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A referee stood near the center circle as dusk began settling in Friday evening and blew his whistle, signaling to two teams squaring off they can finally play ball. It was a moment over 12 years in the making.
After political jockeying, bickering and various lawsuits slowed the process to a grinding halt, the Salt Lake City Regional Athletic Complex officially opened Friday. The 16-field, $22.8 million facility off 1900 West and 2200 North will accommodate soccer, rugby, lacrosse and youth football competitions.
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, former City Councilman Carlton Christensen and Drew Hiatt, the president of Utah Youth Soccer, took part in the unveiling as a girls' youth soccer match played in the background. Real Salt Lake general manager Craig Waibel, chief business officer Andrew Carroll and Real Monarchs president Rob Zarkos were also on hand.
"[The complex] will serve as a mecca for our regional and national tournaments seeking premier field locations," said Lisa Schmidt, program manager of the Salt Lake City parks division.
The long-awaited facility will also feature a flexible stadium field with the ability to host simultaneous events and tournaments. Construction began in 2011, but it stopped in 2011 when the Jordan River Restoration Network filed a lawsuit in 3rd District court, stating the complex would cause harm to the Jordan River flood plains.
The Utah Supreme Court ruled in favor of the city in December 2012, allowing construction of the youth sports haven to resume. Twelve years ago, voters approved a $15.3 million in bonds for the complex. RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen contributed $7.5 million to the project from a pre-existing pledge from former owner Dave Checketts.
The significant pledge stemmed from Checketts, who made the offer to secure public funding for the club's $110 million Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy. Carroll said Hansen paid the $7.5 million out of his own pocket.
The first event to be officially held on the new ground? A soccer tournament, naturally. The Utah Youth Soccer Association plays host to clubs from Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico this weekend. Every team is competing for spot in the Far West Regionals in the summer of 2016.