SALT LAKE CITY — After 10 long years, Salt Lake City is ready to break ground again on what city leaders hope will become the mecca of youth soccer in Utah.
Mayor Ralph Becker and Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen were among those on hand to recognize the official restart of construction on the city’s voter-approved Salt Lake Regional Athletic Complex.
“This is a day many of us have been anticipating for years now,” Becker said. “Getting this project back online is a benchmark for our residents who approved it and for the numerous youth and adult teams who will show their skills on its fields.”
The project was almost stopped before it ever got underway when a group of residents filed lawsuit to block construction due to environmental and legal concerns.
In 2003, Salt Lake City voters approved a bond to develop the soccer complex near the Jordan River on the northwest side of the city. Shortly thereafter, the Jordan River Restoration Network filed the first of seven legal actions to block the plan. Two of the lawsuits related to a dispute over access to public records; another appealed a rezone and master plan amendments; and another challenged the $15.3 million bond approved by voters in 2003.
The group also appealed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ issuance of a permit that allowed the city to move forward with the project after litigation was initially filed, and it accused officials of illegally filling in wetland areas to build the soccer complex.
The city fought back, filing a petition in response to legal challenges by the group, which had prevented the Salt Lake City Council from authorizing the sale of bonds to construct the complex near 1900 West and 2200 North.
Among the litany of complaints issued by the group was an objection to the decision to build the complex near the Jordan River and in a flood plain. It also took issue with the difference between the project approved by voters in 2003 and what the city submitted to build.
Following numerous appeals, the city was eventually allowed to move forward, but following a 2010 groundbreaking, work on the 142-acre site was halted pending the resolution of legal action aimed at delaying the project.
A Utah Supreme Court ruling in favor of the city in December 2012 removed the final barrier to construction and the voter-approved bond was recently issued.
The new complex will feature 16 soccer/multipurpose fields, including a stadium field that will feature bleachers, artificial turf, a scoreboard and concession area. A gift from Real Salt Lake covers $7.5 million of the financing for the $22.8 million project that is scheduled for completion by summer 2015.
Becker said he appreciates and fully endorses the preservation aspects raised by the project’s opponents but believes that the complex will be developed in a manner that will be considerate of the environment.
In spite of the legal problems, the soccer fields are sorely needed, Hansen said. More than 50,000 youths play soccer in Utah, and playing fields are at a premium, he said.
“We're providing the best of environmental protection and providing for the youth and soccer in our community,” Hansen said. “We could not have picked a more beautiful place for our youth to come and find purpose in life, commitment to friends and something to strive for.”
Becker said the soccer complex will become gathering place for the increasingly diverse and soccer-crazed region that includes immigrants from around the world and Utahns who are truly embracing the world's most popular sport.
“What we have in the end is the ability to provide for our community something that is desperately needed,” the mayor said. “It adds a whole new dimension to our region.”
Mo Shego, 16, emigrated from Kenya, where he played soccer on hardened dirt fields with no shoes. The Cottonwood High School student said the new complex will offer opportunities for young people to play the world game in a way they may never have been able to before.
“I’m excited," he said. "It gives every kid that wants to play here the opportunity to play soccer."
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