Real Salt Lake got secret $1m-a-year tax break, nobody noticed for five years

I’ve written almost nothing about the Real Salt Lake MLS team over the years, except for a brief mention of a minor-league soccer stadium the club at one point promised to build if given public land, a proposal team owner Dell Loy Hansen later backed out of, with the state later spending $10 million to build it as a rodeo arena instead. Anyway, this was mostly because Hansen wasn’t demanding the kind of public subsidies that get this site’s attention — or at least, wasn’t demanding any he was letting the public know about:

By asserting it was losing money, the Real Salt Lake soccer team quietly persuaded Salt Lake County officials to cut its property tax on Rio Tinto Stadium by nearly half starting back in 2012.

That off-the-field victory has saved the team more than an estimated $5 million in taxes since then…

Why are you only telling us this now, Salt Lake Tribune?

The tax cut happened so quietly that it never drew public attention until now. Even Salt Lake County Council members who approved it say they don’t remember the vote nor discussing it, noting it was buried among more than 700 revaluations proposed by the county assessor’s office in the same meeting.

Apparently a local commercial real estate agent, Joe Scovel, stumbled across the five-year-old tax break, and the Tribune then followed up. Hansen, it turned out, not only argued that his team was losing money, but that other local teams’ low stadium assessments meant that he should get a break too — including that one city-owned stadium wasn’t taxed at all, which, right, that’s how municipal ownership works.

Instead of taking this as a sign that maybe other stadiums were getting off scot-free, then-Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan agreed to devalue RSL’s Rio Tinto Stadium by 42% to save the team about $1 million a year in property taxes. Why he did this, I’m sure no one will ever know—

Dolan — who would receive a hefty $10,000 in campaign donations from RSL or Hansen in subsequent years — backed Hansen’s request and sought the City Council’s agreement.

The upshot of all this was that Salt Lake City, which was counting on the team’s property tax payments to pay off the $11 million in bonds it sold to help pay for the stadium, is now dipping into its general fund to make the payments instead. Nice work, everybody! Especially the county tax assessors who wrote the bill so that nobody noticed until Dolan was safely out of office. At least now Dell Loy Hansen gets something substantial in his category entry on this site — I bet that was really embarrassing before now when the sports team owners gathered to smoke cigars and sip brandy and whatever else they do.

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