"This has the potential to generate about $1 million [a year] in revenue, which is good for the state and good for the Fairpark," said Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, whose district includes the 65-acre Fairpark about two miles from downtown. The money would be reinvested to renovate and upgrade some of the 25 buildings on the grounds, many of them dilapidated.
The Legislature's Natural Resources Interim Committee on Wednesday unanimously endorsed moving forward with the proposal. It would be up to Gov. Gary Herbert, in coordination with legislative leaders, to convene a special session.
"The governor looks forward to reviewing the state fair's proposal in greater detail, but any decisions regarding a potential special session on this or any other issue would be made at a later date," the governor's spokesman, Jon Cox, said.
The new outdoor arena would host the Days of '47 Rodeo, which will be displaced beginning next year by a massive renovation to its current home at Vivint Smart Home Arena. It is also envisioned as a venue for other rodeo events, concerts, sporting events and community gatherings.
"You will see the community behind this," said Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City. "We want to make sure we don't miss this opportunity."
David Litvack, deputy chief of staff to Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, said the city is enthusiastic about its role in reviving the Fairpark.
"We're excited because this meets a lot of goals," he said. "It meets the goals of the state in creating a really viable fairgrounds and Fairpark. It also helps us as a community in creating something that all of us in the community can be really proud of."
Biskupski spokesman Matthew Rojas said there have been preliminary conversations between the mayor's office and the City Council about coming up with the city's share of the $3 million, and "we're all in agreement that money can be found to do this."
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams' spokeswoman, Alyson Heyrend, said the Days of '47 Rodeo applied for $3 million from the voter-approved Zoo, Arts and Parks bonds that the county will sell later this year.
Last month, an advisory committee ranked the rodeo application submitted by prominent developer and rodeo board member Kem Gardner as 29th out of 30 applicants for ZAP funding.
The new arena would be owned by the state unlike the Real Salt Lake soccer arena that the state helped build in Sandy and managed by the State Fair Board, which the Legislature reorganized earlier this year.
"This will be a state-of-the-art, multipurpose arena that could be used, not just for rodeo and barrel racing and that type of events, but could be used almost year-round for concerts and community events," said House Majority Whip Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, who has worked on the project.
"[The Fairpark] has never had an asset like this that could generate revenue that could be reinvested back in the state Fairpark to fix up these old buildings and facilities," Wilson said.
Roger Beattie, chairman of the board for the Fairpark, said the original Colliseum built in 1913 was condemned and destroyed in 1997. Work on a new rodeo arena started in 1982, but the funding for the project was diverted to fight flooding and buy pumps to stem the rise of the Great Salt Lake.
"The facility that is currently standing at the Fairpark is currently incomplete," he said. The grandstand is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and it would take $2.7 million to bring it up to requirements.
Some of the private organizations that have committed to supporting the project include O.C. Tanner, Zions Bank, Komatsu Equipment, Vivint Home Solutions, Maverik and Questar Gas.
Rep. Mel Brown, R-Coalville, said he's a believer in the state fair, but the Legislature has to fund the project.
"The issue has always been [in order] to create a state Fairpark the state is proud of, it's going to take state funds," he said. "I believe strongly in a fair and I believe the state has to step up and make a commitment to that park and to the future development of that park."
West Valley City, which owns the 12,000-seat Maverik Center and is home to the 20,000-seat privately owned USANA amphitheatre, doesn't take any issue with the proposed arena in Salt Lake City.
"We don't see it as a competitor because it's a different type of venue, we're indoors and they're outdoors," said city spokesman Sam Johnson.
Jim McNeil, president of United Concerts, which owns the outdoor USANA arena, was traveling Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.
Mike Gorrell and Dan Harrie contributed to this report.