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Salt Lake City Takes Key Step to Handing NBA, NHL Owner Ryan Smith $900 Million

  • The agreement would send nearly $1 billion in public money to Smith Entertainment Group.
  • The state still needs to approve the deal, which would be finalized with a tax increase.
Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Salt Lake City’s city council and mayor have unanimously endorsed sending $900 million to NBA and NHL owner Ryan Smith.

There are still several steps to go before Smith gets the money, $525 million of which would be earmarked for upgrades to the Delta Center, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

The deal would require Smith’s teams—the Utah Jazz and a yet-unnamed NHL team that will play as the Utah Hockey Club this year—to stay in the arena for 30 years, or repay some of the money.

Smith, a Utah software billionaire, bought the Jazz in 2020 for $1.6 billion and the Arizona Coyotes in ’24 for $1.2 billion. Moving the hockey franchise to Utah was part of his deal to acquire the NHL team; he also owns Salt Lake City’s professional soccer teams.

The deal the city council signed off on Tuesday night is still a preliminary one. A committee in the state legislature still needs to approve the deal, at which point the city council would vote on a tax increase. That tax increase would raise nearly $1 billion in revenue for Smith.

But local officials are ready to write the check to Smith.

“This is a catalytic day for Salt Lake City because it’s about much more than sports and entertainment,” the city’s mayor, Erin Mendenhall, said Tuesday night.

Most of the $900 million will go to Delta Center upgrades that are scheduled to be completed by 2027, but the deal also has Smith spending $375 million on renovations to the area around the arena. The agreement also has Smith’s company spending $3 billion of its own money on the projects.

The complex deal, if the state and city finalize it, mostly boils down to:

  • $900 million in bonds for Smith Entertainment Group funded by a sales tax agreement
  • Penalties and repayments for Smith’s teams if either leaves the arena in the next 30 years
  • A “ticket fee” for NHL and NBA games at the arena to go back into city coffers

Mendenhall, the mayor, spun the ticket fee as a major win for the city in negotiations. She said after the agreement passed Tuesday that the fee would generate “about $100 million over the course of 30 years for Salt Lake City to determine how to invest in other public benefits, like family-size affordable housing.”

Her office later pumped the brakes on those claims.

“A spokesperson for the mayor’s office later said the $100 million figure had not been verified,” the Tribune reported.

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