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Stadium: It's a deal

Published August 12, 2006 1:08 am

RSL to stay: Checketts gets a standing ovation as he announces the accord in front of Utah officials
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Before soccer superstar David Beckham dons a Real Madrid jersey today, he will grab a shovel and turn dirt for a stadium in Sandy.

"Real Salt Lake, along with David Beckham, will be breaking ground for a stadium in Sandy," Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson said at 11:20 p.m. Friday night. "There are obviously some details to work out under the proposal with the Salt Lake County Council and Salt Lake County mayor, but [RSL owner Dave] Checketts is confident that they'll be moving forward and Real Salt Lake will remain in Utah."



Checketts had announced his decision just moments earlier at the La Caille restaurant before a crowd that included Real Madrid's president, Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan and County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson. The group gave the RSL owner a standing ovation, said Anderson, who jump-started the talks earlier this week and is seen as soccer's unlikely hero.

The groundbreaking is scheduled for today at noon at the stadium site near 9400 S. State St. in Sandy.

The announcement came after hours of roller-coaster negotiations during which the parties had a deal, then didn't, then did and so on.

While the County Council still must sign off, a majority appears on board.

Checketts didn't return phone calls late Friday.

County Mayor Peter Corroon had made what the county considered its last, best stadium offer earlier Friday - a day before today's deadline. The team was poised to reject it, but accepted it at literally the eleventh hour.

When Corroon unveiled his plan, he declared it a "good deal for our citizens."

"Hopefully the citizens will realize it's all tourist money and it's not a giveaway," he said.

County leaders say the deal is better than the one they rejected just last month - even though RSL would get more money out of the proposal - $55 million in combined subsidies from the county and Sandy compared with $45 million earlier.

That's because the county would tap $20 million in existing funds it set aside for a parking garage at Sandy's South Towne Expo Center, using the money to build joint parking and related infrastructure across the street at the stadium. That would eliminate the problem of heavy upfront interest payments that had troubled Corroon and the council.

"We're getting double the bang for the parking buck that can service two facilities," said Dolan, whose compromise is to kick in $15 million in property-tax increment, up from $10 million.

A major sticking point for RSL was that the proposal prevented the county from using its cash to buy land beneath the stadium. An earlier plan anticipated the county leasing that land to RSL for $1 a year. Attorney said that was illegal if the county did not pocket fair-market value.

Early Friday, Dolan was hopeful for a 2008 opening for the stadium. He already knows what soccer would do for his city. "This week [with Real Madrid in town] has demonstrated what soccer can mean for the state - bring people from all over the world and put Utah on the map."

The county proposal also seeks concessions from the team. RSL would build community soccer fields, hold annual charity events, give hundreds of tickets to schoolchildren and spend $1 million promoting county tourism.

It also would be required to remain in the county for 30 years or pay back $10 million.

And the county would issue up to $20 million in bonds that would be paid back in hotel taxes. But the money won't be spent until 2011 - giving the county five years to see if Major League Soccer has staying power. If the team folded, the county wouldn't have spent any money on the team.

That safety net was enough to earn the endorsement of Wilson - a previous no vote - who called the offer "fiscally sound."

"I'm very comfortable with these terms," she said.

So is Councilman Joe Hatch. "Peter saved the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars," he said. "Sometimes stubbornness pays off."

And Councilman Cort Ashton predicted nearly unanimous approval by the council. "In the end, we have a better product and a better deal for the county."

But Councilman Jim Bradley said he would vote against it. The amount, he said, is too steep. "It would be cheaper for us if we just bought the damn team."

Elbert Cuglietta of Cottonwood Heights also has heartburn over the deal.

"It's terrible. We're taxed to death already. Let Checketts pay for it. They have lots of money. Why do they always ask us to pay?"

Wendy Malcom, an RSL fan from Sandy, took a decidedly different tack.

"It's great," she said. "I'm a real soccer fan. It will bring people into Sandy, and that will bring money into the community."

The effort to save the stadium began earlier this week, culminating in a soccer summit among state, county, Salt Lake City, Sandy and team officials Thursday.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., House Speaker Greg Curtis and other state leaders were there to add pressure to the county and then approve portions of the deal.

During the late-night gathering at the governor's mansion, state leaders reaffirmed they would take away $90 million in hotel-tax money if some of it didn't subsidize a Sandy soccer stadium. Curtis would have pushed to put the money toward mass transit.

"Some people were saying [I couldn't] get that done," Curtis said. "When the governor indicated he would be supportive of that, they understood."

The county also needed Curtis' OK to put $20 million lawmakers set aside for South Towne parking toward the stadium. He gave his approval, since he hatched a similar plan in 2005 that was then widely criticized.

It was Hatch who resurrected the South Towne idea. But it was Anderson who revived the negotiations.

"As critical as I can be of Rocky Anderson, I have to give him credit for pulling the players together," Dolan said.

So why would the Salt Lake City mayor help his suburban competitor? Besides keeping RSL in Utah, the capital would reap rewards, too.

Salt Lake City would gain $7.5 million to build a youth sports complex at 2300 North and Redwood Road. And the biggest carrot: About $70 million eventually would be available for other countywide projects, namely a downtown Broadway-size theater in a performing arts complex.

The capital would subsidize the stadium package - it put $8 million toward South Towne parking - and Anderson said that still stings. But "we're going to get a very good return on our investment."

---

Tribune reporter Christopher Smart contributed to this story.

About the agreement:

It would give RSL more public money, but less control over the land in Sandy

What's next:

Groundbreaking is today at noon; soccer superstar David Beckham to do the honors

 

 

 

 

 

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