S.L. may buy land for pro soccer park

City competition fierce for MLS stadium project

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 28 2004 12:00 a.m. MDT

Facing heightened competition from suburban cities like Murray, Salt Lake City could spend public funds to buy land where Utah's new Major League Soccer team would build a stadium, city attorneys said Monday.

In a letter to the Deseret Morning News, city attorneys said they wouldn't release specific locations identified for the soccer stadium because the city is seeking to acquire that property.

"After some investigation of this matter, I have been informed that virtually all of the sites in Salt Lake City are sites that are under consideration for public acquisition, either in whole or in part," assistant city attorney Lynn Pace wrote in response to a Government Records Access and Management Act request.

Previously, Salt Lake City Council members said team owners Sports-West asked about what public funds might be available to help the team build a soccer-specific stadium in Utah's capital. But Monday was the first-time city officials admitted they are actively looking to acquire property where a stadium could be built.

And that public support may be key to winning the soccer stadium battle. SportsWest CEO Dan Checketts said Monday the company is seriously considering financial incentives for development.

"We're just trying to figure out what is going to be the best scenario," Checketts said.

It makes sense that Salt Lake City would spend public dollars, probably Redevelopment Agency money, to buy property for the stadium and then let SportsWest or the private sector build the arena, Salt Lake City Council members say.

"It would be appropriate at some time to participate in the soccer stadium by helping out with the land purchase," Council Chair Jill Remington Love said.

The city has done similar deals in the past — like the one the Salt Lake City RDA gave to the yet-to-be-built Living Planet Aquarium, offering the aquarium free land owned by the RDA.

Two months ago city, planner Doug Dansie put together a map of about 12 sites where a soccer stadium could fit in Salt Lake City. That document has been passed to the Mayor's Office and the Redevelopment Agency. Both are working to facilitate a soccer-specific stadium for Checketts' new Major League Soccer team.

Dean Howes, vice chairman for SportsWest, said the company has narrowed the list of viable sites from that original dozen to about six in Salt Lake City — plus two suburban sites, including one in Murray, where city officials are working to convince SportsWest that their city would be perfect for a soccer stadium. Keith Snarr, Murray's economic development director, said he has been assured by SportsWest that Murray is one of the top considerations for the stadium.

"I think it's leaning our direction, but that's far short of saying we've got the deal," Snarr said.

Murray's city planners will meet next week to vote on a zoning change to allow the stadium on a 100-acre lot just east of I-15 near 4500 South.

Snarr said the city is also working on a redevelopment study to see if the site qualifies as a blight area, which would allow the city to offer developers property tax incentives to build the stadium. Snarr hopes those financial incentives, combined with a nearby TRAX station and easy highway access, will be enough to draw SportsWest out of Salt Lake City.

"We're trying to come up with the tools to be competitive," Snarr said. "We think it would be a feather in the cap of Murray city to have this soccer stadium located here."

Murray submitted a proposal for building the soccer stadium on the site Aug. 17 as part of a redevelopment plan for the area. The stadium, Snarr said, would be the keystone to the area's revitalization and would boost redevelopment throughout the city.

"It's just a good fit for everyone," Snarr said. "The biggest incentive for SportsWest is that we will pledge full cooperation and we'll try to get this deal done as soon as possible."

Back in Salt Lake City, Utah's MLS team will play its games at the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium for at least its inaugural season, beginning in spring 2005.

Alison McFarlane, Mayor Rocky Anderson's senior adviser for economic development, said her office continues to work with SportsWest to try and persuade the company to build a new stadium in Salt Lake City. City officials have said some potential sites are in The Gateway district, near downtown and in the city's far northwest corner near the Davis County line. The northwestern site is where the city plans to build a publicly financed soccer and baseball field mecca.

Howes hopes to have a final decision on the stadium site by December. SportsWest has said it needs a smaller, soccer-specific stadium — as opposed to the cavernous Rice-Eccles — to create the right atmosphere for its games.

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