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Payson complex up in air

Ex-mayor's offer of land donation surprises city

PAYSON — The city's plans for a new swimming pool and recreation complex is up in the air again after the City Council was surprised by two new proposals.

The City Council voted 3-2 last fall to demolish the historic Payson Downs horse racing track and replace it with a swimming complex and multiple softball and soccer fields. The plan also calls for extending 800 South through the area, a move many residents believe will have a negative impact on downtown businesses.

The council was meeting in a special session Thursday night to give city residents a chance to air feelings on the controversial project. The council had listened to about an hour of comments when former mayor Gordon Taylor offered to donate 35 acres of land, including water rights, valued at more than $1.04 million, for city use on the condition the race track is preserved and the city drops plans to extend 800 South. The land is located on the city's northwest side.

Taylor also pledged $100,000 to refurbish and redevelop the track area to host as many as 35 city recreation activities. Those efforts would be coordinated through a yet-to-be-named Payson Downs committee.

The 800 South extension is at a critical stage. Work on the road is to begin April 15. Some preliminary waterline construction is already under way.

Taylor said the city could either use the land for the proposed recreation complex or sell the land and use the money to find a new site for the project. He suggested the city consider working with the Nebo School District to see if a jointly owned swimming complex could be constructed at nearby Payson High. Refurbishing the aging pool at Memorial Park was also suggested.

Taylor said his plan would bring the community back together.

"I'm just speechless," Mayor Bernell Evans said. "This is probably one of the finest offers Payson has ever had."

But, there was another surprise.

Brad LaBaron, an Orange County California developer, told the council about his plans for a 200-acre events center in south Utah County that is to include an equestrian center with a racing track and adjoining stalls. He urged the council to keep the existing track intact until his project is completed. He fears razing the track will scatter horse owners and make it difficult to attract them back to a central facility. He said the new center should be ready in October.

The current city plan includes providing a smaller temporary track and maintaining some of the existing stalls for the next four years.

On a 4-1 vote with Councilman Max Roberts dissenting, the council set an April 5 special session to review Taylor's proposal and vote on whether to accept the offer.

Roberts said he doesn't even want to consider Taylor's offer. Councilwoman Jan Tanner said she will look at the offer but is skeptical. She noted the council has already voted to start demolition.

LaBaron, who represents Wasatch Spectrum, said he is fearful Taylor's proposal "will kill our deal." He said he wants to try to work with the offer but says more time is needed. LaBaron would not identify the site for his project but said it would include an entertainment and commercial center along with rodeo grounds and an indoor equestrian arena.

LaBaron said he has corporate funding behind the venture that will also include a go-cart track and a game arcade. The arena would seat up to 15,000 and could be used for concerts, horse polo, demolition derby, monster truck, tractor pull and motocross events.

The group that has been most opposed to the city project wants the issue put on the November ballot. City officials have said that won't happen unless the plan is altered to include covering the pool and a building to provide indoor sports offerings.