October 10, 2016

Salt Lake Regional Athletic Complex: Worth the cost?

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By Annie Dayton

Residents of Salt Lake’s west side may be aware of the new Salt Lake Regional Athletic Complex that opened this past April in Westpointe but many may not fully understand exactly what it is. Some may be confused as to whether it is a park, recreation center, or just some open green space. Does it serve some need of the local community and is it even open to the public?

The Regional Athletic Complex (RAC) is a 140-acre, 16-field sports venue, meant to host tournaments for soccer, rugby, lacrosse, football, quidditch (that’s a thing outside of Harry Potter - who knew!?) and ultimate frisbee. It is located right off the freeway, nestled between I-215 and the Jordan River and north of Northwest Middle School.

Although there is no shortage of these types of facilities throughout the country, including five more that will be built in the mountain west and an existing facility already in West Jordan, the RAC hopes to win the hearts (and bids) of tournament organizers with its premier location, spectacular service and amenities, and world-class fields and grass. While many sports venues are located in suburbs that can accommodate the acreage needed for such as facility, the RAC is located in Salt Lake City proper, five minutes from the airport and conveniently close to downtown hotels and restaurants.

Several tournaments have already taken place at the RAC this past summer including the World Rugby Super Series, Real Salt Lake State Cup, La Roca Cup, and the North American Rugby Invitational 7s. These events are free and open to the public, allowing locals to catch a glimpse of some sports that they otherwise might not have an opportunity to have any exposure to at such a skilled level.

However, while events are free to attend for spectators, the fields are not free for players. The facility has a strict “pay to play” policy and while local youth can reserve a field for a discounted $45/hour during the week, they must also provide proof of resident status, certificate of insurance, and a W-9. This is not the type of venue for kids to play a pick up soccer game, but rather, a premier space for them to experience tournament level play, on the best grass the city can grow.

The actual construction of the fields is state-of-the-art, similar to the sand-based fields used at Rio Tinto Stadium that allows better water drainage so soil compaction and puddling on the field does not occur. Play is limited to 25 hours a week so that the turf can recover and maintain its high level of quality for all the tournaments. While normal grass level is usually three inches, the length at the RAC is 1.5 inches. Many people who visit mistakenly believe that the fields are artificial turf because they look so flawless.

All this did not come without a price. Although the operation is currently 100% funded by field fees, the initial cost to construct was $23 million dollars, with Salt Lake City residents voting for a $15.3 million dollar bond back in 2003 and a $7.5 million dollar match coming from Real Salt Lake. Four full-time city employees run the facility with seven seasonal employees. In addition, Salt Lake City’s Mosquito Abatement comes out daily for treatment due to its close proximity to the Jordan River.

Beyond the dollar cost to construct and run the facility, there is an environmental cost as well. 13 acres of wetlands were lost during construction, with only two acres rebuilt. The RAC currently uses Salt Lake City’s culinary water for its extensive irrigation, placing an increased burden on an area with already strained water usage.

Despite the hefty price, Lisa Schmidt, the Program Manager of the Regional Athletic Complex contests that the facility is a strong economic driver for Salt Lake City, bringing in millions of dollars of spending from out-of-town attendees at Salt Lake City hotels, restaurants, and shops. They have already secured funding to construct a shade structure that should be done by 2017 and are currently working on road realignment. She hopes that they will be able to expand, developing an additional 65 acres north of the existing fields, adding more trees, a new restroom, stadium seating, as well as additional full-time staff.

As to the immediate benefit for west-side residents, perhaps they will want to check it out themselves. To find out what events are occurring at the RAC, you can follow them on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/slcregionalathleticcomplex/ or call them at 801-972-7879.