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By ESPN Staff
Jan 29, 2007

Mayor kills plan for Real Salt Lake's soccer stadium

SALT LAKE CITY -- Calling it an "unsafe investment," the mayor of Salt Lake County said Monday that he won't support $30 million in taxes for a professional soccer stadium, a fatal blow to Real Salt Lake's plan to move to the suburbs. As a result, owner Dave Checketts will try to sell Real but keep the team in Utah for the 2007 Major League Soccer season, KSL Radio reported. Team spokesman Trey Fitz-Gerald declined to comment on the KSL report but said Real would issue a statement. County Mayor Peter Corroon's announcement came three days after the county's Debt Review Committee recommended against spending $30 million in hotel taxes on the $110 million project. The committee said Real Salt Lake's revenue projections from soccer and concerts were too optimistic. "My decision is not about the popularity of soccer. It's about how we spend taxpayers' dollars," said Corroon, a Real season-ticket holder. "This is an unsafe investment for the public," he said, calling it a "gamble." Real has proposed a 20,000-seat stadium in Sandy, just south of Salt Lake City. The team has been around for two seasons and plays home games at the University of Utah. It created a buzz in December by acquiring Freddy Adu. In August, Checketts, public officials and international soccer star David Beckham put ceremonial shovels in the ground to celebrate the stadium project, but there were no firm financial agreements at that time. Corroon acknowledged Monday that the groundbreaking was premature. He said the county still would build a parking garage with up to 1,000 spaces across from the stadium site. "In the event Real is able to finance a stadium through other means, I would look forward to negotiating a favorable agreement for parking," Corroon said. The team last month delivered internal financial documents to the county, insisting the public-private partnership would be favorable for taxpayers. Real said an arm of Goldman Sachs Group had agreed to take a 50-percent ownership stake. In 2008, the first season in a new stadium, Real predicted it would average 15,400 fans at each game at $22.78 per ticket. Attendance would rise to 19,360 by 2013 when a ticket would cost $30.72, the team said. Real said revenue from many sources, including tickets, parking, food, merchandise and stadium naming rights, should reach $28 million by 2013, a 71 percent increase over 2008. Other financial opportunities not in the projections included money from TV broadcasts and other uses of the stadium. But even using optimistic numbers provided by Real, "the viability of the team and the proposal didn't make sense," Corroon said. He gave the news to Checketts before a news conference. Corroon said the Real owner indicated he could sell the team by Friday if he wanted to. Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan said he disagreed with Corroon's decision. Sandy had pledged $15 million to the project. "We are sending a bad message to pro sports to say you're not welcome in our state," Dolan said. Before making an recommendation last week, the county's Debt Review Committee read a study by a consulting firm that showed the stadium could generate $1.3 million to $1.8 million a year between 2008 and 2012. But construction debt and other loans would exceed $3 million a year. One of the biggest contradictions between Real's plan and the consultant's study is the number of concerts. Real's business model calls for a minimum of 11 shows a year, with the number increasing to 18 by 2013. The study, however, estimated that four to six would be more likely. Real plays in Major League Soccer's smallest market. The team must move if it can't get a stadium built here, according to an agreement with the league. House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, who weeks ago declared the stadium plan was "dead," said he would not try to broker another deal. He pushed legislation last year to allow the county to use hotel taxes for a stadium.