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ARENA: RDA, JAZZ SIGN LEASE; CONSTRUCTION WILL BEGIN

It's happening at last.

Construction crews will be on site at 8 a.m. Monday to begin construction of the new Jazz Arena, Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis announced Friday night. DePaulis and Redevelopment Agency representatives held a press conference in the mayor's office at 6:30 p.m. to sign the lease agreement between the RDA and Jazz owner Larry H. Miller.

The 20-page agreement was the last step in a dramatic and often brutal series of events leading to the start of construction of the 20,400-seat sports and entertainment arena. The lease agreement was originally to be signed May 30, the day after the RDA members _ who are also members of the Salt Lake City Council _ voted 5-1 to approve it.

However, a series of setbacks _ including the discovery of hydrocarbons on the site of the arena parking lot _ had delayed the signing for a critical nine days.

"We're hoping (the nine days) won't delay the opening of the arena," said Dennis Haslam, Miller's attorney. "We've been in a crisis mode for the last five days," he said, adding that attorneys have been working 12 and 15 hours a day to remove all the barriers to signing the lease.

Miller was not present for the signing. He had left on a family vacation earlier in the day, Haslam said.

RDA Acting Director Dick Turpin identified the probable source of the hydrocarbons as an abandoned underground gasoline storage tank.

The RDA has an aerial photograph of the buildings that were on the land a few years ago, Turpin said. "Right where they drilled and found the hydrocarbons is where the pump islands of a gasoline station were."

New federal law requires a series of tests to be done on properties being transferred from one party to another to insure that the property is clean and safe. The law only requires removal of the hydrocarbon source and airing of the soil to solve the problem, he said. Crews will search for and remove the tank.

"We want to make it clear we're not talking Love Canal here," Turpin said. "This site is clean and usable and people attending things such as the arts festival need not fear."

A series of other legal technicalities contributed to the nine-day delay in the signing of the lease. Several bankruptcy trustees had to be sought out and consulted, and a critical money transfer from a Canadian bank had to arrive, said William D. Oswald, attorney for the RDA.

Federal law required the RDA to find the money needed to clean up the land before transferring the parking lot property. Traveler's Insurance, the company that is buying the land from the bankrupt Triad America estate, put $150,000 in an escrow account Friday afternoon.

The money was taken from the purchase price of the land. DePaulis said only $10,000 of that money would be needed to excavate the underground tank. The rest would go to the Triad estate after the excavation.

The signing clears the way for a Japanese bank to lend Miller the $66 million for his arena. Miller is building a new arena because the Utah Jazz have outgrown the Acord arena in the Salt Palace.