A stage for all seasons: Proposed MLB park in SLC could hold all kinds of events

Supporters of bringing big league baseball say ballpark could host football games, concerts, rodeo

In 2016, Fenway Park built a 140-foot jump in centerfield sloping down to home plate for a ski and snowboard big air contest. In 2019, SunTrust Park (now Truist Field) brought in 800,000 tons of artificial snow for another big air competition in — wait for it — Atlanta.

Just last month, Petco Park in downtown San Diego hosted its first rodeo.

Baseball ballparks aren’t just for baseball anymore.

Backers of an effort to bring a Major League Baseball team to Salt Lake City envision a ballpark hosting much more than 81 regular-season home games. A new ballpark would be a year-round, multiuse venue for all kinds of events from sports to concerts to community celebrations.

“Utah attracts a wide variety of sports and entertainment events throughout the year. The addition of a world-class MLB ballpark would enhance our ability to attract more key events to the state,” said Jeff Robbins, Utah Sports Commission president and CEO.

Those opportunities would strengthen its reputation as being the “State of Sport” and a year-round destination for major sports events, he said.

The Larry H. Miller Company is pursuing a major league expansion team and has targeted a 100-acre site in the Power District on the city’s westside to build a mixed-used development, including a ballpark. A group called Big League Utah, made up of prominent state, community and business leaders, is supporting the endeavor.

So far, the company has only shared general details about the project.

The coalition points to Truist Park in Atlanta and the adjacent The Battery Atlanta, a mixed-use development and entertainment district, as the blueprint for what they picture in Utah. It would sit between the Salt Lake City International Airport and downtown and is bordered by I-80 and a light rail, as well as the Utah State Fairpark and Jordan River. 

Steve Starks, Miller Company CEO, said an MLB ballpark on the westside would be a community asset for all Utahns.

“Not only would we watch the best players in baseball, but our ballpark would be a multi-use facility, attracting year-round programming of events to the Power District,” he said. “Other MLB ballparks regularly host concerts and shows, other high school, college and professional sports, and special events for a variety of activities.”

Construction of a major league park and entertainment district would almost certainly include some public investment for what could be a billion-dollar project. Utah government leaders are averse to diverting taxpayer dollars directly but have acknowledged tax increment financing or a public-private partnership could be options.

Going for the gold

With Utah as the preferred host of the 2034 Winter Games, Big League Utah also touts a ballpark as an Olympic venue. A baseball ballpark could serve as a site for nightly medals presentations and concerts as well as for big air snowboarding competition, which was added to the Olympics in 2018.

“A new Major League Baseball ballpark will provide not only a baseball ballpark but a multipurpose venue for the burgeoning sport and entertainment landscape year round here in Utah, including potential venue options for the 2034 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games,” said Fraser Bullock, CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games.

Bullock earlier told the Deseret News that most Olympic venues, largely those used in 2002, are locked for a future Winter Games in Utah. “But we have many other choices for things like the medals plaza and big air, depending on the circumstances,” he said.

Putting it on ice

Speaking of winter sports, one of the most popular events each season is an outdoor hockey game in January — usually around New Year’s Day — known as the NHL Winter Classic. 

The game has been played 15 times, nine of those in baseball ballparks. Average attendance has been 42,464 in Seattle, Minneapolis, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., St. Louis, New York and Boston (twice). The game will return to Wrigley Field in Chicago next year.

And who knows, maybe Utah’s hometown team — should the NHL skate into the state — could play in the game someday. 

Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith has designs on an NHL expansion team. There are also rumblings about the struggling Arizona Coyotes possibly finding their way to Salt Lake City.

College bowl

In recent years, college football has also found its way into major league ballparks.

In 2023, bowl games were held in ballparks in Phoenix, Boston, San Diego and New York (Yankee Ballpark). Also last year, Northwestern played Iowa in a regular season game at Wrigley Field. South Dakota State met Drake in a game at Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins. In 2017, the Atlanta Braves’ ballpark went from diamond to gridiron for a Kennesaw State-Jacksonville (Alabama) State football game.

Globe Life Field, where the Texas Rangers play, has been the site of high school football games. 

Let the music ring

Perhaps one of the most iconic rock concerts of all time took place in a baseball ballpark. The Beatles’ performance at Shea Ballpark in New York in 1965 was a milestone in music history. 

Since then, all kinds of bands and artists have taken the stage in a ballpark. Most MLB parks bring in multiple, stand-alone concerts in an amphitheater-style venue each year.

San Diego’s Petco Park has 11 concerts on the calendar in 2024, including shows by Chris Stapleton, Billy Joel and Riley Green, while Fenway Park has booked nine, including Kane Brown, Foo Fighters and blink-182. Pink will perform at Dodger Ballpark this year. 

In San Francisco, the Giants’ Oracle Park is currently hosting Cirque du Soleil: Kooza.

Ride ‘em cowboy

Petco Park last month also held the inaugural San Diego Rodeo in partnership with the San Diego Padres. The three-day event included a sold-out Saturday night of cowboy and cowgirl activities. The ballpark was reconfigured for the event, with the baseball infield becoming the arena.

In 2020, the Texas Rangers’ ballpark hosted the National Finals Rodeo, the equivalent of the World Series for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. 

With the amenities that a major league baseball ballpark offers, other possible uses include Utah high school championships and other professional sports, daytime events before night ballgames, corporate conferences, graduation ceremonies, holiday lights celebrations and charity fundraisers.

Read the article by Dennis Romboy on the DesNews.com