SOUTH SALT LAKE — The City Council has agreed to sell Workman Park and a few surrounding properties to the Utah Transit Authority to raise money for another piece of open space located closer to homes and residents.
The move to relinquish land at about 2300 South and 900 West has some residents, Councilman Shane Siwik and mayoral candidate Wes Losser crying foul, saying the deal wastes taxpayer money. Losser is running for mayor again after being ousted by Bob Gray four years ago.
Improvements such as landscaping and new bathrooms were made to Workman Park under the Losser administration and Losser said he doesn't want to see them destroyed. Losser also points to a difference of about $800,000 in property value between the four-acre park and land at the former site of Woodrow Wilson Elementary School the city wants to buy.
The Gray administration plans to use the $1.3 million from the Workman sale to buy the old school property near 200 East and Claiborne Avenue. State law gives the city right of first refusal on the property, but any purchase would come back to the council for a vote, said City Attorney Dave Carlson. The city would have to come up with the difference in price but plans aren't yet in place to do that, he said.
"Something's not right here," Losser said. "There's something amiss that just doesn't make sense."
Both UTA and the Gray administration say they did not instigate the sale but were approached by the other side.
Workman Park, 2350 S. 910 West, has a baseball diamond and soccer field are tucked into an industrial neighborhood and is bordered by the Jordan River and a West Valley City park on the west.
If the sale is finalized, the park land would be used for future expansion of a UTA service station, said UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter.
Gray, a former police chief, said the park's current location causes serious law enforcement problems such as sexual prowling and drug use.
It's also out of the way for residents, said Jeremy Carter during the public portion of Wednesday's meeting.
"The location for the baseball diamond is lousy," he said.
Siwik wants the park left alone and wants the city to look at bonding to purchase the old school property. Destruction of the park is at odds with regional plans to save property along the river corridor, he said.
"This is so opposite of what's in the Jordan River blueprint it's pathetic," Siwik said.
Losser added to Siwik's comments, waving a copy of the blueprint before the council Wednesday. His comments ultimately eroded into a verbal argument with council members.
Gray said he has not been driving the deal and that it has nothing to do with the Losser administration.
"It's absolutely not true," Gray said of allegations by the Losser camp. "I don't know why he feels I have a vindictive attitude toward him. I don't."
The long-running feud is likely to come to an end soon, as Gray is selling his South Salt Lake home to move closer to his grandchildren in the south end of the valley.
For now, the public is being advised to continue using Workman Park, Gray said. Details about its closure will be made public after the purchase is finalized with UTA, he said.