Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said Friday that lawmakers have a deadline of next Friday to set aside money needed to keep Real Salt Lake soccer in Utah or the team will be lost to St. Louis or Philadelphia.
"I would certainly encourage people not to sell their Real tickets," Huntsman told the Deseret Morning News. "I'm not ready to say it's a done deal, but we're up against the shot clock and could very well score going into next week."
The governor said he is "comfortable" with a package pieced together by House leaders that would set aside a share of Salt Lake County's transient room tax through 2022 to buy the land and build a parking garage for a new soccer stadium in Sandy.
Lawmakers are also looking at creating a new sports commission in the south valley to manage the funds. The House on Friday approved the funding bill, HB38, but the Senate has yet to commit to the package.
The governor said there's not much time left to finalize a deal with the team.
"We have a deadline, which is Friday," he said, warning that without legislative action, "a week from today, the team is sold to St. Louis, if not to St. Louis, then to Philadelphia. The shot clock has started."
St. Louis or Philly?
With a lucrative offer in St. Louis enticing team officials, lawmakers are pouring their efforts into the original Sandy site. While Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson is still championing the Utah State Fairpark as an alternative option, Sandy is the focus.
But three cities around St. Louis are anxious to play host to a Major League Soccer team in their town.
Jeff Cooper, a lawyer who is the managing partner of Simmons Cooper in St. Louis, is negotiating a deal for his group to own the team. He said they are "very, very close to a stadium deal," and he's expecting to come to a resolution sometime next week.
Stadium plans, he said, would be much like the one proposed in Sandy, with a public-private partnership. The difference, he said, is that these public leaders are willing to put "their money where their mouth is."
"It's one of the best-supported teams in MLS they've just been let down by their public officials," he said. "Here, the public officials are just stepping up to the plate for all the businesses and people in the community that want to see a high-profile team in their hometown."
Cooper's group has been looking into purchasing an MLS franchise for some time, and he says the worldwide attention that an MLS team provides is better than that of any other pro-sports franchise.
"The best summer was the Real Madrid and Real Salt Lake game. It's not very often that you have the focus of the whole world on your town," Cooper said. "That's so much bigger than how many tickets you've sold."
As for Philadelphia, Real Salt Lake officials do not have official permission from Major League Soccer to negotiate a possible move there, league spokesman Dan Courtemanch said.
On Capitol Hill
In Utah, lawmakers have come up with a plan to keep the stadium in the state by using HB38 as a way to collect the $35 million needed for the stadium project. The bill now sets aside $20 million for a parking facility and is expected to be amended to give the state the power to collect another $15 million in Salt Lake County's hotel-room taxes over the next 20 years.
The measure passed the House on Friday with an amendment sponsored by Rep. David Clark, R-Santa Clara, spelling out that county hotel-tax dollars will only be used for parking at the county's two biggest convention centers and not for a stadium.