Ballpark NEXT design competition winners announced

The first glimpses into the possible future of the current home to Smith’s Ballpark were revealed Wednesday night as Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced the winners of the Ballpark NEXT design competition. Launched shortly after the Larry H. Miller Company announced the Salt Lake Bees would be moving to the Daybreak community in 2025, the competition drew over 200 submissions across three categories: professional, student and resident. After being narrowed down to three finalists in each category, a vote by the public produced one winning entry in each.

“Thousands of votes were cast to select the community’s favorite ideas for what could happen next to the Ballpark, and that, to me, is a successful outcome of this Ballpark NEXT initiative,” Mendenhall says. “It was meant to generate ideas and energy around what could come next, and I think we’ve succeeded in that.”

Professional winner: The women’s sports hub

The winning concept submitted by a professional comes from a large team led by Tessa Arneson, who, in addition to being a designer and entrepreneur, is the founder of Salt Lake City’s Maven District: a coalition of primarily female-owned small businesses. Her submission retains the Ballpark structure, renaming it the “She Plays Here Ballpark” and converting the existing baseball field into a multi-purpose rectangular field set next to a regulation softball field. 

Arneson’s submission envisions dedicating the facility to local women’s sports teams, including the Falconz, Vipers and Wild. Her plan also converts the parking lot into green space ringed by a multi-level structure housing retail, city offices and a startup incubator.

“My primary job is building spaces for entrepreneurs to fill up, and I particularly love building spaces for women to create businesses, take the leap and really go after what they want to go after,” Arneson says. “When this opportunity emerged, we realized this is what we stand for already, so why don’t we extend it to equality in sports? Why does this not already exist? It’s 2023!” 

Arneson believes that the stars of economics, social progress, equality and a large piece of well-placed real estate have all fatefully aligned for female athletes in Utah.

Student winner: The urban forest

Utah State University landscape architecture students Tate Barney, Logan Hall and Owen Huff took home the winning submission in the student category. The trio’s plan also retains the ballpark structure but converts the seating area and field into a walkable urban arboretum, live performance venue and gathering place. An ice skating ribbon would ensure the site remains activated in the winter months. They see the adjacent parking lot converted to shopping and dining organized around a courtyard with a swimming pool and other amenities.

“We wanted to provide access to a safe green space for the Ballpark community, in addition to economic opportunity to help revitalize the area,” Hall says. “The Ballpark neighborhood has a high concentration of cultural diversity, and we wanted to make sure that was showcased in our design as well.”

The plan draws inspiration from multicultural urban gathering places such as Seattle’s Pike Place Market.

Hall added that his team’s plan retains the ballpark structure partly out of budgetary considerations and partly for the Ballpark neighborhood’s name to remain relevant. 

Resident winner: The sky garden

In contrast with the professional and student categories, graphic designer Oscar Arvizu’s winning submission in the resident category tears down the ballpark structure, replacing it with an elevated garden that simultaneously resembles Manhattan’s Little Island and High Line. The gardens surround a ground-level splash pad that can convert into a live performance venue. 

“I went back and forth on the idea of tearing it down, and it kind of breaks my heart,” Arvizu says. “But then I thought, they wanted people to shoot for the stars, so this is me shooting for the stars. I decided I could best do that by starting out with a blank slate.”

Arvizu adds that his father passed away while he was developing his ideas, an event that significantly influenced the final product. 

“He loved flowers and gardens, and it was difficult to see any of that during the winter or have a place to take him for a nice walk,” Arvizu continues. “Something like a biodome would have been the perfect place for us to enjoy during the winter months.”

Accordingly, Arvizu’s plan includes a year-round biodome greenhouse where the outfield sits today. He explains that his purpose in elevating the gardens was to put visitors in a position to simultaneously enjoy the beauty of Salt Lake’s two most defining characteristics: the Wasatch mountains and the Great Salt Lake.

Arvizu’s plan replaces the parking lot with a community learning center and recreational amenities like pickleball and volleyball courts. 

A crisis and an opportunity

While Mendenhall has not been shy in voicing her disappointment with the decision to move the Salt Lake Bees, she is the first to acknowledge that having 13.5 acres in the middle of a densely built-out region of downtown offers a rare chance to accomplish something great and enduring.

“It’s a phenomenally large piece of land so embedded in a neighborhood, close to downtown and connected to transit. We haven’t seen an opportunity like this in a very long time,” Mendenhall says. 

By inviting the public to weigh in on the project’s direction, Mendenhall encouraged entrants to think outside the box. She remained adamant on one front in particular, however: a quick turnaround.

“I’ve represented that area for a very long time—six years as a councilperson and now as the mayor—so I’m intimately aware of the challenges this community faces and the challenge of having the Ballpark itself only active about 71 days a year,” Mendenhall says. “So while I am truly ambivalent at this point [about the Miller’s decision to move the Bees], I am not ambivalent about wanting 365-day activation of the site. That’s a must.” 

Investments in human capital

Running parallel with the Ballpark NEXT infrastructure investments will be significant investments in human capital funded by the Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation’s pledge to lead a $100 million philanthropic initiative. 

“There isn’t anything like this happening in the country,” Mendenhall says. “There’s not a $100 million philanthropic commitment tied to a 13.5 acre development opportunity next to a downtown Trax station with an awesome historic neighborhood community, great local businesses, in the fastest growing state in the nation. There’s nothing like this.”

Though the city has no obligation to actually build any of the winning plans, Mendenhall predicts features of each will be recognizable in whatever final plan is decided on.

“Our redevelopment agency will take these concepts and prepare a request for proposal that will ultimately incorporate the activations of the human capital investment from the philanthropic side … but also bring in the private sector to give their ideas,” Mendenhall says, adding that while the Ballpark NEXT competition has ended, it’s vital that the energy and interest in revitalizing the Ballpark neighborhood are maintained.

“We still need our residents to stay engaged as we decide what public benefit the philanthropy side can make in the community and move forward with those decisions,” Mendenhall says. 

Judd Bagley is a Lehi, Utah based marketing and communications professional who launched his career in journalism, temporarily leaving that calling to raise a family. He always vowed to return to journalism, he is.