What's the Real deal with S.L. soccer complex?

Opponents of soccer complex along Jordan River want answers

Published: Monday, Feb. 21 2011 11:00 p.m. MST

Aerial view of the site for the proposed Salt Lake soccer complex northwest of downtown.

Mike Sadowski, Deseret News KSL-TV choppers

SALT LAKE CITY — Twenty-plus soccer fields, a professional-quality practice field and indoor training facility, with a neighboring youth soccer academy.

This was the shared vision of Salt Lake City leaders and Real Salt Lake ownership in 2007.

Since then, those plans have changed, or at the very least have stalled, and city officials say they are moving forward with the Salt Lake Regional Athletic Complex without Real Salt Lake as partner.

But a group of Salt Lake residents who don't want to see the soccer complex built at the site near the Jordan River aren't buying that line. And even if they did, the residents contend city officials selected the property near 1900 West and 2200 North as the site for the sports complex to accommodate Real Salt Lake.

The problem with that, says Jeff Salt of the Jordan River Restoration Network, is that a project using $15.3 million in public money essentially would be subsidizing a private enterprise.

"This is a public facility funded by public money," Salt said. "Why should a private enterprise be benefiting from that?"

Salt and other members of the Jordan River Restoration Network have been sifting through thousands of documents related to the soccer complex, obtained through Government Records Access and Management Act requests.

The group is using the documents as the basis for its four lawsuits against the city and another against the U.S. Army Corps or Engineers in hopes of stopping construction of the soccer complex and forcing the city to build elsewhere.

A Deseret News review of several of the documents found repeated mention of a youth soccer academy being built in conjunction with the soccer complex.

Billed as an elite, world-class athletic and educational facility, the academy was to include on-site housing and training for between 100 and 200 youths from around the world.

The plan in 2007 was for Real Salt Lake to partner with Real Madrid to attract, train and educate young soccer players — from Utah, throughout the West and even around the world — in hopes of grooming them to play for the respective professional clubs.

Early on, city officials and their professional soccer partners envisioned building 23 soccer fields, as many as eight baseball diamonds and a 7,500-seat championship soccer field on 180 acres of open space.

One of those soccer fields was to become the regular practice site for Real Salt Lake. And another three to four fields were to be utilized by the Major League Soccer franchise as part of the youth soccer academy.

In addition, a half-acre at the regional athletic complex was to be set aside for indoor training and locker room facilities for exclusive use by Real Salt Lake.

"We think (the partnership with Real Salt Lake) has been driving this whole resistance to finding alternative sites (for the sports complex)," Salt said.

Salt Lake City and Real Salt Lake officials say that's simply not true.

"The (regional athletic complex) site was decided long before any discussion with Real about its interest in an academy, (and) even before it organized its team in Salt Lake City," said Rick Graham, Salt Lake City's director of public services.

Real Salt Lake spokesman Trey Fitz-Gerald said team officials have not had any recent discussions about locating a soccer academy at or near the sports complex, and such an academy is not in the team's immediate plans.

That said, Real Salt Lake is "very supportive" of the soccer complex being built in Salt Lake City, he said.

"We're fully supportive of anything that helps the growth of the sport at all levels," Fitz-Gerald said.

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