Bob Bernick’s Notebook: A Fairpark Surprise

bernick mugFinally, the state government’s Fairpark is going to get a major renovation — $17 million to build a new 10,000-seat open-air arena where the old bandstand now sits.

This project has been kept under wraps for several months now – sprung on the Legislature this past week during its members’ monthly interim study day.

But don’t look for complaints.

Rarely has a major state project been so well received.

That’s mainly because leaders of the LDS Church are donating $3 million to the project, where the Church’s Days of 47 Rodeo (actually run by a volunteer group) will find a permanent home in the new arena.

When the church offers to give money – and the church leaders ask for approval and participation of – the Legislature, more than 80 percent of whom are faithful church members – well, lawmakers are going to say yes.

It’s all hands on deck and salute.

But that’s OK in this case.

The Fairpark has been sorely in need of improvements for years.

I’m an old guy. And I remember when there used to be mini-car races out at the Fairgrounds, on a dirt track, with a lot of noise for the surrounding neighborhood.

I remember going to rock concerts at the old dirt-floor Coliseum – the smoke so dense from the audience (and a certain distinct smell to that smoke) – that one could be feeling pretty good by just showing up.

I even remember going to professional wrestling in the Coliseum – loved to see guys hit by folding chairs.

Residents across the valley, and beyond, would go to the two-week State Fair every summer. It was just something about every family did.

Wow – how big were those mama pigs, and how cute all those piglets!?

Just this year I went to a special rodeo event in the West Valley Center. And it was pretty cool.

All such events like that could be coming to the Fairgrounds by next summer.

The northwest part of Salt Lake City has routinely been overlooked for years – with the Fairgrounds struggling to make enough money to help fix up the aging animal and exhibit buildings and grounds.

I know the argument: Allocating funds outside of the general session harms the balancing act lawmakers undertake in weighing competing interests.

Could this $10 million in one-time funds be better spent than on a Fairpark arena?

What about helping the homeless, or the sick, or those in need, or public schools?

But the Legislature – to the credit of conservative Republican members – have been stepping up to help the needy in recent years (partial Medicaid expansion the exception).

For example, over the next several years more than $25 million in state funds will go towards Salt Lake City and County’s homeless problem – which some could argue is not really a state responsibility at all.

Soccer fans will say the Legislature dropped the ball last year when it failed to act, and the Fairpark lost a smaller arena that Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen will now build out in Herriman.

But Hansen would have owned that arena.

And now the state will own a $17 million larger facility with only a $10 million investment.

Sounds like a good deal, because it is a good deal.

Congrats to all those folks who worked so hard over recent months to make this happen.

Thanks to the LDS Church for its $3 million contribution, thanks to Zions Bank (a sponsor), O.C. Tanner Co., and other private groups that will donate money, as well as Salt Lake City and County, which will do likewise.

Yes, this came as a surprise to many of us who watch state government.

But sometimes surprises are good things, even in government.