Dave Checketts believes sports facilities can help spark economic development, but he said Thursday that putting his new Major League Soccer franchise in downtown Salt Lake City "may not be possible."
Asked during the annual meeting of the Economic Development Corp. of Utah about a downtown stadium, Checketts said he would "love to put this stadium downtown," but other options may be better.
"I think it would make it relevant and compelling," he said of a stadium's possible effects on downtown. "It just may not be possible. Although (Salt Lake) Mayor (Rocky) Anderson has been very supportive and (is) working with us to identify places, it just may be that we should look further west, to the soccer complex that's being built on I-215 where there's two-hundred-and-some-odd acres and 30 practice fields and an indoor practice facility.
"And maybe that's the place where we locate a stadium because of its tremendous freeway access for those to the north in Davis county and those to the south of Salt Lake."
The yet-to-be-named franchise will begin play next year in Rice-Eccles Stadium, but Checketts said the team wants to have a new facility, seating 25,000 to 27,000 people. It will submit a stadium plan to the professional soccer league by year's end.
"But if we really want this to be part of the solution to downtown, we're going to have to identify other locations, other than what we've seen. I'd love it to be on public transportation. I'd love it to be something that spurs more economic development," he said.
Houston has seen that happen. The city built Reliant Stadium for the National Football League Texans and Minute Maid Park for baseball's Astros, along with a nearby convention center. The new stadiums helped the city land a Super Bowl and the recent baseball All-Star Game.
"And the whole scenario just works," he said. "The downtown is alive in Houston. So I believe sports and sports facilities can be used to help these kinds of situations, and I'd like to be part of the solution."
Checketts recalled that during his youth, Main Street was "the most exciting place to be."
"That's where everybody wanted to go. At nine o'clock at night, Main Street was packed with people window shopping and going into restaurants. So it's disturbing to me, frankly, to be quite blunt, to walk along Main Street to see what's happened for various reasons, whether that's Gateway or shopping malls or whatever it is. We have a lot to do as a city to develop downtown," he said.
Checketts said the MLS recognizes that Rice-Eccles, like most football stadiums, is "just too large for a long-term viable soccer franchise."
In addition to hosting 15 regular-season MLS matches each year, a stadium built for soccer could be used as an ice sheet during the winter in order to host hockey or figure skating, could host high school soccer finals and other tournaments and could be a concert venue, he said."It's a stadium," Checketts said, "that could host 110, 120 events (annually) without too much difficulty and be a real gathering place for the community."