SANDY Dave Checketts wants to open a stadium in Sandy for his professional soccer team, Real Salt Lake, by July 4, 2007 a speedy time line that Checketts detailed Wednesday along with the official announcement of the stadium's location.
Checketts wants the stadium on 22 acres that the team has under contract on the northwest corner of 9400 South and State Street. The land will hold the stadium, practice fields, restaurants and shops to make "almost a Real City here in Sandy," he said.
Checketts does not know how much the proposal will cost, although he estimated that it will be "northward of what we were talking about." Team officials have quoted a price tag of $60 million to $65 million and hinted they want up to half of that to be public money.
Drawings by architect Gino Rossetti show a 25,000-seat stadium that includes a permanent performing arts stage and a partially open roof, allowing a view of the Wasatch Mountains to the east. Outside the stadium, Rossetti's drawings show patrons at restaurants and milling around a fountain plaza.
"It will be significantly financed through private capital," Checketts said. "It is not going to be done in a way that will increase the load on the taxpayers. This is not a George Bush 'read my lips' thing. It will not be done."
No new tax burden on residents does not necessarily mean that no tax money will be involved, however.
Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan said that $20 million to $25 million the Legislature has earmarked for a parking garage at the South Towne Exposition Center, across the street from the site, could pay for a shared garage for the two venues and part of the stadium's land. Dolan's plan must meet Salt Lake County approval, but Peter Corroon, Salt Lake County mayor and Real Salt Lake season ticket holder, said that he was "looking forward to the stadium in Sandy."
Checketts said he settled on Sandy only after "agonizing over making a decision," and that politics had something to do with his choice.
"It would be wrong to say that political winds blowing did not have anything to do with it. But it would be absolutely wrong to say that the Rocky factor did this," he said, discounting accusations that Salt Lake's outspoken mayor might have swayed him against the city the team is named after.
Dolan's relationship with the Legislature contrasts with the sometimes contentious interaction between the Legislature and Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson. Lawmakers took offense earlier this year when Anderson suggested that commuters to Salt Lake City were unwelcome because they increase air pollution. Salt Lake City has also had difficulty advancing its legislative agenda, and it had to wait until a special legislative session in April for money to expand the Salt Palace Convention Center because lawmakers couldn't agree during their regular session on funding for the renovation.
Anderson's spokesman, Duncan Moench, did not return a phone call seeking comment on the stadium decision.
"The Legislature obviously wants to work with people who want to work with them," Dolan said. "It's recognized that Sandy City can make some things happen at the legislative level and the county level, and we pitched that again as one of the things that would be helpful it they wanted to locate in Sandy."
House Speaker Greg Curtis, who lives in Sandy, said, "Local elected officials are much more inclined to work for things in their communities."
Checketts said he primarily chose Sandy for its large chunk of undeveloped land: "I did not believe that I could get this done in downtown (Salt Lake) the way I wanted it to be done."
Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr.; Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem; Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo; Curtis; Corroon; and Dolan were seated on the stage during the announcement with Checketts, Real CEO Dean Howes and Major League Soccer COO Mark Abbott. Behind them, team banners and nearly life-size photos of players and crowds at Rice-Eccles stadium, where Real plays now, bent in the breeze. Also attending were about 100 onlookers who cheered at any mention of players, victories or future facilities.
The stadium's exact price has yet to be worked out, Checketts said. But government representatives on hand Wednesday will be instrumental in rearranging roads for entrances and exits to the stadium, running sewer, power and water lines to the site and securing the public side of financing.
The time frame at this point calls for financing to be in place by early next year, ground broken in the spring and games starting July 4, 2007.
One source for the public money is a sports enterprise zone, possibly modeled after a similar zone in Phoenix for the Arizona Diamondbacks. The zone could work by setting up a special retail district where a portion of the sales taxes collected there could go toward team coffers or a bond on the stadium.
The Utah Taxpayers Association believes the project is not going to generate any new money for the state and believes the team should be responsible for finding private investors.
"People are not going to spend more money because there's a soccer stadium in Utah," association vice president Mike Jerman said. Additionally, "subsidizing soccer franchises is not going to create high-wage jobs."Dolan, however, said that Sandy might get the College Sports Network, another of Checketts' projects. The network, which is contracting with the Mountain West conference to broadcast college games, would relocate from Denver to Utah, along with 100 to 150 or so jobs "high-paying jobs to hire people locally," Dolan said.