SALT LAKE CITY — As the City Council heard a final series of reports Tuesday on a bond-funded sports complex near the Jordan River, one member of the board asked a critical question: Is this the project the public agreed to finance?
Councilman Luke Garrott cited language from a voter information pamphlet on Proposition 5, a $15.3 million bond issue approved in 2003. In that document, voters were told the money would go to build a sports complex that would accommodate soccer, baseball, rugby and lacrosse. And the only photo that accompanied the information showed kids playing baseball.
On Tuesday, the council heard from public services director Rick Graham that the project, which has been significantly downsized since voters approved the funding, will no longer include baseball fields, at least not in the first phase of the project.
"Are we being accountable to voters in this phase?" Garrott asked his fellow council members.
Councilwoman Jill Remington Love said she thought the pamphlet language was "general" and that the current, scaled-down version of the facility still satisfies the spirit of the proposition. Councilman Van Turner agreed.
"The voters will get what they wanted," Turner said.
But Garrott isn't satisfied that they will and asked for council support in seeking a legal review of the current plan to make sure voter expectations, as presented in the 2003 proposal, are being satisfied.
A straw-poll vote on the issue was soundly defeated.
And while construction costs for the current plan — one "champion" soccer field with seating for 2,000, 15 non-stadium soccer fields, parking accommodations for about 1,000 vehicles, a maintenance building and an administrative building — will be covered by the taxpayer bond and a $7.5 million contribution from the owners of Real Salt Lake, other costs are accumulating.
In public testimony Tuesday, former Salt Lake City Councilwoman Nancy Saxton asked how the city was planning on financing hundreds of thousands of dollars in yearly maintenance fees for the new complex after the bond money is spent. Saxton railed against the plan, told the council members they were "speaking out of both sides of their mouths" and said even when it's completed, neighborhood youth soccer teams wouldn't be getting much time at the "pay-to-play" facility.
How to pay for a 44-acre habitat restoration project adjacent to the fields also remains an unanswered question. Before approving a plan presented to the council Tuesday, Garrott looked for reassurance from Mayor Ralph Becker's office that the cost of the work, which may be in excess of $1 million, can be covered.
"We know we don't have money in the bond to pay for the full restoration," Garrott said. "I hope the administration is serious about giving us the funding the restoration is going to need."
While many who testified at Tuesday's public hearing on the soccer complex voiced opposition, it was not a unanimous outcry.
Salt Lake resident and lobbyist Dave Spatafore lauded the revised plan and said waiting to build baseball diamonds until an as-yet unplanned "second phase" was started was a good idea.
"We greatly appreciate everything you've done," Spatafore said. "It will become a shining example and economic engine for our communities."