SALT LAKE CITY — Six years after voters approved a multimillion-dollar bond issue, city leaders are moving forward with a plan to build a sports complex along the Jordan River.
In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the City Council authorized the administration to spend $22.7 million to begin work on a 13-field complex near 2200 North.
Councilman Soren Simonsen called the 160-acre complex "the largest public space project the city has undertaken and arguably the most controversial."
Conservationists and soccer supporters spent roughly two hours laying out their cases for and against the complex during a public hearing last week. Tuesday, dozens more took sides before the City Council.
Soccer parents spoke of a need for more fields for practices, games and tournaments within the city boundaries.
"For a long time, Utah has been a net exporter of soccer dollars," said former Utah Youth Soccer Association president Paul Burke. "Families in our community have traveled to tournaments in other places and would love to have this facility."
City leaders have said they would create a "buffer" of 100 to 300 feet along the Jordan River, but environmentalists worried about loss of habitat for birds and the potential for flooding should the Great Salt Lake's level rise.
"It doesn't allow for the massing of birds that migrate together," former Councilwoman Nancy Saxton said. "As you shrink that down, what it does is creates a hardship on the birds so they don't really have a place to rest."
Former Mayor Rocky Anderson, who was in office for the 2003 bond initiative, called recent opposition to the complex "a campaign of misinformation."
"That's what the voters were led to believe and that's what they voted on," Anderson said. "Anybody who believes in a real public process ought to have a real problem" with changing the location.
An environmental consultant hired by the city said the loss of wetlands, which have been overrun by invasive weeds, could be mitigated by creating "better, higher functioning wetlands" on the east side of the river.
Without moving forward with the complex, however, some said there would be no money for restoring the riparian corridor.
"Our mission is always to go and say, 'What can we do best with the circumstances we have now?' " Council Chairman JT Martin said. "It seems to me we have an opportunity to bring healing and restoration. … I'm looking for an opportunity to heal and make this happen — not 20 years from now — but as soon as possible."