A proposal to build an Olympic speedskating oval adjacent to the University of Utah, opposed by many neighborhood residents, has met with more resistance from yet another neighbor: the university itself.
Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis announced at a public meeting Monday evening that the best site for the speed-skating oval would be northeast of the Steiner Aquatic Center at 500 South and Guardsman Way.Under DePaulis' proposal, which the Utah Sports Authority accepted Tuesday morning, the city would build a $5 million open-air oval and parking facilities. If Salt Lake City is selected for the Olympics, the skating oval would be covered, and supporting facilities - including more parking - would be built at a cost of $20 million to $30 million more.
But too many university parking spaces - already a scarce commodity on the commuter campus - would be lost if the skating oval were built there, university President Chase N. Peterson said Tuesday evening at a news conference.
Further, Peterson said, because the parking lot is on land managed by a trust that requires the land be used for educational purposes, he could not accept DePaulis' recommendation.
"I simply don't have the power to give away university land," he said. "I am not empowered to give away land that diminishes access of students to education."
But that is not to say that the U. would not support the Olympics in other ways, Peterson emphasized. The U. is a strong supporter of Salt Lake City's Olympic bid, he said, and would provide housing, a stadium and hospital facilities, and would even alter class schedules if the city is selected as the site for the 1998 Winter Olympic Games.
Part of the facility would be built on the university parking lot, as well as on land parcels administered by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and the Veterans Administration Medical Center.
Peterson wasn't ready to accept the city's estimate of how many parking spaces would be lost to the U. if the skating oval were built as proposed. He has seen three different studies of the issue, he said, and all came up with different figures.
"We don't know how much parking would be lost," Peterson said. "The city's study says 75 spaces. Others suggest 200 or 300 or 500. We think its more like 500 or 600."
The mayor's recommendation to the sports authority said 25 to 75 parking spaces would be lost, but that up to 500 parking spaces would be built in two locations.
The U. has "no information to suggest those figures are reliable," Peterson said.
"I think we can tolerate (losing) 25 parking spaces," he said, but he added that other issues would have to be considered.
Residents of nearby neighborhoods have circulated a petition asking that the oval not be built on Guardsman Way, a resident said at Monday's meeting. West-side residents, who said they want the oval in their neighborhood, also protested the mayor's recommendation.
The residents' opposition had nothing to do with the university's decision to oppose the city plan, Peterson said. "We are one of the neighbors, just like everyone else is."
Peterson said he talked with members of the sports authority Tuesday afternoon and said there was general agreement that they would "get some reliable people to come in now and do some kind of studies with us to determine what is really at stake.
"I think more definitive studies might give us information on which we could have better agreement," he said.