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Prep work on city block isn't for soccer

Published May 11, 2005 1:22 am

Parking lot: Hopes for the site to be a stadium are not dashed yet, but the space is being spruced up for housing vehicles
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

The block envisioned to house a Major League Soccer stadium in downtown Salt Lake City is under construction - but not for the team Real Salt Lake.

The existing parking lot at 600 South and Main Street owned by hotelier Earl Holding is being expanded and improved as a surface lot. That could mean that block, called Block 22, is no longer a viable soccer site.

Holding's spokesman, Clint Ensign, said Tuesday that recently passed legislation that forbids the use of Redevelopment Agency money to build sports stadiums - a fund the city wanted to tap for Block 22 - "effectively took [the block] off the table."

Ensign said Holding had planned to add landscaping to beautify Block 22, but held off after Mayor Rocky Anderson approached him about the soccer stadium. Once the RDA legislation passed earlier this year, Holding's company went ahead with the parking-lot plan.

The mayor's office believes Block 22 remains a viable option.

"It doesn't necessarily mean that site is out for soccer," said Alison McFarlane, the mayor's economic-development adviser.

And Anderson, who was out of town Tuesday, recently said that block is still the "best" option downtown, though the city is looking at other sites.

Ensign said he wasn't aware the city was still interested, and he believes Holding still could be willing to sell.

"I think Mr. Holding would still honor that commitment if they want to go ahead," he said, adding that the original $20 million price tag would jump because the improvements now under way include landscaping.

However, Ensign added, "It wouldn't be a lot more expensive."

The block is already too costly for the city. While Holding owns most of the land, the biggest hurdle is the expense of the Mark Miller Toyota property. The city would have to relocate the dealership and buy additional property used by Mark Miller just south of Block 22.

Both Salt Lake City and Murray want to be the site for the soccer stadium, but following the RDA legislation, the team has held off making a decision. This summer, a state task force will look at how cities can help pay for such venues.

Salt Lake City's Planning Commission was reluctant to allow Holding to expand the parking lot on Block 22 - not because of the soccer stadium, but the poor image surface parking lots project about downtown. Holding also asked for permission to expand and renovate his parking lots at 450 S. Main St., on the block south of the federal courthouse, and at 465 S. Main St., adjacent to the Matheson Courthouse.

Surface lots are discouraged - and in some cases forbidden - downtown if they aren't hidden behind buildings because they are not pedestrian friendly. The city would rather see high-density developments.

Councilwoman Nancy Saxton, noting there isn't a need for more parking stalls, suggested Holding build a park instead of a parking lot. But Holding's representatives said a public park would pose too great a liability.

Still, the Planning Commission approved Holding's lots - they will gain 500 trees - because the land is already being used as surface lots and will look better with the landscaping.

Ensign calls the lots an "interim measure." Eventually, Holding could build an office tower near the Matheson Courthouse and a mixed-used development near the federal courthouse, according to Planning Commission minutes.

But those developments are "sometime off," Ensign said Tuesday, noting the LDS Church's plans to renovate the malls on the north end of Main Street could affect Holding's plans. "We'll just watch and see."

The parking stalls will mainly be used for Holding's Little America and Grand America employees and other downtown employers who lease the spaces.

The Grand America also had to get Block 22 ready for a national General Motors convention being held at the hotel this month. The lot will house new vehicles on display for fleet managers.

hmay@sltrib.com