State lawmakers will consider creating a board with taxing authority to generate at least $900 million for construction of a Major League Baseball stadium in the Fairpark neighborhood as part of a massive mixed-use development.

Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, unveiled a 116-page bill late Tuesday that sets up a Fairpark Area Investment and Restoration District north of I-80 between 1000 West and Redwood Road. A board made up of a Salt Lake City council member, state Fairpark board member and members appointed by the governor, House speaker and Senate president would govern the district.

HB562 would allow the board to levy a variety of taxes, including an energy sales and use tax; a telecommunications license tax; a transient room tax; a resort communities sales and use tax; and an accommodations and services tax.

Property taxes generated by the proposed development would be used to pay for infrastructure and other amenities in the district.

Last week, the Larry H. Miller Company announced plans to invest $3.5 billion in a mixed-use development on Salt Lake City’s west side, including a potential big league ballpark. The company is pursuing an MLB expansion team for the city. The proposed nearly 100-acre Power District development includes improvements to the Utah State Fairpark and Jordan River. 

Miller Company to invest in $3.5B project on Salt Lake City’s west side

The announcement didn’t include specific details about the proposed ballpark. Big League Utah, a group of prominent state, local and community leaders supporting the effort, recently said it envisions a year-round, multiuse stadium for all kinds of events from sports to concerts to community celebrations.

The bill approves bonding for “half the actual cost of developing and constructing the qualified stadium.” A “qualified” stadium must have a minimum capacity of 30,000 and be primarily used as the “home of a major league sports team.” The measure also calls for parking facilities, lighting, plazas and open space.

The state would own the stadium under the proposal. The Fairpark district would lease it to a team for $150,000 a month for 30 years, according to the legislation. If the team leaves the state before 30 years, it would have to repay the district for the taxpayer-generated funds.

Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said out-of-state visitors would largely help pay for the stadium through hotel and car rental taxes, along with taxes within the project area.

“All the money that will be used is money that we think will be generated from the increased activity that will come to Utah,” he said.

Adams said he’s not sure the stadium funding proposal is critical to luring Major League Baseball to Utah, but it’s another piece of a complicated puzzle. “Every piece you get in place helps,” he said.

The Senate president also said the funding mechanism for a ballpark isn’t new. Utah has created the same type of taxing entities for the inland port and the Point of the Mountain development, he said.

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Gov. Spencer Cox made no secret of his excitement about the prospect of Salt Lake City landing a big league baseball franchise. But he also has said he doesn’t think “taxpayers should subsidize billionaires” for projects like sports stadiums. He and other state leaders have considered public investment through tax-increment financing or a public-private partnership as viable options.

Tax-increment financing calls for local taxing bodies to make a joint investment in the development or redevelopment of an area, with the intent that any short-term gains be reinvested and leveraged so that all taxing bodies will receive larger financial gains in the future. 

At his PBS Utah news conference last week, the governor said he supports that approach to construction of a stadium. He also mentioned raising the hotel tax.

“We have some of the lowest taxes in the United States on hotels. Most states have higher taxes there, so the argument is there’s a little bit of room,” Cox said. “Most of those taxes are actually paid by people outside the state of Utah, so that’s one area where we’re having discussions and negotiations where I’m open to it.”

The governor added that there must be “strict guardrails” to protect taxpayers.

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