Ryan Smith has landed an NHL team for Utah. Now what?

downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, Skyline
downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, Skyline

The downtown Salt Lake City skyline is backdropped by fresh snow on the Wasatch Mountains on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024. (Spenser Heaps for Utah News Dispatch)

Utah is officially getting a National Hockey League franchise, and attention now turns to potential changes coming to its future home in downtown Salt Lake City.

After days of chatter in Utah and Arizona, it was confirmed on Thursday that the Arizona Coyotes are moving to the Beehive State as a new franchise under the parent company that also owns the Utah Jazz.

“We are honored to bring an NHL team to Utah and understand the responsibility we have as stewards of a new NHL franchise,” said Ryan and Ashley Smith, owners of Smith Entertainment Group, in a news release. “This is a transformative day for our state and our fans.”

The team will be owned and controlled by Smith’s company beginning the 2024-25 season. The Arizona franchise will not keep its name, Ryan Smith told the NHL. The team’s new identity is still to be determined, but it will definitely include “Utah” in its title.

The Arizona Coyotes franchise as it was is now inactive until its owner Alex Meruelo constructs a new, state-of-the-art facility in the next five years, the release states.

Meruelo retains ownership of the Coyotes name, brand and logo and could reactivate the team if he builds a suitable arena. However, the deal Smith landed includes “transferring the totality of its existing hockey assets – including its full Reserve List, roster of players and draft picks and its Hockey Operations Department,” according to the release.

“As everyone knows, Utah is a vibrant and thriving state, and we are thrilled to be a part of it,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in the release. “We are also delighted to welcome Ashley and Ryan Smith to the NHL family and know they will be great stewards of the game in Utah.”

State, city government play a role in redevelopment plan near Delta Center in SLC

This step paves the way for changes in Salt Lake City’s downtown, including big plans from the state government, which drew a path for Salt Lake City to approve a redevelopment plan in the area surrounding the Delta Center. It’s now in the hands of city leaders to approve a sales tax and a development agreement in the coming months.

The Utah Legislature in March approved Senate Bill 272, or Capital City Revitalization Zone, a popular bill in the Utah Senate and the Utah House that allows for Salt Lake City to raise sales taxes by 0.5% to partially fund a new arena that could host an NHL and National Basketball Association team.

The hope is to also create a revitalization zone in the city’s downtown, potentially on the west side of the Salt Palace Convention Center, according to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton. The imposed tax would raise about $1 billion in up to 30 years to fund the project.

That plan still has to be approved by the Salt Lake City Council before it takes effect. Smith Entertainment Group submitted an application on April 4 to create the revitalization zone, which could facilitate redevelopment in the area around the Delta Center, the council said in a statement.

Smith told the NHL that the Delta Center will need to be renovated for NHL games in the short term. The intent, he said, is to use the current facility and make modifications to create a dual-sport arena.

Though the City Council expressed some concerns during last Tuesday’s work meeting and still had questions on what the process would entail, their reaction to Thursday’s news was positive.

“We share in the incredible excitement that Salt Lake City will soon be the proud home of a brand-new National Hockey League franchise! This marks a significant milestone in our city’s ongoing growth and development,” the council said in a statement. “As we prepare to welcome the team and its staff, our City’s vision extends beyond the ice rink and our work is far from over.”

That vision, they added, includes a downtown area that is accessible, inspires connection, attracts residents and visitors, and preserves Japantown’s historical and cultural significance.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall also expressed enthusiasm for what she described as the “beginning of a new era.”

“This announcement is about more than bringing an NHL team to Salt Lake City — it’s a defining moment in our trajectory, becoming a catalyst for a positive vision that integrates community, connection, and more possibilities for families, residents, and visitors to experience our capital city,” Mendenhall said in a statement.

The City Council could vote on whether to approve the deal on July 2.

The city already conducted an informational discussion with a city attorney in its work session meeting last Tuesday, but more official steps are coming in the next months.

On May 7, city officials and Smith Entertainment Group are scheduled to discuss the proposed participation agreement draft. The council will also listen to public comment on May 21. Finally, the city should complete the development agreement by September.

There was also a lot of excitement among state lawmakers, including Senate President Stuart Adams, who said he was thrilled to have an NHL team join Utah.

“Adding another major league team not only enhances our state’s reputation as a sports destination but also promises vitality for our local economy and fosters a strong sense of community pride,” Adams said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to welcoming our new team with open arms.”

Senate Bill 272’s sponsor Dan McCay, who during the legislative session sported his old hockey jersey, used the same descriptor: “thrilled.”

“I’m thrilled to welcome the National Hockey League to Utah, the winter sports capital of the world,” McCay said in a statement. “The NHL will bolster our economy and enrich the lives of Utah families for generations to come.”

The Utah News Dispatch, like the Idaho Capital Sun, is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Utah News Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor McKenzie Romero for questions: Follow Utah News Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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