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Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News
Construction workers aren't letting winter get in the way of building Real Salt Lake's soccer stadium, which is more than halfway done.

SANDY — The only roar soccer fans will hear these days at Real Stadium is the whir and spark of welding crews, the bellow of massive propane heaters and the scraping of heavy construction tools. But on a tour of the stadium's construction site, officials told the Deseret Morning News that the cheers of the crowd aren't too far away.

After all, they say, the $110 million project is more than halfway complete.

The final pieces of structural steel have been placed, making visible the final shape and size of the stadium. Two-foot-wide gray and beige bricks are also being laid, and the shapes of rooms and suites are becoming apparent.

"If you're driving on I-15, if you're driving on State Street, you're seeing a massive skeleton of what will be in eight to nine months from now one of the premier sporting venues in the state," said Trey Fitz-Gerald, spokesman for the team. "One of our goals is to make sure that no detail is forgotten."

Leaders with Real Salt Lake, the state's Major League Soccer team, are so confident of the planned opening in mid-September that the team has scheduled a national television broadcast on ESPN from there for Oct. 9, said Sandy economic development director Randy Sant. Real Salt Lake plans to bring in big-name entertainers for the event, but no contracts have been signed, officials said.

The first seats — all of which will be of the tip-up variety — are scheduled to be bolted into place April 1. Other seats will arrive and be placed over the next three months, officials said. Most of the seats are red, but others are black, white and blue — the team's colors. There will be 21,000 permanent seats.

Construction crews are working on welding steel odds andends and pouring concrete. Soon, electronic message boards equipped with LEDs will be put up throughout the stadium. When the time comes, they will flash sponsor messages to the crowds. The stadium will also be equipped with massive screens that will show close-up views of stadium events.

The structure will hold 21,000 fewer soccer fans than the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium, where RSL has played since coming to Utah in 2005. However, the new stadium will have an intimate feel and is expected to delight die-hard fans with features such as a center-field player entrance tunnel and ground-level seats, Fitz-Gerald said.

"We're trying to achieve a level of intimacy here so (the fans) really feel like they're part of the game" he said.

Planned features

Plans call for a series of "Spanish steps" resembling those in Trafalgar Square in London and ticket booths in several spots. The stairs, to be built on the stadium's northwest corner, are meant to be a natural meeting place, Fitz-Gerald said.

The stadium will also have a club on its second level with the feel of an indoor/outdoor restaurant; various rooms for media; and suites with massive windows overlooking the valley and offering views of the Oquirrh mountain range. The walls of the rooms were recently being nailed up and wired for electricity and the mountain view was visible through spaces between steel girders.

Construction crews also have been busy placing catwalks on top of the stadium, with lights powerful enough to accommodate television needs.

For outdoor concerts and other events, a removable stage will be constructed on the south end of the stadium and additional seats will be set up on the field. The stadium then will be able to accommodate 24,000 people.

RSL and Sandy have started negotiations with local entities such as the Jordan School District concerning stadium use, Fitz-Gerald said. High school soccer, outdoor hockey and football games may be played there, and schools could use the space for graduation ceremonies. Whether the school district will be charged for such events has not yet been decided, Fitz-Gerald said.

"I think it will bring a lot of great events to the community and the community will adopt it," said Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan.

Building inspectors from the city as well as independent inspectors hired by general contractor Layton-Turner Construction have been on site every day, along with between 250 and 350 hard-hat-wearing concrete, electrical, welding, painting and masonry workers, said construction manager Elliott Veazey. The project may use up to 400 workers daily at its peak.

Funding and sales

Project financing for the new stadium is right on schedule, said RSL vice president of business operations John Kimball.

Only six of 32 suites are still available for purchase, at prices between $25,000 and $65,000. The suites can be customized and are contracted for three to five years. Buyers also have started to gobble up season tickets for about one-third of the 1,000 most highly sought seats, called club seats. Those tickets sell for $1,250 to $7,500.

Pricing for regular season tickets for the stadium has not yet been released.

Naming rights have not yet been sold, but RSL has made offers to a handful of potential buyers. The naming rights are expected to sell for $1.5 million to $2 million, Fitz-Gerald said.

"The pressure's on right now," Kimball said, explaining that a business opportunity such as this occurs in a market only once every 30 or 35 years. RSL officials are anxious to finalize everything. "We're just working through the details," Kimball said.

RSL is also courting a number of companies as founding donors and sponsors, Kimball said. None of the companies' names have been made public, but large financial corporations and cellular-wireless companies are also being considered. Restaurant companies are being courted for participation in the project, Kimball said.

Cooperation between Sandy and RSL is going well, officials from both RSL and the city said. The final piece of the stadium funding puzzle — a $10 million tax-increment funding bond — was submitted to the Salt Lake County Council a few weeks ago.

Sandy has not heard back from the county but expects a hearing on the issue to be scheduled in the near future, said Dolan. Sandy is required to get the $10 million in funding to RSL by July 1, Dolan said.

The city will issue the $10 million bond, Sant said. Money to repay it will come out of property taxes paid by RSL, he said. Taxpayers will pay no part of it.

However, state law requires Sandy to create an interlocal agreement to push the funding through.

The county, Sandy city and several smaller tax districts that oversee water, sewer and mosquito abatement entities must approve the deal.

Looking forward

Practice facilities for the team have yet to be decided upon, but RSL is in negotiation to purchase property in various spots around the county. The final practice schedule will be set by coaches, but the team will likely practice on the field only a few days before each game, Fitz-Gerald said.

RSL hopes to lease a practice field for visiting teams through the Jordan School District, RSL project manager Mike Steel said.

Plans for a promised Soccer Academy in Utah also have not been finalized, Fitz-Gerald said. RSL has given $7.5 million for a Salt Lake Regional Athletic Complex, which will be added to $15.3 million that is to be bonded for by Salt Lake City for the complex. Voters approved that bond in 2003.

RSL also may give $15 million for land purchase in exchange for the ability to operate the site, according to a letter from then-outgoing Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson to new Mayor Ralph Becker. RSL officials said the company has not formally offered that deal but discussions are ongoing.

Officials hope to work closely with Becker and the Legislature in coming months to finalize academy project details, Fitz-Gerald said.

Security measures for the stadium have not been decided upon, but RSL plans to hire a private security firm to keep its guests and property safe. A security building south of the stadium is part of its master plan but hasn't yet been started.

In addition, development plans for the second phase of the project have not been finalized, but both Sandy and RSL are courting offers, their respective officials said.

The development, part of Sandy's plan for an entertainment district, will eventually encompass 182 acres between State Street and I-15, and 9000 South and 9400 South. It may take years to finish, said Sant.

E-mail: rpalmer@desnews.com