Bouquets and brickbats for Utah MLB venue plan



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Legislature approves funding plan for new MLB stadium Image: Larry H. Miller Company

The Utah Legislature approved a Bill on February 28th to fund half of a Major League Baseball (MLB) stadium in Salt Lake City (US).

‘Utah News Dispatch’ stated that the action has drawn both excitement and criticism. While some argue it’s a way to invest in Salt Lake City’s West side, a historically redlined and underserved area, others believe that the State should commit similar investments toward other pressing issues like housing and homelessness.

New York (US)-based the Major League Baseball (MLB) is a professional baseball league and the highest level of organized baseball in the United States and Canada. One of the big four major leagues, the MLB comprises 30 teams, divided equally between the National League (NL) and the American League (AL), with 29 in the United States and 1 in Canada.

‘Utah News Dispatch’ further stated that the Senate voted 25-4 to give final legislative approval to HB562, titled the Utah Fairpark Area Investment and Restoration District, sponsored by the Ogden Republican Representative Ryan Wilcox. The Bill now goes to the Governor of Utah, Spencer Cox, for his consideration.

The Utah State Legislature passed H.B. 562 Utah Fairpark Area Investment and Restoration District (U-FAIR), creating a new State district to protect the State Fairpark (a 66-acre complex in Salt Lake City, Utah), rehabilitate the Jordan River in Utah, remediate an environmentally sensitive industrial site, and revitalize the long-neglected Westside of Salt Lake City.

The vote comes the day after lawmakers pulled the plug on an initial proposal to raise the hotel taxes by 1.5 percent after facing criticism from other areas in the State. Instead, it’s counting on using the State’s portion of the sales tax within the district where it would be located, plus a 1.5 percent increase in car rentals to raise the up to $900 million to help fund the stadium. The Utah residents would be able to fill out a form to be exempt from that car-rental tax.

The Bill’s Senate sponsor, Senator Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, said the stadium funding would only be triggered if the Larry H. Miller Company manages to get a MLB franchise for the stadium.

Sandy (US)-based the Larry H. Miller Company (the LHM Company) is a privately-owned business with operations located mainly across the Western United States. As a portfolio of companies and investments, the LHM Company’s focus falls within the primary categories of real estate, health care, finance, entertainment, sports, and long-term strategy and investments, as well as philanthropy.

Maintained Fillmore, “Right now, the area that we’re talking about under development is either owned by the State and therefore generates no tax revenue, or is owned by the private sector, but is basically fallow commercial land that generates nothing.”

The investment in the area would come from the growth generated by the development, Fillmore said, and even if the stadium doesn’t happen, the Fairpark neighborhood would still get redeveloped. He also rejected the notion that a tax increase would only benefit the billionaires.

Added Fillmore, “The amount of money that is being transferred from the taxpayers to any individual person regardless of that person’s wealth is zero dollars. There is no subsidy in this Bill. In fact, the inverse is what is true. We’ve got a private party who is willing to donate $3.5 billion.”

Fillmore reiterated that the Bill isn’t just about baseball. He told the Senate on February 28th that the district the Bill creates would help revitalize the capital City’s West side. The other lawmakers who supported the Bill said this would help develop the approximately 200-acre district and substantially accelerate the plans the Fairpark authority had for the area.

This is a “transformational development of the West side,” the Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall averred after she watched the vote play out in the Senate gallery. She said she has “overall positive” thoughts about the Bill and is “thrilled” that Utah’s capital could potentially be the home of a MLB team.

The City has been working closely with the Larry H. Miller Company since the Bill dropped, Mendenhall said, to address some concerns -“The creation of an authority in the City or in any City in the State is complicated at best and brings details that are incredibly important to Municipal function. And we are thrilled to have this area develop in such a visionary, positive way, but it will also require Municipal services and strong cooperation between the entity and the City. And it’s some of those details that we are still working on.”

The plan allows a community that has seen dismissal and the repercussions of living among highways and potentially, an inland port, an opportunity to thrive and become a vibrant part of the City, said Senate Minority Leader Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, who called her support of the Bill “one of the most emotional votes in this session for (her)”.

“This is going to change completely my community and many lives,” she said while choking up on the Senate floor. “And I’m also really happy to see the representation of a West-side community member in the Board and the Governing Board have this important, life changing generational changing piece for the West side.”

Senator Nate Blouin, D-Salt Lake City, who said he has been torn on approving both the MLB stadium and a project to build an arena to host a National Hockey League (NHL) team, supported the Bill.

Though he believes the development project would bring benefits and diversity to the area, he said the Legislature should make similar investments to fight other issues – “I don’t love the optics of cutting taxes, of underfunding homelessness. And I know this makes some investments in some of those spaces. But there are significant discussions about how lacking we are in childcare opportunities and homelessness funding, and public safety funding and all of that.”

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