Deseret Morning News graphic

MURRAY — Murray city officials upped the ante Tuesday in a tug of war with Salt Lake City leaders to land a Major League Soccer stadium within city bounds.

The City Council decided to move forward with a redevelopment agency plan that could offer tax incentives to Real Salt Lake to build a 22,000-seat soccer stadium on a 100-acre site just north of the 4400 South TRAX stop.

That step may tip the scales in favor of the suburban city as Real Salt Lake owner Dave Checketts plans to make a decision by early February whether to put the $60 million stadium in downtown Salt Lake City or in the Murray Fireclay area.

"We're glad Murray took this next step towards being partners," said Dean Howes, CEO of Real Salt Lake. "Salt Lake is still somewhat of an unknown."

Although Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson presented Checketts with a Gateway-style plan Friday for the proposed stadium site on Block 22, south of 600 South and east of West Temple, Howes said Murray leaders presented a plan for their site nearly four months ago.

That plan includes a transit-oriented development with high-density housing, a Target store and a Lowe's home-improvement store. The site will also have enough space for a training field and other soccer facilities.

"We're the best city in America and we think the stadium would enhance that," said Keith Snarr, economic development director for Murray.

The stadium will give an economic boost to whichever city it calls home, Howes said, as it generates an estimated 175 new jobs and nearly $29 million in tax revenues over the next 10 years.

Though both cities have been clamoring for the stadium, not everyone is sold on the plan to bring the stadium to Murray with taxpayer funds. Real Salt Lake has offered to pay up to $30 million up-front for the stadium but is relying on city tax incentives and a possible county bond to make up the remaining $30 million.

"The redevelopment area is building a soccer stadium using tax dollars — dollars that should be going to education," Murray resident Delynn Barney said at a public hearing on the project Tuesday. "Murray and Salt Lake are battling over where a stadium should go when there is a war in Iraq. I wonder if Murray and Salt Lake have their priorities mixed up."

Other residents like Judy Tukuafu, however, encouraged team leaders to choose Murray as the soccer site to serve as an anchor to rejuvenate the area. Tukuafu added that Murray's close access to TRAX and its central valley location make it ideal for a sports venue.

"There's been a lot of pressure and incentives to make this a Salt Lake City program. It seems kind of desperate," she said. "It would be nice to have something like this without having to go downtown."

Murray's proximity to TRAX, coupled with the fact that it offers nearly 10 times the land than Salt Lake, has made it a tempting option for Real Salt Lake owners, said Trey Fitz-Gerald, director of marketing for the team.

"We see a very forward-thinking community that really wants us. They want Major League Soccer and Real Salt Lake as a cornerstone of economic development," he said. "But then Salt Lake is considered the hub of the Wasatch Front and there's something perhaps romantic about being downtown."

No matter which city winds up with the stadium, Fitz-Gerald said Real Salt Lake owners want to make the field a community partnership where high school and youth teams can play. In addition to hosting Real Salt Lake's home games, April through October, the stadium also will serve as a concert pavilion throughout the year.

"A civic building creates excitement for the community. It becomes a focal point and an anchor," Fitz-Gerald said. "There's civic pride and there's also national exposure."