Professional soccer may indeed be played at the Utah State Fairgrounds.
Years after officials examined the possibility of building a stadium for Real Salt Lake on Salt Lake City’s west side, the team’s new owner wants to construct a stadium there for a minor league affiliate.
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RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen wants to create a public-private partnership with the Fairpark Corporation to construct a multi-use sports stadium that could hold up to 8,000 people. The stadium would be home to RSL’s minor league affiliate, with hopes of opening play there in time for the 2016 season.
"We are excited about the possibility of Mr. Hansen bringing a new team and stadium to the Fairpark," Michael Steele, executive director of the Utah State Fairpark, said in a news release Friday. "A stadium and team at the Fairpark would be an incredible addition to the community."
The new stadium is the centerpiece of a series of proposed renovations outlined in a recent study of the fairgrounds.
Four scenarios for the fairpark’s future outlined in the study were:
• Relocating the fair to a new location at a cost of about $160 million.
• Improving the existing fairgrounds with renovations costing about $35 million.
• Adding additional facilities to the site, including an expo center, expanded rodeo grounds and the sports stadium, which would cost approximately $44 million.
• Or selling the fairpark to real estate developers for about $18 million.
Selling the property was deemed the "best and highest" use for the land by the state-commissioned study, which is seeking options for the property with a lease set to expire in 2016.
But for Steele, improving the fairgrounds would be preferable.
"The fair has been here for over 100 years," he said in an interview. "This is the fair’s home and it’s very near and dear to a lot of folks. We think the wiser thing to do is invest in it, bring the facilities that are antiquated and small up to modern standards."
RSL would provide a regular tenant to help boost patronage of the grounds.
For Real Salt Lake officials, the chance to operate a minor league club in Salt Lake City would certainly come with plenty of positives.
"We’re very interested from a development standpoint to create a minor league team at the [United Soccer League] level," RSL spokesman Trey Fitz-Gerald said. "We feel like that is a critical piece for the competitive side of our business. We’ve got a great youth academy in Arizona. … But we don’t really have a development opportunity between the academy and MLS."
The team has explored the possibility of establishing a minor league club somewhere in the west. Most recently a plan to locate a club in the San Diego area hit a dead end.
Placing a team in Salt Lake City would give the club a chance to improve its on-the-field talent.
"We’ve got guys at the bottom of our roster right now that need games and they need to compete for minutes," Fitz-Gerald said. "That’s what we think a USL affiliation would accomplish."
Steele said he has received a proposal from RSL that includes a "substantial" financial commitment from Hansen. Discussions are ongoing, Steele said. He hopes to soon be able to present a proposal to the Fairpark’s directors.
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