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Sandy wins stadium bid

Published October 11, 2005 12:33 am

Real Salt Lake picks booming SLC suburb over downtown as site for stadium
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Dave Checketts' passion for a downtown soccer stadium has been overpowered by practicality - and politics: He's taking his team to Sandy.

The Real Salt Lake owner plans to announce the move Wednesday, the same day RSL ends its inaugural season. While team officials wouldn't comment Monday about their decision, multiple sources told The Salt Lake Tribune that Sandy is a done deal.

Details on who will pay for it, how and when it will open are far from final.

House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, huddled with Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon late Monday to solidify support from the county to help pay for the Sandy stadium. The $18 million county leaders and state lawmakers set aside for parking near the South Towne Exposition Center is considered a key piece in the stadium funding puzzle.

Wednesday's announcement is scheduled at the Expo Center, kitty-corner from the stadium site.

Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan - who wouldn't confirm his city won the stadium sweepstakes - said Monday that the new $60 million venue could be a major economic driver and a "real catalyst for all the properties around 9000 South."

At Jordan High School, six blocks from the stadium, the news was met with enthusiasm.

"Yes," said Ann Haertel, the school's assistant girls soccer coach. "How's that for a reaction?"

"Awesome," said Jana Walch, who has three children playing soccer in the southeast suburb.

The team hopes to play in its new home in 2007, but may have to wait until 2008. RSL, which is playing its 2005 and 2006 seasons in the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium, has discussed playing at the U. for another year.

RSL's decision mirrors the move of most Major League Soccer franchises - including Chicago, Dallas and Denver - which have picked the suburbs over urban centers.

In Utah, though, the choice has come to be less about place and more about politics. Checketts was choosing between Sandy and downtown Salt Lake City - between Dolan, the politically connected Republican, and Rocky Anderson, the politically alienated Democrat.

The soccer team may need help from the Legislature to fund the 25,000-seat venue, and Dolan is a better bet at gaining lawmakers' support than the Salt Lake City mayor.

On Monday, Anderson tried to downplay the significance of losing the team to the 'burbs - in contrast to his heavy lobbying for the stadium to be built either downtown or at the Utah State Fairpark, 10 blocks west of downtown.

"It's not the end of the world," said Anderson, even adding that he feared the stadium might be "dead space many days of the year."

"It's unfortunate that politics drove this decision rather than the merits," Anderson said between sessions at a conference in Washington, D.C. "Dave Checketts and his management team have made it very clear from the very beginning that they wanted the stadium to be in downtown Salt Lake City."

RSL cannot move until it buys the Sandy property. The 19.7 acres near 9400 South and State Street are owned by the Miller family (no relation to Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller). Rich Miller said Monday that his family hasn't sold the property to the team, but he confirmed they have been talking.

"We hope they put it on our property," Miller said. "They think things look good."

He said the team has been hampered in trying to buy surrounding property since news broke earlier this year that RSL was interested in the Sandy site. "Everybody's doubled their prices since it's been in the paper." Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, who urged the team to stay at Rice-Eccles, questions if now is the time to "take the leap" to move the fledgling franchise.

"Without a little more history to the team in Utah, I'm not sure it makes a lot of sense," she said. "If we're not talking about using public dollars, then I wish Real the best."

Yet questions about getting that cash are as many as RSL goals are few.

About $18 million remains in a legislative deal to fund expanded parking - possibly a terrace - for the nearby Expo Center. Some lawmakers along with Dolan want to build a surface lot instead and tap the hefty balance to buy land for the stadium.

But Corroon said no specific proposals have crossed his desk. "I haven't seen any numbers."

Such a financial package would be salt in the wound for Salt Lake City, which loses the stadium to Sandy and - after kicking in $8 million toward the Expo Center parking and Salt Palace expansion - could end up helping to pay for the team's move.

If the county agrees to divert the garage money to the stadium, City Councilman Dale Lambert calls the idea "just plain wrong. It was not the deal we agreed to."

Lambert said RSL's decision is Salt Lake City's loss - and the team's. "Ultimately having that facility in downtown Salt Lake would have been a better venue for fans."

Scot Boyd agrees. Although the RSL fan will live 10 minutes from the Sandy site, he prefers a downtown Salt Lake City location. Attending a game downtown is an "event," he said, because there are restaurants, bars and other night life.

"There's something about the downtown location, the downtown mystique. It will be interesting to see if they can make Sandy an event."

Boyd blames Anderson, in part, for losing out on the stadium.

"When it comes to actually using politics, you've got a seasoned professional [Dolan] against a loudmouthed amateur," said Boyd, a downtown lawyer. "It's Salt Lake and Salt Lake doesn't get anything done through the county or the state Legislature right now for very good reason. Everyone's mad at Rocky."

Downtown Salt Lake City always was Checketts' preferred location. He wanted a stadium to be a part of its revitalization. So what happened?

Land downtown is pricey, and Salt Lake City didn't have an easy way to pay for it, like Sandy does. Plus, RSL apparently needs more than one downtown block. The team wants lots of room because it's interested in building more than a stadium - it plans other developments including retail.

Sandy also has the demographics going for it - soccer moms and dads galore - and it's near the booming southwestern portion of the county.

"Soccer in Sandy is huge," said Rocco Vitacca, president of the Utah Avalanche soccer club.

And about to get bigger.


Tribune reporter Thomas Burr contributed to this story.




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