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Is Utah preparing to spend taxpayer money to lure a Major League Baseball team?

Legislation is in the works to provide taxpayer financing in bid to lure an MLB expansion team to Utah.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, sports his little league baseball coach uniform next to Dale Murphy in the Senate chambers as he discusses the possibility of bringing Major League Baseball to Utah, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024.

Utah senators on Tuesday made a public show of their support for bringing Major League Baseball to the Beehive State, and now it looks like the tax dollars may follow.

Legislation is being crafted that would create a new public-private partnership — a sort of ballpark authority similar to the Inland Port Authority — governed by an appointed board and tasked with helping to facilitate the construction of a baseball stadium along North Temple on Salt Lake City’s west side.

“This is a whole Team Utah kind of lift,” said Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, who will sponsor the legislation. “There’s lots of different proposals out there, different versions of what that might look like. … There will be some kind of authority.”

The proposal would also include some sort of public financing, but Wilcox said legislative leaders and representatives of Gail Miller and Big League Utah — the Miller-led coalition to coax the sport to the state — are still working out the specifics.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, visits with Gail Miller in the Senate chambers, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024.

“We’re still negotiating and there are a lot of ideas on the table for what that looks like,” he said. “But it will be a community investment. It won’t only be Salt Lake or only Utah. [It will be] reflective of the value that [baseball] would bring to us.”

Andrew Wittenberg, a spokesperson for Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, said the mayor’s office has not seen a draft of the bill yet and is working on getting additional information on the plan.

A representative from The Larry H. Miller Co. declined to comment.

When the Legislature has created other mission-specific “authorities” in the past — like the Inland Port Authority, the Military Installation Development Authority and the Point of the Mountain State Land Authority — the governing body, made up largely of state legislators or their appointees, is allowed to issue bonds, essentially borrowing money for the development, which are then repaid by keeping a portion of the tax revenue generated by the project area.

Wilcox said there hasn’t been a decision on that issue yet.

Public funding of major league sports venues has become the norm. Last year, the Nevada Legislature approved up to $380 million to build a stadium on the Las Vegas Strip that is expected to be the new home of the Oakland A’s. In Wisconsin, the governor last month signed off on $500 million in public aid to renovate the Milwaukee Brewers’ stadium.

Proponents justify the investment by pointing to the restaurants, bars, retail stores and housing that the stadiums are expected to attract.

While the A’s await their move to the Silver State, the team toured potential interim locations, including the site in South Jordan’s Daybreak, where the Millers are building a new minor league ballpark to host the Salt Lake Bees after the 2024 season.

Major League Baseball last expanded in 1998 with the addition of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Rays. While the A’s are relocating to Las Vegas and Tampa has signed a deal to move to a new St. Petersburg ballpark, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has been vocal about his desire to add two additional teams.

Other teams vying for the expansion franchises include Nashville, Tennessee; Charlotte, North Carolina; Portland, Oregon; and Montreal, Canada.

In Utah, senators voted 26-3 Tuesday in favor of a resolution sponsored by Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, outlining the benefits of hosting an MLB team and showing public support for bringing a club to the state’s capital.

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