Soccer stadium plan may save Utah State Fair Park

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Could big renovations save the Utah State Fair? The fair's board of directors thinks so and unveiled ambitious plans Friday.

After reviewing a state-commissioned study, the board felt the fair should stay at its home location off North Temple but undergo a massive make-over that includes a partnership with Real Salt Lake soccer.

With its 100-year-old agricultural facilities, the fair has been hemorrhaging tax dollars, and renovations to 13 buildings are already underway.

Meanwhile, the state considered selling the property, moving the fair to another location or re-investing in its long-time home. The board of directors wants the latter, and State Senator Luz Robles, D-District 1, agrees.

"I personally want to see the state fair stay in the west side of Salt Lake City," she said. "I think it's part of the culture and who we are as Utahns. We expect the fair to be there."

The fair's board is now trying to persuade the state to sign off on a $44 million plan that includes updated rodeo grounds, a new expo building to attract tenants, and a 5,000 to 8,000-seat soccer stadium.

"The goal would be to have 300 events annually outside of the fair," said fair park executive director Michael Steele

The stadium would be the home field for Real Salt Lake's minor league with the goal of completing it for the 2016 season.

Real spokesman Trey Fitzgerald confirmed that owner Dell Loy Hansen has submitted a proposal to the Utah State Fairpark Corporation to form a public/private partnership to build the stadium. Fitzgerald believes Salt Lake's soccer fan base is large enough to sustain a stadium at the fair park, plus it would give young players a new audience and more competition.

The stadium is one idea to make the fair financially sustainable year-round and less reliant on state subsidized dollars.

"Now its time for change in terms of how we manage the site, but in the end I think we want to make sure we keep the state fair there and then open the doors for the many other opportunities," Robles said.

The fair park currently has only 100 events a year outside of the Utah State Fair. Executive Director Michael Steele is confident the new plan will pull the fair out of its financial slumber, and Senator Robles believes lawmakers are supportive of the idea. Ultimately, the legislature and Governor Herbert will make the final decision during the next session.