LDS Church and Lawmakers to Pony Up Millions for New State Fairpark Arena

Utah State FairparkHow fast can the Utah Legislature agree to spend $10 million?

Wham! Bam! Thank you, ma’am!

About that fast.

All it takes is leaders of the LDS Church to offer $3 million for a worthy cause if the state kicks in $10 million — all for a new $17 million, open-air, 10,000-seat arena, at the Utah State Fairgrounds.

Politically speaking, if the Mormon Church is willing to kick in some big bucks, the mostly-LDS Legislature will go along – especially if lawmakers and governors have been looking for financial partners for years for the aging Fairgrounds on North Temple.

GOP Gov. Gary Herbert will call a special session within several weeks to allocate the $10 million.

And within a year, the Days of 47 Rodeo will officially call the new stadium home – the reason for the LDS Church’s contribution. The aging facility is just ten blocks west on North Temple from the church’s international headquarters.

The timing is “now,” said Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, because the old Delta Center, owned by the Miller family, will soon be under a multi-million-dollar renovation and the rodeo “will be without a home” come 2017.

Besides the LDS Church, there will be some big-name donors to the new stadium, like Zions Bank and O.C. Tanner Co., among others.

Roger Beattie, chair of the fairgrounds board, told lawmakersWednesday that with the $14 million from the church and state, the rest of the $3 million will come from private sources. “I promise” no other state funds will be asked for, he said.

The state won’t be hit up for more cash for the aging Fairpark.

More than one legislator told UtahPolicy that the state must act now, or lose the chance to upgrade the Fairpark significantly.

Lawmakers failed to act a year ago when Real Salt Lake professional soccer team owner Dell Loy Hansen wanted to help build a Fairpark stadium for his minor league development soccer team.

But Hansen wanted to own that stadium on the state property. The new stadium will be owned by the state, said House Majority Assistant Whip Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville.

“We get a $17 million state of the art, multi-purpose facility for $10 million,” he told the House GOP caucus on Wednesday.

And the LDS Church’s cooperation is crucial.

While the church is a huge contributor to Salt Lake City (i.e. the $1.6 billion City Creek complex), it is not often that the worldwide church donates cash toward state projects.

And the Days of 47 Rodeo will be the “anchor” event for the new stadium, which will be open air, and so mostly available for spring, summer and fall events.

The new stadium should generate $1 million a year for the state, said Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake, who will carry the special session bill to fund the new arena.

But Wilson said the new stadium will be the core that can generate money to fix up the aging Fairpark, and provide cash flow to keep the Fairpark viable.

This is a bipartisan effort, since the west side of Salt Lake is solidly Democratic. Most of the House and Senate seats are held by the minority party. But Republicans are on board – both rural and urban conservatives who want to keep the Stare Fair, along with its rural lifestyle and celebrations.

House budget chairman Dean Sanpei, R-Provo, told UtahPolicy that the $10 million “will probably have to come from the General Fund.” In a $15 billion budget, that is not a lot of cash. But Sanpei said he couldn’t say exactly where the special session will find the money now.

The Wednesday announcement is a bit of a surprise, said House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville.

“I don’t know how many of you (legislators) have heard much about this,” said Dunnigan.

Nope, not many.

But by next summer, there should be a new stadium at the Fairpark, and a new attraction for the sometimes run-down state facility.