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Money game: Cities compete for soccer venue

Published August 6, 2004 2:20 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As fans know, scoring in soccer can be elusive. Even so, Salt Lake Valley cities are lining up to host a rash of 1-0 games. Their goal: winning the right to host Utah's new Major League Soccer stadium.

On the day team names were whittled to four finalists, four cities appear in the hunt for former Jazz president Dave Checketts' latest sports venture and the economic boost it could bring.

While West Valley City's interest is nil, count Sandy, West Jordan and even Murray as Salt Lake City's top competitors.

Utah's capital remains the front-runner - as many as 12 spots in Salt Lake City are being considered, including west of The Gateway - but team officials caution that negotiations are preliminary.

Checketts won't reveal a favorite, except to say he wants the stadium close to public transit and in downtown Salt Lake City "if possible."

If not, he adds, "Then [Sandy Mayor] Tom Dolan and I will become best friends," alluding to a location seven blocks west of Sandy's 9000 South TRAX stop.

Team officials say the only certainty is that soccer will be at the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium next year - the team's first season.

As for a permanent home, "multiple" areas are in play.

"You can take a drive south on Interstate 15 and find a half-dozen good sites," says Dean Howes, chief executive for Utah Soccer LLC. "Do you try to put it west of the downtown or south of the downtown? Which do you believe has the most validity to have a long-term economic impact?"

A location and funding plan for a new stadium will be presented by year's end.

None of the cities is willing to finance the project. But all of the mayors would consider a funding partnership that includes state, county, city and private money.

Salt Lake City Councilman Dave Buhler predicts a metropolitan stadium could be a boon for restaurants and other small businesses on a scale with the Delta Center, home to the Utah Jazz.

"Plus, there's a certain ambiance to having it downtown," he says.

Dolan, pointing to the success of the South Towne Expo Center, suggests Utah's second major league franchise is better suited for the suburbs.

"This is not going to be the economic savior for Salt Lake City," he says. "If you want to locate it somewhere, locate it somewhere where the demographic center is and where the kids are."

The stadium, expected to cost at least $20 million, is projected to hold 25,000 seats. Checketts says it will be designed for concerts, an outdoor skating rink and could host high school championship soccer games. It could stage 120 events a year, he says.

For that reason, the mayors of West Jordan and Murray have joined Dolan in the stadium sweepstakes.

Three sites have been identified in West Jordan, including a redevelopment area along a planned TRAX line near City Hall.

"They seemed to be more interested than I thought they were," says Mayor Bryan Holladay about the Checketts team. "It's the center of the valley, it [will have] a TRAX location, and it has extremely good access to freeways and roads."

But Holladay called West Jordan's chances "a long shot."

That's not stopping Murray Mayor Dan Snarr from making a late push. "I'd love to explore it," he says.

Nearly 100 acres near 4500 South west of State Street may be available as part of a redevelopment area. The land, near a current TRAX stop and targeted for a "transit-oriented development," is undergoing a blight study.

Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson says neighboring communities should not be competing with redevelopment dollars for the stadium. The spot, he says, should be chosen on its merits. But he clearly has a favorite.

"I will do everything I can to see this team is located in or near the downtown area with its huge regional draw," Anderson says. "It would be a terrific thing for Salt Lake City."

The mayor won't have to worry about West Valley City stepping in and snatching the stadium - like Utah's second city did when it landed the E Center and the Utah Grizzlies hockey team.

This time, City Manager Wayne Pyle says, expensive road projects and rebuilding West Valley's city center are top priorities.

"It's not something we are pursuing," he says. "We're kind of staying out of the fray."

djensen@sltrib.com

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Tribune reporter Peter Richins contributed to this story.

Possible sites

Here are some of the sites being kicked around for Utah's new Major League Soccer stadium:

* Salt Lake City

West of The Gateway.

A planned soccer complex near 2200 North and Redwood Road.

Ten undisclosed areas.

* Sandy

Between 8000 South and 9000 South along 700 West near the Jordan River.

* West Jordan

Near 7800 South and 4000 West at existing soccer complex.

Off the New Bingham Highway near 8800 South and 6000 West (currently Ron Wood Memorial Park)

West of City Hall at 8000 S. Redwood Road

* Murray

North of 4500 South and west of State Street near the Murray North TRAX Station.