brewer said. “Convention spending reduces the tax burden for all Salt Lake County residents.”

Commenter Nathan Phillips, a small business owner in Salt Lake City, expressed his support by responding to common objections to the project.

“People are failing to see that a strong downtown not only benefits a city, but the entire region,” Phillips said. “(The project) might be the driver for a Major League Baseball team. It might be what keeps Sundance here or a convention coming.”

President and CEO of Visit Salt Lake Kaitlyn Eskelson expressed her belief that tourism is a major factor within economic development, especially with the impact of Salt Lake City conventions.

“Across Salt Lake County, tourism supports over 44,000 jobs,” Eskelson said. “We saw what the loss of conventions did during COVID-19 just four years ago, and I want to make sure that we are protecting into the future.”

Commenters Floyd Morian, Matthew Givens, Marisa Eng, Damon Talbot, Zenos Thoreson and Trey Imamura expressed the importance of keeping the impacted communities updated on the project and making sure citizens have a say in the project conversation.

The Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency will hold another public hearing on Tuesday, Aug. 13 at 6 p.m. to hear public feedback on the proposed project. The public can attend the meeting in-person on the third floor of City Hall at 451 South State Street in Salt Lake City or over Zoom. Zoom links will be posted 24 hours before the meeting begins on the Salt Lake City calendar.

Public feedback can also be shared by emailing , calling 801-535-7654, or submitting a comment through mySLC.   

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