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SALT LAKE CITY — The fate of Utah's embattled state fairgrounds became more clear Monday with the agreement between the Utah State Fairpark and Real Salt Lake to build an $18 million minor league soccer stadium on the grounds.
The two parties have been considering a proposal to split the bill on a stadium since July, but in an effort to expedite development of the 8,000-seat facility, Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen agreed to pay the entire cost of construction.
The deal would be contingent on the state extending the Utah State Fairpark's lease on the fairgrounds, which expires in 2017, for an additional 40 years. If approved, the stadium would open next year.
"I'm a huge supporter of the state fair. It seems foolish to lose such a valuable resource because of a lack of year-round activity," Hansen said, adding that the stadium would be a "catalyst" for different parts of the fair to grow throughout the year.
Hansen said the stadium would offer tickets at lower prices and open up opportunities for members of Salt Lake City's west side to attend games. Attendance at Rio Tinto Stadium is only 12 percent Hispanic, but the new stadium would tailor more to that audience, he said.
"We'll fill an 8,000-seat stadium after two to three years," he said. "I have zero doubt of that."
The project includes additional improvements to the Fairpark, including a new entrance on North Temple, improved parking, signs and landscaping, bringing the estimated cost of construction to $23 million.
Real Salt Lake's minor league affiliate team, the Monarchs, would operate and maintain the stadium. In addition to Monarch games, the stadium would host events such as concerts, professional women's soccer, men's lacrosse and rugby, and community adult soccer games.
The Utah State Fair would have use of the facility for a three-week period before, during and after the fair.
In 1995, the Fairpark was privatized by the Legislature with the intent of making the fair profitable. Since then, the Utah State Fair Corp. has overseen fair operations, and the state Department of Facilities and Construction Management has been responsible for upkeep of the grounds.
Last summer, the state commissioned planning firm CRSA to determine what options would keep the Fairpark financially viable during the coming decades. Those options ranged from spending $33 million on necessary improvements to footing the $160 million bill to replace the Fairpark in kind.
Construction of the stadium will be part of an ongoing effort to improve the condition of other Fairpark facilities, many of which have fallen into disrepair, according to Roger Beattie, chairman of the Fairpark board.
"The new stadium will be a key element in the Fairpark's success for years to come and will be the first of several major new developments at the Fairpark," Beattie said, though it hasn't been determined officially what those developments will be.
It was unclear Monday when the Legislature will consider renewing the Fairpark lease. But Lowell Peterson, vice chairman of the Fairpark board, said he hopes lawmakers will realize the value that would be added to the Fairpark with the addition of the stadium.
"The stadium would be a huge step forward in revitalizing the entire Fairpark," Peterson said. "We urge the state to extend the … lease on the Fairpark so we can preserve the Fairpark for generations to come."
Contributing: Paul Nelson