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A goundbreaking day: 'This is the place,' Checketts says of decision to build Sandy stadium

Published: Sunday, Aug. 13 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

Real Madrid fan Jamal Elgavadi of Libya and Real Salt Lake fan Vanessa Williamsen cheer their respective teams.

Edward Linsmier, Deseret Morning News

SANDY — Forget St. Louis, New York or Utah County: Real Salt Lake is here to stay.

International soccer superstar David Beckham joined a handful of local leaders Saturday to turn the first shovel of dirt at the team's future home in Sandy.

"Ladies and gentlemen — this is the place," team owner Dave Checketts told hundreds of Real fans at the stadium's midday groundbreaking.

Although a funding deal is not done yet, Checketts said he took a "leap of faith" that he can come to some sort of an agreement with the county soon.

"There are details that still have to be worked out, but sooner or later you have to make a go or no-go decision," Checketts said. "And today was my deadline, and I took a leap of faith. I put my trust in our leaders that details will be worked out."

The deal came at the last possible minute as Saturday was Checketts' self-imposed deadline to secure public funding for a stadium. If nothing was hammered out by Saturday's exhibition game against Real Madrid, Checketts said he would sell the team. He received up to seven offers from investors across the nation interested in buying the team and moving it to their respective cities.

But fans don't need to worry about a move now, after Checketts accepted the groundwork of a proposal Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon offered Friday.

Under that plan, the county and the city of Sandy would give the team $55 million in public subsidies to build a soccer-specific stadium in Sandy. The county would use $20 million in hotel-room taxes to help build infrastructure at the stadium, with Sandy paying $15 million in redevelopment agency funds. The team would also share with the South Towne Exposition Center a $20 million parking garage that would be built on the west side of State Street.

However, the deal isn't done yet.

Real officials still want to negotiate how they can use those hotel-room-tax dollars. That's been one sticking point throughout talks with Salt Lake County leaders. But Doug Willmore, the county's chief administrative officer, said Corroon won't budge.

"It's the mayor's intention that any Salt Lake County money only go to public land and infrastructure and not for the stadium or the ground under the stadium," Willmore said. "That's been his position from day one, and he's not going to change that now."

That means those tax dollars would go toward public improvements, such as sidewalks and sewer lines.

But Real CEO Dean Howes takes issue with that idea. He said the hotel-tax money should be able to buy land underneath the stadium, since land for sports venues, like the Delta Center and Franklin Covey Field, were purchased with public money.

"It's pretty common," Howes said. "You know what, land is land, and whoever owns it owns it. We are still working on all of that."

Both fans and local leaders alike didn't think the deal would ever happen. Even Checketts said his mind wasn't made up until late Friday, when he shocked his investors with the news the team would build in Sandy.

Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan, who has been working on funding proposals in his city for over a year, was ecstatic about the news.

"Honestly, the emotions I'm feeling are similar to when my first son was born," Dolan said. "I just want you to know that Dave Checketts is the man."

In an effort to land a deal before Checketts' deadline, Real rallied numerous Republican and Democratic leaders earlier this week. In a surprise move, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson dropped his idea for a stadium at the Utah State Fairpark and lobbied county leaders to support a funding plan for the Sandy site.

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