MURRAY — The last visible remains of the old Salt Lake County fairgrounds may disappear soon.
Already gone are the aging exhibit halls situated where the Park Center swimming and recreation facility has stood since 1992. The Salt Lake County Ice Center, finished in 1999, now covers the ground just west of the old horse track. Soccer and rugby fields sprawl across the rest of the horse track acreage.
The only legacy structure left is the sprawling, covered grandstands for the horse track most recently used by rugby fans. And that may be gone in the near future.
Salt Lake County just agreed to sell a half-acre, which is now parking space near the grandstands, to the Kimwell Corp. to make room for a Marriott Residence Inn along 5300 South. The Murray City Council would still have to approve a zoning change to allow a hotel. But if it approves the project, a chain reaction of events would follow that would include bringing the aging grandstands down.
Murray Mayor Dan Snarr has been backing the hotel proposal for more than a year. Even though the fairgrounds property and the new ice sheet and playing fields are owned by the county, Snarr said he's the one who gets calls if there's a problem anywhere on the complex because it's situated in his city.
Snarr said he has personally plowed the steep driveway into the parking lot, which is used during the holiday rush by employees at the Costco across State Street. There are complaints about the public restrooms under the grandstands, which are the closest facilities for the nearby athletic fields that are busy in the summertime.
Someday the developers are going to come in. They will try to buy up that piece of property and turn it into something other than open space, and it will be absolutely a tremendous loss to the city.
–- Lynn Pett, former mayor
The way Snarr describes the restrooms: only an iron- stomached teenager would enter them — and then only on a bet. "Most people end up going over to the ice center, inundating the facilities there."
He sees resistance to the hotel proposal from people in the area who think the grandstands should be preserved for their historic value, and from others concerned a hotel would bring unwanted traffic along State Street. But Snarr sees the change as a good move that preserves the open recreational space while taking care of blight along 5300 South — the two closed businesses on the parcel where the hotel would go, too.
A year of negotiating resulted in a deal where developer David Kimball agreed to pay almost $647,598 for the half acre he needed. The sum is much more than the property is worth, Snarr said, so the county would have money to improve facilities around it.
"We told Mr. Kimball, 'The only reason we would sell that property to you is if we could get enough money to do the development we would need,' " said Lee Colvin, Salt Lake County's real estate manager.
So if the project advances, a new hotel would displace the two closed businesses and absorb a half acre of existing county parking lot as its parking lot. The county would use extra money from the land sale to build new restrooms, buy portable bleachers and reconfigure the one rugby field into two fields. The lost county parking would be replaced by knocking down the grandstands and paving space for 60 parking stalls that would be closest to the rugby and soccer fields.
Lynn Pett, Murray's mayor from 1990 to 1998, grew up working in Murray's main city park adjacent to the county fairgrounds and calls the overall area "the finest total park complex of any city in the state of Utah."
As a young parks worker, Pett said then-Mayor Ray Greenwood told him to guard the open space in the park and fairgrounds. "He said, 'Someday the developers are going to come in. They will try to buy up that piece of property and turn it into something other than open space, and it will be absolutely a tremendous loss to the city,' " Pett recalls.
But the particulars in the proposed hotel deal shows the county is interested in keeping the recreation space viable. "It's one of the most precious pieces of property in Salt Lake County."