Lawmakers like a fair-soccer mix
Fairpark tour: Many favor the idea of the Major League Soccer stadium on the west-side venue, but Real Salt Lake will decide
Salt Lake City's plan to build a Major League Soccer stadium on a parking lot at the Utah State Fairpark was warmly received by a group of Republican lawmakers Wednesday.
"I can see a lot of advantage to the fair to have the soccer stadium there. I basically support it. I'd have to see the details," said Rep. Bradley Johnson, a Republican cattle rancher and leader of the conservative Cowboy Caucus.
It is ultimately up to Real Salt Lake officials to decide, and they also have offers to place it in Sandy and Murray.
Soccer officials purposely steered clear of the legislative meeting. Real CEO Dean Howes was around - he was trying to meet with House Speaker Greg Curtis, who wants the stadium in his hometown of Sandy. Howes said he hasn't rejected the Fairpark but said it has issues. "There are still things yet to be discussed."
Rick Frenette, Fairpark executive director, pitched the plan to members of the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee. The soccer part was an easy sell.
Rep. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, is a Real fan and urged lawmakers to catch a match. She said later she thinks soccer "deserves its own stadium," but didn't say where it should go.
Rep. Roger Barrus, a Republican from Centerville, said a soccer stadium at the Fairpark may have great possibilities. And Rep. David Ure, R-Kamas, said he'd like to see the stadium at the Fairpark.
"I don't plan on giving them any money," Ure said. The team is seeking a public subsidy to pay half the $60 million to $65 million cost. "I'd sooner it be there than out at Murray or Sandy."
That's because Frenette and the city say the stadium could help the state-subsidized fair. Frenette said the fair could make money on stadium parking, and thus reduce the subsidy. And, he said, the stadium, with its 16 home soccer games and possibly other sports events and concerts, could provide a new cachet to the Fairpark, which gets its heaviest use during the annual fair in September but otherwise is underused.
And because the Fairpark land is already publicly owned, taxpayer money wouldn't be needed to buy land for the stadium - unlike in Sandy or Murray.
But lawmakers wanted to be clear the fair would remain a priority. Frenette said it would; soccer games during the fair could be scheduled as away matches.
John Fellows, a legislative attorney, clarified that lawmakers must vote to place the stadium at the fairgrounds, since the state owns the land. Until Wednesday, Frenette and others had believed the Fairpark board could make the decision.
The prospect of a legislative vote usually worries Salt Lake City officials because lawmakers and Mayor Rocky Anderson rarely agree. But Ure said it may not be a problem this time.
"Let's not cut off our nose to spite our face. Besides, Rocky's not going to be there," he said, referring to how the mayor may not seek a third term in 2007. It's unclear when the Legislature would vote on a stadium proposal.
Because of taxing issues, the Legislature may also need to vote if Real wants to go to Sandy. Ure said: "I vote for the Fairpark."