Michelle Tessier, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah State Fairpark officials are considering a proposal from Real Salt Lake to build a minor league soccer stadium on the fairgrounds.
A new convention building and upgraded rodeo grounds would also be considered alongside the stadium.
CRSA, a planning firm commissioned by the state Legislature, completed a study earlier this month that examined the state's options for the Fairpark. The options ranged from spending $33 million on necessary improvements to the facility to spending $160 million in replacing the Fairpark in kind.
Building a convention center, rodeo grounds and a multisport facility could cost up to $47 million in addition to the $33 million needed for repairs, according to CRSA. But RSL has proposed to invest in a stadium that would host its minor league affiliate in the USL Professional Division, through a public-private partnership with the Utah State Fairpark Corp., according to Fairpark Executive Director Michael Steele.
The stadium would seat up to 6,000 spectators and host as many as 15 home games per year. RSL hopes to construct the field with artificial turf, which would allow players to use the facility throughout the year. The stadium would be built on what is now the parking lot east of the rodeo grounds.
Steele said he hopes the area's culturally diverse citizenship would welcome the stadium because of widespread appreciation for the sport.
"It's a very diverse population here, and they really support the fair and the Fairpark. We thought it might be something that the community might embrace," Steele said. "So far, it's been positive."
RSL President Bill Manning said the facility could make the Fairpark area a destination throughout the year and provide a favorable venue for the minor league team.
"It would bring a lot of people through there on non-state fair days," Manning said. "Our fan base that we've built here is really into the team, and I think the next step for us is developing this next generation of players. I actually like the fact that it's close to downtown. It obviously has a very strong history there. This is kind of the next generation of what the state Fairpark could be, and we'd be excited to be a part of that."
Manning and RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen plan to meet with Fairpark officials next week to discuss advancing the proposal.
Last year, RSL made a $7.5 million donation in the building of Salt Lake City's Regional Athletic Complex, which will feature 16 multipurpose fields and a stadium with 1,500 permanent seats surrounding an artificial turf field.
The $22.8 million facility will host regional tournaments and local sporting events starting at the end of summer next year, according to Salt Lake City spokesman Art Raymond.
The proposed stadium at the Fairpark could potentially work in concert with the Regional Athletic Complex in garnering participation in the sport and support for RSL, Raymond said.
"We think that RSL's proposal with the Fairpark complements what we're doing at the Regional Athletic Complex very nicely," he said. "I think we have a very soccer-friendly city."
The proposal for additions to the Fairpark would include finishing the rodeo grounds, which have been under construction since the 1980s, Steele said. The 50,000-square-foot convention center would be built on the far east side of the property. Historical buildings would likely remain in place and be brought up to usable standards, he said.
For now, the proposal remains "very fluid," Steele said.
Roger Beattie, chairman of the Fairpark board of directors, says he hopes the state will realize the worth of such investments.
"It is our position that investing in the Fairpark is the most economically and culturally prudent approach to ensure the Utah State Fair and the Fairpark continue to contribute to the community for future generations," Beattie said. "Construction of an exposition building, improving and expanding the rodeo grounds, and adding a multiuse sports stadium to the Fairpark would be strong assets to the Fairpark's success."
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