Wait a minute, what just happened? For months, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon vowed he wouldn't spend public money on Dave Checketts' soccer stadium; then we open the newspaper one morning, and they're breaking ground for a new publicly funded stadium. Cost to taxpayers: $55 million.
In the end, that was nothing but a lot of warm gas coming from Corroon and the Salt Lake County offices the past few months.
As near as we can tell, Corroon and Salt Lake County responded to Real Salt Lake's repeated requests for public funding the past few months this way: "No," "No," "Heck no," "A thousand times no," "OK."
Corroon reversed field faster than Barry Sanders. He and the other politicians can crunch the numbers any way they like they can bend them like Beckham but the bottom line is they're spending public money to build a stadium for a team that refused to reveal its financial records, that plays in a sport that operates in virtual anonymity in America until the World Cup comes along every four years, that plays in a league that has failed in several previous incarnations.
This was roughly what went down:
1. Corroon turns down the stadium project because he says he is protecting the public interest and doesn't want to use public money for it.
2. Corroon is widely hailed as a hero for his courageous, bold stance.
3. Checketts throws a tantrum. He says Larry Miller sabotaged the deal and that if he doesn't get his way by Aug. 12 he will take his ball and go home. At one point, Checketts once called the Salt Lake County officials "bush league" and "unprofessional."
4. Corroon, still enjoying his new popularity, repeats that he will listen to any funding plan as long as it is the people's will. A poll shows 59 percent of the public opposes stadium funding. Hold that thought.
5. As recently as May, Real Salt Lake gave the county the silent treatment and refused to talk or meet because it didn't get what it wanted.
6. On Aug. 8, Checketts says he is sticking with his Aug. 12 deadline.
7. On Aug. 9, Checketts and team officials meet with the so-called powerbrokers Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson and additional legislators, to get them on board. "I just don't see how they can get the county to move," says Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan.
8. The county magically moves. On Aug. 12, Corroon takes the bait like a hungry bass. Real Madrid comes to town, and they hold a groundbreaking ceremony even before anything has been signed the day of Checketts' deadline.
So much for the people's will. You didn't even get to vote on it if you had, this thing never would have flown, and don't they know it. The powers that be decided they were more qualified than you to decide the issue.
Right to the end, politicos and Real Salt Lake backers which turned out to be the same thing were still singing that tired old refrain about "economic development" even though studies consistently show that public funding of stadiums does no such thing and that it's largely an urban myth.
You've got to hand it to Checketts. His performance was masterful. He convinced local politicos that Salt Lake "needs" professional soccer, and that it was his moral obligation to bring it to us. Even the media jumped on the bandwagon for him.
"I just thought it was too important to this state. I'm not going to let it go, despite the fact I'm still not there with the county," Checketts said at one point, as if doing us a favor.
(Wait a minute; why didn't Miller sabotage this deal?)
Checketts played Salt Lake like a piano. Did he miss a trick? He played the blame game when he didn't get his way, he demonized anyone who wasn't enlightened enough to support his project, issued threats and deadlines, appealed to the powerbrokers when he was running out of friends, threw a timely party with the arrival of Real Madrid on the day of his deadline and, finally, months later, he got his way.
If you're among those who are still wondering how soccer suddenly commanded such attention and interest and, now, money, welcome to the club.