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John Daley & Andrew Adams ReportingA new soccer question now looms large, this time about new fields for youth teams. Real Salt Lake owner Dave Checketts promised, as part of a $35-million publicly-funded stadium deal, RSL would give millions of dollars for a youth sports park in Salt Lake. Now, that commitment has strings attached.
In February, Dave Checketts said,"In the end, the city of Sandy and the city of Salt Lake will be the two beneficiaries, with the stadium and the Real Madrid and Real Salt Lake Academy, dozens of youth soccer fields." The academy and 16 fields would be at 2200 North and 1800 West. Voters approved a $15-million bond for the project, and RSL offered to help. But talks between park backers, the city and RSL are stalled. Paul C. Burke, the co-chair of the Salt Lake Athletic Complex, says, "No, I'm not frustrated, but I'm a realist and it's time for this project to get moving."
Just before the Capitol Hill vote to OK public money for the stadium project, RSL handed out a list of commitments. The first obligation was to kick in $7.5 million to the sports complex. RSL says it's still committed to it.
One key lawmaker says that contribution was critical in making the deal happen up on Capitol Hill. House Minority Leader Ralph Becker says, "That was the reason that I and several other people agreed to support the commitment of state funding for the infrastructure associated with the stadium." Just last week, in a letter to the mayor, Dave Checketts says items yet to be resolved included naming rights, sponsorships, parking, concessions and control of those revenue streams by RSL."
The team says it can manage the park better than the government can. Real CEO Dean Howes says the team wants that role, and that's why it also wants a return on investment. "Just like the public has the right to look for the return on theirs," Howe says. "That's why we want to participate in the concessions and in the naming rights." Burke says, "It is a big issue because the bonds are tax-exempt, and we can't do anything that would jeopardize the tax-exempt nature of the bonds." The team says it still supports the park, but details need to be worked out. Howes says, "That hasn't changed. But you know what, you're taking one line somewhat out of context. And saying does this capture everything that had been discussed. I think most people, I think the majority of both sides are on the same page on this."
But, park backers want the governor to hold back stadium money until RSL makes good on its park promises. Dave Spatafore, the co-chair of the Salt Lake Athletic Complex, says, "What I fear the most is RSL gets their $35 million, and then they continue to waltz around their commitment, and a year from now we're still standing in an empty field."
Park backers say the clock is ticking. They want a deal with Real, but if that isn't going to happen they need to find another benefactor to help build the park.
The deal for the Real Soccer Stadium in Sandy could go to the voters. The Lt. Governor's office is still counting signatures gathered in referendum petitions submitted by the group "Get Real Utah." Ninety-two-thousand signatures are needed to force a public vote.