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Game Not Over: Senate Votes to Help Soccer Team

Game Not Over: Senate Votes to Help Soccer Team

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The game is not over for Real Salt Lake.

Eight days after the Salt Lake County mayor said public aid would be a "gamble" and a "risky investment," the Utah Senate agreed to steer $15 million in tourist taxes toward land for a suburban stadium for the pro soccer team.

On a 20-8 vote Tuesday, senators extended a county tax on lodging and rental cars by 10 years to 2027 and also earmarked $20 million from the levy for a parking garage.

"The big picture shows we will have economic development because of this," Sen. Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said of a stadium in Sandy.

The bill's prospects in the House, however, were unclear. Republican leaders had yet to count votes.

"All of this has moved very quickly. We hope to have support in the House," said House Majority Leader David Clark, R-Santa Clara.

The Senate acted after Gov. Jon Huntsman made a public plea to keep pro soccer in Utah.

"It is important for everyone to understand the proposal at hand: We are not building a stadium with state taxpayer money," Huntsman said in a statement. "This is an economic development investment in valuable property and a valuable community asset."

The governor claims there is no risk to taxpayers because the taxes are paid by visitors. He said legislation must be approved by Friday to meet a deadline set by Real owner Dave Checketts, who is considering a move to St. Louis.

"We've heard a lot about how Real Salt Lake is good for Utah, and I truly believe that," said Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City.

On Jan. 29, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon said he wouldn't support $30 million in hotel taxes for the $110 million project, a decision that angered Checketts and ignited a scramble among public officials to come up with a new deal.

A county committee, referring to a consultant's report, said Real's estimates for the stadium were too optimistic, especially the number of concerts.

Real's business model calls for a minimum of 11 shows a year, with the number increasing to 18 by 2013. The study, however, estimated that four to six would be more likely.

Supporters in the Senate said risk is diminished by extending the tourist tax by 10 years and reducing the amount of money needed for bonds. The city of Sandy has also pledged $15 million for the stadium.

Corroon, who had Real season tickets in 2006, said he didn't know the details and couldn't offer a fresh opinion on the deal.

"It's a priority for the governor and the Legislature. ... I'll be happy when Real plays a game in the new stadium," he said. "I'm not sure I'll be invited to kick the first ball."

Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City, opposed the deal, saying the money could be used to promote tourism in Utah.

He also was frustrated that the Legislature was acting because of "an impending sale." Romero and other Senate Democrats who are in the minority were largely left out of the negotiations.

Separately, the Salt Lake County Council approved a resolution, 7-2, supporting the effort at the Capitol.

Real began play in 2005 at the University of Utah's football stadium, but its lease expires after the 2007 season.

Huntsman said a new stadium will "enhance our quality of life, especially for the hundreds of thousands of Utah youth who play soccer."

We called his associate Eric Gelfand tonight, who's in St. Louis with Dave. He told us they met with Jeff Cooper, the man who wants to move Real to St. Louis.

Gelfand says Cooper made a "credible" offer to buy the team; and told us Checketts is sticking to the timeline, wanting to see how all of this plays out.

Checketts won't have any comment until at least Friday, when that timeline runs out.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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