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LONG-SHOT PROPOSAL BY `ROOKIE' SCORES BIG FOR WEST VALLEY CITY

One spring day in March, while taking a brief time-out from his community development duties, Lance Blackwood came across a newspaper story that would define his career.

The story spelled doom for the IHL Denver Grizzlies, who were being displaced by the NHL Quebec Nordiques. Blackwood had a scent and wouldn't let go."We're encouraged to go out and look for economic development opportunities," said Blackwood, a West Valley City community development coordinator. "We talked about it and Bob (Buchanan, economic development administrator) said go ahead and make the call."

Blackwood, at that time a department rookie (he's only been there five months now) put in a call to Grizzlies owner David Elmore in early April. Although the team was in the middle of playoffs, Elmore flew to West Valley to inspect a vacant 20-acre site between I-215 and I-15, 3500 South and Redwood Road, that might house his Turner Cup championship team.

Apparently Elmore, the owner of two hockey teams (including the East Coast League Tallahassee Tiger Sharks) and five minor-league baseball franchises, liked what he saw.

"Utah is the very best location for us," Elmore would later say. "This is the best site I've ever seen, with its (access). This is a unique opportunity: a win for us and the people of Utah."

The site, which formerly spawned alfalfa, wheat and sugar beets, is just south of Decker Lake, which is being cleaned up to create an educational wetlands preserve. It sits to the northeast of Valley Fair Mall.

"The best part about it is it's ready for development," Blackwood said.

West Valley administrators agreed that the site was the most comprehensive and strategically located for a proposed arena in Utah's second-largest city, and they emphasized that in their presentation to the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee last week when they requested funding for the rink.

In a slick, 8-minute video, produced largely in-house by the management information services department, the Grizzlies' new home - and Utah's last Olympic venue - is billed the West Valley City World Events Center. Thanks to Orem producer Kevin Mitchell's creative vision and humanitarian heart, the video was completed in two weeks, four days before it would be presented to Olympic organizers. The cost? Only $4,000, about four times less than the job would have typically cost.

"Initiative, persistence, tenacity and hard work have combined to let us create this great, (winning) proposal," City manager John Patterson said. "This is the best team I have ever seen assembled in the city. It was such a longshot."

After months of hard work, trying 16-hour days and plenty of skipped meals, Patterson admitted that the organizing committee vote went better than he expected. The unanimous award of $7 million for construction costs appeared to be more than any West Valley official had even considered wishing for.

"Now the hard work really starts," Blackwood said. "We have all worked so hard, but the city has a team approach to doing things. The support makes it possible."

The Utah Grizzlies will play their first two years in downtown Salt Lake, in the Delta Center. The first game of the season is Oct. 6. Construction on the team's new home begins in early spring, Patterson said.

Projected cost for the 10,000-seat arena is $26 million, with estimated total costs at $34 million. Patterson said the arena will be completed by September 1997.

"This arena will be built with hockey in mind. Every seat will be good for hockey," Patterson said. "We're doing the best thing for the community."