Utah’s MLB ballpark funding bill worries SLC; key council member calls it ‘slap in the face’

Senate president says the massive measure would lift up the west side’s Fairpark neighborhood.

(The Larry H. Miller Co.) Rendering of a proposed ballpark on Salt Lake City’s west side.

Salt Lake City leaders remain eager to land a Major League Baseball team but fear a bulky bill from Capitol Hill laying the groundwork for building a west-side stadium goes too far in stripping them of power.

“While we are excited about and supportive of the possibility of bringing Major League Baseball to Salt Lake City,” Andrew Wittenberg, spokesperson for Mayor Erin Mendenhall, said in a statement on behalf of the mayor and City Council, “this bill creates immediate concerns about the apparent diversion of tax revenue and land use away from city services, regardless of whether we ever see [an] MLB team in Utah.”

Wittenberg added that the city would not comment further until fully reviewing HB562, the sprawling 116-page measure that lawmakers released late Tuesday afternoon.

The council member who represents the area that would host the venue, nonetheless, decried the proposal.

Council member Alejandro Puy said the possibility of bringing Major League Baseball to Utah’s capital had always been pitched as a positive but called the bill that would help fund that effort “concerning” and “disappointing.”

“It feels like a slap in the face to so many interactions,” he said, “so many promises from the Miller group that this bill was going to be done right.”

Asked for comment Wednesday, a spokesperson for The Larry H. Miller Co. pointed to previous statements company officials have made about their commitment to collaborating with west-siders as the business pursues a major league franchise.

“The west side is primed for this new development,” Gail Miller said in a news release last week. “I grew up on the west side, and the people who live here are very proud of their community and what they’ve built. We are excited to continue to partner with them on future opportunities.”

What the ballpark bill says

The bill, sponsored by Ogden Republican Rep. Ryan Wilcox, would create a Fairpark Area Investment and Restoration District that would cover a swath of the west side north of Interstate 80 between 1000 West and Redwood Road. The district would be governed by a new board, which would include a Salt Lake City Council member and appointees from the governor, House speaker and Senate president.

Property taxes from new development in the area would help pay for creating an entertainment district along North Temple.

[Read also: First lawmakers want $900 million in taxes for MLB. Now they say $1 billion more from taxpayers will bring the NHL to Utah.]

Increased hotel taxes statewide would contribute to repaying bonds that the district would issue to help pay for the stadium. Within the new district, hotels could charge a tax of up to 15%.

The bill also contains a series of other tax hikes within the district, including a telecommunications license tax, an energy sales and use tax, and a resort tax. Revenues would be available to the district board to use.

The state’s investment in construction of a new stadium could soar to $900 million. The Millers expect to chip in $3.5 billion to the North Temple development.

Puy said he is concerned about the bill creating the land authority and diverting tax money even if Utah fails to secure a team.

He also said he doesn’t want to see the city’s redevelopment area along North Temple suspended, and worries about zoning, land use and funding additional city services.

Early promotional materials for the stadium insisted the project would be a boon to the neighborhood, he said, but the bill that would help it come to fruition fails to deliver.

“It is not only short on the promise, but it is not even close to the promise,” Puy said. “I trust that we are going to be able to work together to fix this bill to make sure that it doesn’t impact negatively my community and the city as a whole, and the state.”

Legislative session short on time

The clock is ticking to tweak the measure. The Legislature is slated to close the book on the 2024 session at the end of next week.

In a meeting with reporters Wednesday, Utah Senate President Stuart Adams said he hopes the legislation will receive two public hearings in the session’s waning days.

[Read also: Utah’s dream of an MLB stadium will cost taxpayers at least $900M, raise hotel taxes, according to a new bill.]

The Layton Republican said the project would lift the west side’s Fairpark area, but he understands if there is anxiety about a new land authority dominated by state appointees.

“They’ll find out,” Adams said, “that it’s a real positive thing for them.”

Puy said he still supports Major League Baseball coming to the west side, but he warns HB562 may be off-putting to the league.

The council member said he struggles “to believe that a major league team will want to come to my community when the strategy from the get-go is to ignore the neighborhoods around this potential stadium, ignore the elected officials, ignore the city.”