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Salt Lake City's soccer complex is coming — really
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Salt Lake City's planned regional soccer complex has been so long in coming, it's almost as if it was just a dream all along.

There was even a ground-breaking ceremony in November 2010 — but then nothing, as the planned facility once again was sucked into a bog of litigation.

But after a Dec. 14 Utah Supreme Court ruling in its favor, Salt Lake City dusted off its blueprints for a 16-field complex on 160 acres at 1900 West and 2200 North. It will include at least one lighted field with seating for 3,000 to 5,000 spectators, according to preliminary plans.

That's somewhat smaller than was earlier planned, said Art Raymond, a spokesman for Mayor Ralph Becker. The original proposal envisioned 20 soccer fields, as well as baseball and softball diamonds and other amenities. It may be expanded in a second phase at a date yet to be determined, according to city officials.

Ground breaking is set for spring 2013 with completion expected by fall 2014, Raymond said.

The project is funded by a $15.3 million bond approved by Salt Lake City voters in 2003 and a $7.5 million gift from Real Salt Lake in 2007.

The soccer complex came out of skirmishing between Salt Lake City and Sandy. A decade ago, the two cities were throwing elbows while wooing Real Salt Lake, the then-upstart MLS club that was seeking a permanent home.

Sandy won out, of course, and the 20,000-seat Rio Tinto Stadium sits at 9256 S. State St.

The consolation prize for Salt Lake City was to be a regional soccer complex, where Real would practice and interact with youth league players.

In 2007, Real owner Dave Checketts provided the balance needed. The gift came, coincidentally, or not, as the Utah Legislature passed a bill that corralled $35 million in Salt Lake County hotel taxes to purchase land in Sandy for the stadium. That legislation came after Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon balked at public funding for a Real Salt Lake stadium. He later floated an unsuccessful proposal that would use county taxes if Sandy City put up $15 million.

Despite funding, plans for a soccer complex in Salt Lake City were put on hold when a group called the Jordan River Restoration Network, along with a small cadre of citizens, sought to protect the land as open space. In legal pleadings, the group argued that the acreage encompassed wetlands and would impact thousands of migratory birds and other species.

The Jordan River Restoration Network has filed several unsuccessful suits over the years seeking to halt the soccer complex. The most recent one charged that the 2003 Salt Lake City bond was not valid. The Utah Supreme Court this month ruled against them.

In an earlier action, the group had unsuccessfully sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, claiming it had violated provisions of the Clean Water Act.

Former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson said the genesis of the youth soccer complex "was complicated and went on for a long time."

He had proposed a home stadium for Real at Salt Lake City's Fairpark. When that failed, he negotiated with Checketts to help fund a soccer complex, he said last week.

"I'll take full responsibility for the siting of the soccer complex," he said. "I always thought the legal arguments against it were absurd."

Anderson said he is "thrilled" the complex has finally cleared the remaining legal hurdles and sees it as a valuable facility for Salt Lake City youth, as well as an economic development tool.

"It will bring tournaments from all over the region."

It promises to be a real boon for northwest Salt Lake City, agreed Councilman Carlton Christensen, who represents the area.

"I'm so ecstatic, it's like an early birthday present," he said. "People have been very anxious to see this move forward."

Christensen said the complex will be a home to youth and adult soccer leagues.

"It's a long-term commitment to a sports program in the community that will give our kids a chance to play at a higher level," he said. "I expect that some of Real's future talent will come from my neighborhood."

csmart@sltrib.com

2003 bond • Construction of the $22.8 million facility, with 16 planned fields, will begin in the spring.
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