A lawsuit filed by an environmental group to stop Salt Lake City's soccer complex near Rose Park may seem like a long shot in court, but it already has won on one front.
It has effectively run out the clock on Real Salt Lake's $7.5 million letter of credit, which the city needs to build the fields.
That letter for RSL's so-called gift agreement is set to expire Dec. 31. It was intended as a matching offer to bolster the city's $15.3 million sports-complex bond, passed by voters in 2003. But City Council members this week concluded their final meeting of the year without voting to approve the bond sale.
They couldn't, due to the Jordan River Restoration Network's lawsuit challenging the sale. And now, no money can change hands until the court fight is settled, putting construction in limbo and next fall's completion date for the complex in jeopardy.
The river network, led by conservationist Jeff Salt and former City Councilwoman Nancy Saxton, hopes to halt the planned 16-field project near 2200 North along the Jordan River flood plain. It sued after failing to persuade the City Council that the location was too risky and too big a threat to the river ecosystem.
"The case is not going to get dismissed before the end of the year," says City Attorney Ed Rutan, noting his motion to dismiss is scheduled for Jan. 31 before a 3rd District judge.
That means RSL's promised $7.5 million will revert Jan. 1 to an unsecured agreement without cash or capital in the bank.
"It's just a naked contractual promise," Rutan explains. "They have told us they are still good for the money and plan to honor that gift. A letter of credit just gives you more security."
An RSL representative reported Thursday he was waiting for word from team owner Dave Checketts about the status of the donation, although a club spokesman previously said the gift had "no strings attached."
"We're absolutely comfortable that Real will fulfill that gift agreement," says Rick Graham, the city's director of public services.
Even so, Salt says the city is creating smoke and mirrors.
"It is probably true that Real Salt Lake is still obligated," Salt says. "But the city has said multiple times in multiple settings that the money goes away Dec. 31. They've created this false sense of panic and doom."
The river network has four lawsuits against the city. Two involve a public-records dispute, including the fee involved. The bond suit was filed in October. The other challenges the city's zoning change to pave the way for the complex.
City officials repeatedly have dismissed the legitimacy of the claims, which irks Salt and Saxton.
"We're not simply harassing the city," Salt says. "We're making sure the public's interests are protected from bad government decisions."
Saxton notes the need for a recreation complex, but says the group simply objects to the location. She says RSL has been generous and gracious while the city has been, "at the very least, inconsistent and possibly untruthful."
"We tried so there wouldn't be a deadline problem to bring it up a long time ago and got nothing," Saxton says. "This has not been transparent."
But Rutan says it is the river network that seems to be playing games. He points to the bond lawsuit that was filed Oct. 7, but never served to the city. "A paralegal found it three weeks later," Rutan says. "We believe this cause of action is without merit."
The original complex blueprint called for 25 soccer fields and eight baseball diamonds. It was scaled back to 15 soccer fields seven under lights plus one championship field with seating for 2,000.
A restoration plan sets aside 23 acres on the river's west bank and 21 acres on the east bank as open space. Mayor Ralph Becker hopes the move will repair the riparian corridor, providing flood-plain protection while restoring wildlife habitat.
A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 31 in 3rd District Court to address the Jordan River Restoration Network's lawsuit challenging Salt Lake City's $15.3 million bond sale for a sports complex near Rose Park. The city has filed a motion to dismiss. Until the suit is settled, the city cannot sell the bond and will not receive Real Salt Lake's promised $7.5 million gift.