After enduring months of protests, petitions and lawsuits, Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini has abandoned plans to build an Olympic speed-skating oval on Block 49.
But controversy may continue around the site, located across from Pioneer Park. Officials at City Hall said Wednesday they feel betrayed by Olympic Bid Committee President Tom Welch. Corradini said she backed off the proposal because Welch withdrew his support earlier this week."The reason we withdrew Block 49 can be summed up in two words, Welch welshed," said an official who asked to remain anonymous.
Welch, however, denied ever having endorsed Block 49. He had stated publicly that he felt he could support any of the sites under consideration. He also denied having thrown his support to Salt Lake County, which wants the oval as part of an expanded Salt Palace Convention Center.
"I didn't endorse the Salt Palace," Welch said. "What I thought I said was that the concept was attractive and needed to be looked at."
But the city official said Welch privately had told them he supported Block 49 and would do all he could to make sure the oval and an adjacent recreation center were built there. The site was to become an important economic boost to the west end of downtown.
The city official said Welch became nervous because protesters had started a petition drive aimed at forcing a citywide referendum on blocking the oval on Block 49. The official said they may ask Olympic organizers to reimburse the city for the money it spent to promote Block 49.
The official did not know how much money was spent on the bid.
Welch acknowledged his concerns about the protests.
"For six weeks, I've been telling Deedee of my concerns, especially the opposition. We are bringing the Olympics to Salt Lake to unite the community, not divide it."
Welch said he doesn't think the city should be reimbursed.
"Why? Deedee made a decision I think was in keeping with the feeling of the City Council to find a way out of Block 49. No one told her to do that."
Corradini made the startling announcement withdrawing the bid during a regular meeting of the city's Redevelopment Agency board of directors on Wednesday. She said her decision was based on the lack of support from Welch, not on any of the public protests.
"I wasn't concerned about the controversy at all," she said. "Good public policy is not based on controversy."
The city's withdrawal clearly leaves the Salt Palace Convention Center as the leading contender to house the skating oval, which in recent years has bounced from Ogden to the University of Utah to Block 49, leaving controversy and bad feelings in its wake.
Salt Lake County Commission Chairman Jim Bradley, who proposed the Salt Palace plan, said the county is prepared to meet the requirements of Olympic organizers. His plan would make the oval part of an expanded convention center exhibit hall. The hall would be converted into a 4,000-seat ice arena during months when convention business is slow.
But a group from Kearns also wants the oval as part of the Oquirrh Fitness Center, 5624 S. 4800 West. The Utah Sports Authority, the agency choosing a site for the oval, originally made Kearns its second choice behind Block 49. Now, it has promised to reconsider Kearns along with the Salt Palace.
Oquirrh Director Dave Howick said area residents have been calling non-stop since news broke that the fitness center once again has a chance. The center is supported by the Kearns Recreation District, which levies taxes to Kearns residents.
"We were in a wait-and-see mode. Now we're in a wow mode," Howick said.
Advocates for the poor and disabled, who relentlessly protested the Block 49 site, are happy with the withdrawal. The city now will return to its original plans for the block, which included selling a half-finished apartment complex there to someone who will finish it. Part of the units will be subsidized for low-income tenants.
But at least one advocate said he does not want to gloat or to claim victory.
"We do not fault the mayor. That isn't fair to her," said Tim Funk, director of the Crossroads Urban Center. Funk was leading the petition drive to stop the oval. He said it is time to meet with Corradini and patch differences.
"We congratulate her on her wisdom," he said of Corradini. "We're more than willing to work with her and to go ahead with the original plan for the block. We need the mayor as much as she needs us. Probably more."