In 36 years, Joe Buzas has owned teams in 17 different cities, but he claims none of them ever treated him as nicely as Salt Lake City.
Wednesday afternoon, Buzas watched as the mayor, the governor, Salt Lake County commissioners, some of the city's wealthiest philanthropists and a Dixieland band marked the groundbreaking for an $18 million stadium that will house his team."I have no words to express what I feel today," said Buzas, the 74-year-old owner who plans to bring his Portland Beavers ball club here next season. Then, referring to his many critics who said he was using Salt Lake City only as leverage to get a better deal in Portland, he said, "You doubting Thomases, I was planning to come here from day one."
Buzas has reason to be happy. The stadium, to be built at 1300 South and West Temple, where Derks Field once stood, is designed to be state-of-the-art, with 12,000 seats and 23 luxury suites. He gets to keep all but $200,000 each year, and the city has to pay for upkeep and utilities.
But not everyone at the festive groundbreaking was happy. Three protesters stood with signs that complained about the use of taxes to support baseball.
"Private business should take care of it," said Bart Grant, who described himself as a baseball fan. "This is an improper use of public funds. I have children and unborn grandchildren who will be paying for this."
"It's not that we don't like baseball," added fellow protester Drew Chamberlain. "We just don't like paying through the nose."
But even the protesters accepted souvenir bats to commemorate the occasion after a handful of dignitaries used golden shovels to officially launch the project. Officials expect construction to begin in a few weeks after crews finish removing debris left from the rubble of Derks.
For the first time, Mayor Deedee Corradini named the people and corporations who have agreed to donate to the project. The list includes several banks, Utah Power, Questar Corp., the Eccles Foundation and George's Plastic Laminating Co., a small company that volunteered an unsolicited $2,000.
The mayor has received $1.4 million in private pledges to help with construction. The rest of the money will come from city, county and state funding.
The new stadium will be much larger than Derks, requiring the city to bulldoze seven houses and a business located beyond what was the old stadium's center field wall.
Ironically, the business to be destroyed belongs to Gov. Mike Leavitt's family. The governor noted that Wednesday but said the stadium will enhance the quality of life in the neighborhood.
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