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Soccer site options brewing

If Sandy deal fails, other offers may be in works

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Sandy's deal with Salt Lake County for a soccer stadium isn't dead yet, but state and local officials are already hatching plans to cash in on the chance it might founder.

The Salt Lake County Council is scheduled to discuss a $30 million funding package for Real Salt Lake and could vote on it today. Sandy leaders crafted the proposal after Mayor Peter Corroon rejected the team's initial funding plan in May. The plan could end up costing $76 million over the life of a 30-year bond, including debt service.

Opportunists are already lining up just in case the county rejects Sandy's plan. Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson wants to build the stadium at the Utah State Fairpark, while councilwoman Jenny Wilson wants the team to continue playing at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Even House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, has a contingency plan: If the County Council doesn't use hotel-tax money for a soccer stadium in Sandy, he wants the money to be used to fund light-rail expansion. On top of that, Anderson is tossing out the idea of using both hotel and Zoo, Arts and Parks taxes to fund a downtown cultural-arts district.

"It's kind of a game of chicken — we'll see who wins," Salt Lake County councilman Joe Hatch said Monday.

Hatch said he has an agreement with Sandy leaders on how to divvy up $90 million of hotel-tax dollars: $30 million would buy land and build infrastructure for a soccer stadium in Sandy, $50 million could be used for projects downtown and the rest would go toward other countywide projects.

The only caveat is that Hatch said he wants Sandy leaders to "stand up and say, 'I have no heartburn with this money going to downtown Salt Lake.' "

Several high-powered politicians back the Sandy plan, including Curtis and Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. But that kind of political backing won't stop Salt Lake City's mayor, who urged the County Council in a letter Monday to examine all stadium plans on their merits not just their political backing.

Anderson wants the county to offer up $17.5 million in hotel-room taxes to build a stadium at the Utah State Fairpark on North Temple and 1000 West. That money, along with property taxes from a community-development agency, would go into improving facilities at the Fairpark. Key to Anderson's plan is that the team would pay the county back in 17.5 years, either in cash or through in-kind tourism-promotion services.

"While there is a great deal of political momentum behind the other proposal you are considering, I respectfully ask that you make your decision based on an objective assessment of both proposals, using an open, inclusive process that would lead to the best decision for the team and the taxpayers of Salt Lake County," Anderson wrote.

Anderson huddled with Curtis, Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, and several county leaders last week in an attempt to talk soccer as well as come up with possible funding options for a downtown cultural-arts district.

One idea tossed about was the possibility of raising the ZAP sales tax from 0.10 percent to 0.17 percent in order to fund a Broadway-style theater and other venues. But Curtis said he does not support raising the ZAP tax. He said that under Sandy's soccer-stadium plan, the county will have plenty of money to use on other projects.

"There is $60 million left for the county to spend. I'm not going to be (Anderson's) advocate," Curtis said of the Salt Lake City mayor's proposal to nearly double the ZAP sales tax.

Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan said he would not support increasing the ZAP tax if the funds were targeted solely for a downtown arts district. The other cities and unincorporated county areas need to have a share of the dollars before he would support it, he said. He noted that Sandy did not get any ZAP funds this year, "and yet we are the second-largest sales-tax producer in the county

The County Council is expected to debate soccer-stadium funding for about two hours today. Any plan needs at least five votes to pass, but a crucial sixth vote would keep the plan clear from a possible veto from Mayor Peter Corroon. With six votes, the Council could override a veto.

Corroon said Monday he supports soccer and wants to keep the team in Salt Lake County, but has not made his mind up about a possible veto.

Dolan is ready for some answers, and wants to get the stadium project started as soon as possible.

"I just want them to give us a yes or a no and move on," he said.

Contributing: Amelia Nielson-Stowell

E-mail: ldethman@desnews.com