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Holding OKs land sale for soccer

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Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, billionaire Earl Holding and Real Salt Lake owner Dave Checketts hammered out part of a deal Wednesday night that could bring a new Major League Soccer stadium to Utah's capital city.

In that meeting, Anderson and Checketts said, Holding indicated he was willing to sell his substantial interest in Block 22 downtown (between Main, West Temple, 600 South and 700 South) where Salt Lake City hopes Real Salt Lake will build its stadium. Holding's only concern is that the stadium be a quality project — equal to Holdings' nearby projects, the Little America and Grand America hotels.

"I don't think Mr. Holding has ever given up a piece of property before," Anderson said. "For him to do it right next to one of his hotels is amazing."

The mayor said a land sale to the city is the only option he discussed with Holding.

"He's not going to give it to us," Anderson said.

Checketts, who used to be Holdings' LDS Church bishop when the pair both lived in Federal Heights, said the relationship between the two men helped the negotiations.

Checketts flew back to New York Wednesday night and said he will decide whether to put the stadium in downtown Salt Lake City or Murray by at least Feb. 1.

"We didn't know on Monday if Block 22 was really an option," Checketts said. "Obviously we now know that it is an option. This meeting today was the critical part because I just didn't know if Earl was on board."

Holding could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Tonight the Salt Lake City Council, Anderson and the city's Redevelopment Agency staff will meet behind closed doors to discuss the various options they have to purchase the block. Holding's Sinclair Oil Co. owns roughly 75 percent of the block while four other property owners control the rest. RDA executive director David Oka said other property owners are willing sellers.

Murray has its own proposal for MLS stadium on a 100-acre site near 4500 South and I-15. That site would include housing, a Target store and a Lowe's home-improvement store and would have space for practice fields and other soccer-related facilities.

Checketts said he would like to build the stadium downtown to help revitalize the city's center. However, he noted it would be cheaper to build it in Murray and said there are other benefits there, like the possibility of approaching Lowe's or Target to buy naming rights for the stadium.

Real Salt Lake wants free land to build its $60 million stadium. The team also wants $30 million in public funding, which it hopes to secure by getting a special bond election in Salt Lake County this year. The team would first have to persuade the Salt Lake County Council to put on the bond election. Then the bond would have to be approved by voters.

Several Salt Lake City Council members said they don't expect the county will opt for a special bond election this year and will instead wait to see attendance figures for the team's first few seasons at the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium before going forward with a bond vote.

Checketts said pushing the bond election past 2005 would create significant project delays. Real Salt Lake wants a smaller, soccer-specific stadium.

E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com