Although efforts for a statewide referendum failed, the majority of Utah residents still strongly oppose using a state-approved $35 million for the Real Salt Lake soccer stadium in Sandy.
Results of a poll done by Dan Jones & Associates for the Deseret Morning News and KSL-TV show that 56 percent of state residents and 60 percent of Salt Lake County residents oppose the Legislature's decision in February to give $35 million of the county's hotel-tax dollars to the stadium project.
The statewide survey of 410 people had a margin of error of 5 percent and was conducted May 21-24. Those dates were three weeks after a petition drive to put the issue on the ballot fell short nearly 80,000 signatures of the required number to qualify for a statewide referendum.
Also that same week, Real said it will pay $7.5 million to Salt Lake City for a youth sports complex with no strings attached. Real had previously wanted to invest in the 180-acre complex to be built at 2000 North between Redwood Road and I-215, meaning the team would get a cut of concession sales and naming rights.
Agreeing to pay the incentive-free $7.5 million came at a cost, though an elite sports academy established with Real Madrid that had been advertised as being in Salt Lake City will now be located elsewhere.
The new poll results are similar to previous survey findings. According to a February poll conducted before the Legislature voted whether to direct public money to the stadium, 54 percent of residents statewide said the Legislature should not approve the funding deal. A March poll showed 63 percent of county residents believed Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and legislative leaders should not have passed the legislation.
Real officials, however, say none of the poll questions address that the $35 million is going toward the site land and infrastructure improvements.
"When people are properly educated that the hotel taxes are paid nearly 100 percent by out-of-towners, they are in favor of it," said team spokesman Eric Gelfand. "I certainly think once the stadium is built, people are going to see the value of it and what it brings to the community."
Dan Jones & Associates has also conducted research for Real Salt Lake.
Referendum supporters say the poll results give more weight to their cause.
"I always thought there were enough people against it and potentially we had an opportunity for the referendum to work," said Gary Forbush, a member of the grassroots group Get Real Utah. "I think the challenge was getting the word out and making it relatively easy for people to sign."
Get Real Utah formed shortly after the Legislature approved the $35 million funding package. The group had a little more than 30 days to collect nearly 92,000 signatures of 10 percent of voters who participated in the last gubernatorial election from at least 15 of Utah's 29 counties. Only 12,343 certified signatures were turned in.
Forbush said that the way things unfolded with the sports complex and soccer academy, he thinks many members of the Legislature would take their vote back.
"The public's been deceived. The Legislature's been deceived, because there was this partial disclosure of what they really wanted," he said.
On Thursday, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon signed an interlocal agreement with the state that says the county will collect hotel-tax revenue for the next 20 years and give a portion to the state to fund the team's future Sandy stadium.
The agreement is needed before the state can give the $35 million to the team. The Salt Lake County Council is scheduled to vote on the agreement Tuesday.
Sandy officials are also working on the details of a development agreement with Real that will include the terms and conditions the team must meet in order to receive an additional $10 million in public funding from Sandy's Redevelopment Agency.Real began construction on April 9 on a $110 million soccer stadium on the northwest corner of 9400 South and State Street in Sandy. The team hopes to finish the stadium by August 2008.