A proposal to raise hotel and car rental taxes to fund half of a potential Major League Baseball stadium — estimated to cost $1.8 billion — on Salt Lake City’s struggling west side cleared a Utah legislative committee Friday.

The House Government Operations Committee approved a bill on an 8-2 vote that would create a Fairpark Area Investment and Restoration District north of I-80 between 1000 West and Redwood Road.

While the hotel and car rental taxes wouldn’t go up until the state has a signed agreement that a major league franchise is headed to Salt Lake City, HB562 would immediately increase the hotel tax to fund improvements to the Utah State Fairpark and Jordan River. The bill sets a 2032 deadline for a team to be in place.

“There’s no risk whatsoever if that doesn’t happen,” Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, told the committee. “If we take care of that with a franchise agreement and we know that the team is on the way, then we’ll immediately begin construction on a stadium.”

In Senate availability later Friday, Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, also addressed possible risk to taxpayers.

“There are so many things in the bill to protect taxpayers from risk, but there is always a risk that a meteor could land on the stadium. Nothing is absolutely risk free but there are a lot of safeguards in the bill,” he told reporters.

Under the bipartisan bill, the stadium project would take 1.5% of the hotel and car rental taxes, totaling about $900 million. The state would own the stadium and lease it to the team for $150,000 a month for 30 years. If the team leaves the state before 30 years, it would have to repay the district for the taxpayer-generated funds.

Fillmore said the bill contains spending caps and any cost overruns for stadium construction would be borne by the team’s owner.

An MLB stadium in Salt Lake City would cost taxpayers at least $900M

Earlier this month, the Larry H. Miller Company announced plans to invest $3.5 billion in a mixed-use development, including a potential big league ballpark, rehabilitation of the river and fairgrounds improvements, on a nearly 100-acre site in the Power District. The company is pursuing an MLB expansion team for the city.

“We want to see a thriving development with or without baseball, and this allows us to begin that process of remediation, infrastructure, Jordan River cleanup,” said Steve Starks, LHM Company CEO. “All of this is intended to help us be the most prepared market for baseball.”

Starks told the committee he’s confident baseball will expand based on comments by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. A marketing study the LHM company had done by a third party found “off-the-bat” support — in the 90% range — for bringing baseball to Salt Lake City and building a stadium, he said. The analysis, he said, showed it would have the 17th-highest attendance in the league, averaging 27,000 fans per game.

The bill calls for the ballpark to have a capacity of at least 30,000.

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The west side has been a long-neglected area of the city, and struggles with homelessness, drug dealing and other crimes.

The Fairpark neighborhood is among several neighborhoods that make up the west side. In recent years, those areas have been facing gentrification, with rental and housing prices skyrocketing. Several new apartment buildings are under construction but longtime businesses have gone under.

Mayor Erin Mendenhall said the area was originally situated as industrial and subjected to redlining, a discriminatory practice in which financial services for housing were withheld from neighborhoods made up mostly of racial and ethnic minorities.

“The city built the west side this way, and it’s going to take some time. We’ve been working a long time to try to change that history of the west side,” she told the committee.

“But if this project can happen, it will be the most phenomenal, transformational investment the west side has ever seen. The west side of Salt Lake City deserves this and wants this very much.”

Salt Lake City has expressed concern about the bill’s apparent diversion of tax revenue and land use away from city services, regardless of whether an MLB team comes to the state. Mendenhall said Friday that negotiations are underway about those aspects of the proposal.

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West side elected officials and community leaders also support the bill.

Dan Strong, a Rose Park resident and president of the Westside Coalition, said the North Temple corridor should be the grand entry point to the city but right now is falling to more blight than it has in the past.

“If done correctly, this has the potential to elevate the area and to undo a lot of the redlining and other injustices that the area has suffered, or at least pay recompense for them,” he told the committee.

Strong also suggested a west side resident serve as a voting member of the board that would oversee the reinvestment district. In the current draft of the bill, the board would be made up of a Salt Lake City council member, a state Fairpark board member and members appointed by the governor, House speaker and Senate president.

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Several hotel managers in southern and northern Utah told lawmakers that while they support baseball coming to the state, they oppose raising hotel and car rental taxes to fund a stadium. They said a majority of their guests are Utah residents, not from out of state.

Josh Sutton, director of sales and marketing at Wittwer Hospitality in St. George, said the state would be increasing the transient room tax outside of the county where the project is taking place for something that would largely benefit one area of Utah and a private, for-profit business.

“My biggest concern about the bill is that Washington, Iron, Grand and rural counties will be contributing to something that will have little to no economic impact on those counties,” he said, adding Washington County is the third largest collector of hotel tax in the state.

Fillmore pushed back on the idea that places outside Salt Lake City would benefit from a big league baseball team in the state.

“I want you to ask the people of St. George if they feel like they benefit any from Utah having the Utah Jazz. Or asked anybody in the state what Utah would be like if we did not have the Utah Jazz. Everybody in the state would not be as well off as we are now,” he told reporters.

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The bill also diverts a portion of the tax to rural counties, home to many of Utah’s national and state parks that attract millions of visitors each year, for emergency services and search-and-rescue operations. The counties currently pay for those services from their own budgets.