Real Salt Lake officials may shop around for alternate stadium sites for a major league soccer team in the wake of legislation aired Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
Though legislators will likely vote on a diluted version of the controversial redevelopment agency bill once it hits the Senate floor, SB184 would still ban the use of RDA money to fund soccer stadiums, recreation centers or theaters.
Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, pushed his bill through the Tax and Revenue Committee Wednesday with a promise that a forthcoming substitute bill will not include a prohibition of retail development in an RDA area. That change, Bramble said, is a compromise between cities who favor RDAs and school leaders opposed to diverting property taxes for development.
But Dean Howes, CEO of Real Salt Lake, said the bill would still stifle the economic development that a 22,000-seat soccer stadium could bring to either Murray or Salt Lake City. Both cities are actively recruiting the stadium with RDA money to help purchase land for the project.
Murray's 100-acre site near 4500 South and State Street is undergoing a blight study to create an RDA, while Salt Lake's 10-acre lot near Main Street and 700 South is part of the West Temple Gateway project area.
"You're sending a message to other sports teams. You're telling them they're not welcome in Utah," Howes said. "If we want to be a leader in the West, we need to invest in ventures that tell people we are for real."
Howes added that even if the bill passes, Real Salt Lake will not yank its plans for a Utah stadium. The group may have to consider other options, however, if neither Murray nor Salt Lake can offer RDA funds.
"Sure, Real Salt Lake is coming to Utah. We're not going anywhere else," he said. "But we really should be asking ourselves what kind of community we want to be building. Can we argue the benefit the state of Utah has had from the Jazz?"
Bramble's watered-down bill would still include restrictions on time extensions and property expansions of RDA projects. It would also put a one-year moratorium on RDA money going toward retail development as legislators try to nail down a better definition of blight and retail.
Projects that had blight studies under way by Feb. 15 would be allowed to continue as long as the study was wrapped up by July 1.
That switch, Bramble said, came after city leaders touted legitimate uses of RDAs for retail, such as the Midvale slag site and the abandoned rail line that is now Gateway. Banning all retail uses of RDA funds may have been too broad an approach, he said.
But Mike Jerman, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, said the substitute bill is a disappointment after the lofty goals of the original. The one-year moratorium, Jerman added, could just mean the momentum behind RDA reform will die out quietly.
"The proponents of the RDAs could just basically wait out the one year," he said. "There's nothing really holding their feet to the fire."
Jerman, along with school leaders, has been a staunch supporter of Bramble's bill in its original form, arguing that diverting property taxes from school and city coffers for retail development is an abuse of RDA power.
Estimates by the Utah Taxpayers Association peg tax diversions for RDAs last year at close to $100 million. School districts would normally take a 55 percent share of that money, but they forfeit that revenue when an RDA is created.
"Retail does not create economic growth. Retail is a zero sum gain," he said. "Retail does not need to be incentivized or subsidized."Another RDA bill introduced to the House this week also aims to limit RDA use by making participation in an agency optional for school districts and other taxing entities.