By Chris Larson
Capital West News
SALT LAKE CITY — Why didn’t Utah leaders capitalize on the RSL – State Fairpark deal, which included Real Salt Lake paying $23 million for a stadium, additional parking and a new entrance on North Temple?
Sens. Scott Jenkins, R–Plain City, and Jim Dabakis, D–Salt Lake, place the blame firmly on the Governor’s office and a failed working group.
The Department of Facilities and Construction Management, a department under the Governor’s direction, was given authority from the legislature to sign a new lease for the State Fair Corp. almost five years ago. Yet the DFCM still hasn’t signed lease guaranteeing that the Utah State Fair will remain where it is now.
“The Legislature told him (the governor) to sign a lease in 2010. He still hasn’t signed the thing and wouldn’t sign it. Consequently we lost the Monarchs out of that,” Dabakis said.
Gov. Gary Herbert signed the bill that gave DFCM the directive to extend the lease for the Utah State Fair Corp. for 50-year contingent on “capital improvements” during the lease term.
“In 25 years there has never been an opportunity for the fair grounds to lease out a piece of property like that at that level that didn’t require the state or the fair park to come up with some kind of cash contribution to build it,” Jenkins said. “This issue would have all gone away if the Governor would have signed that lease.”
Jenkins claims that he was in contact with the governor’s attorney personally and said she had the lease in hand but didn’t advise action on it because of doubts on the deal. The governor’s web page designates Jacey Skinner as the Governor’s general counsel. Jenkins said the governor’s office offered no specific fears or advise on the deal.
Jenkins made efforts to get the lease signed in a Feb. 6 meeting of the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environmental Quality Appropriations Subcommittee. He initially proposed a motion to have a group of legislators from the committee meet and examine the details of the RSL offer and the state lease after the State Fair Corporation leadership presented the deal. The working group included, Sens. Dabakis and Jenkins and Reps. Brian Greene, R–Pleasant Grove, Ken Ivory, R–West Jordan, and Justin Miller, D–Salt Lake. Of the three representatives assigned to the work group, only Miller attended the meeting. The three representatives have not returned requests for comment.
“From our little group as we looked at it, and we looked at it in detail, I don’t see a reason why we shouldn’t have signed it,” Jenkins said.
After that initial meeting, the work group failed to meet again.
‘Something in the House was awry and I don’t know what it was. They thought this was a sweet heart deal and that it had to go through the process . . . But it had gone through the exact process the code required it to go through,” Jenkins said. “They just slowed these things to where there was no deal.”
Dabakis said that the Legislature tasked the State Fair Corp. last year with finding any means necessary to up revenues after the legislature gutted their usual funding. Further, the legislature seriously considered suggestions of a study conducted that suggested ending the state fair as we know it. Dabakis commended the State Fair Corp. for coming up with a plan and going out and finding big time private partnerships.
“I am so happy that we are finally going to have this clean process,” said Dabakis sarcastically. “Let’s see if there is going to be this anchor tenant that is going to bring people to that fair par 52 weeks of the year and provide recreation and vitality for the west side of town. If not we point our fingers at the House and at the Governor and say, ‘Well guys, congratulations, you screwed this one up.’”
Further, doubts of a sweetheart deal were addressed in that Feb. 6 appropriation subcommittee meeting. Roger Beattie, Chairman of the State Fair Corp., testified that the deal was initiated by Mike Steele, State Fair Corp. Executive Director, and that it went through the proper public proceeding to be considered the Legislature. Further, Beattie the concept of a sweet heart deal was bunk because of the several possible locations available for RSL to build their stadium.