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Residents Fear Losin Space to College Baseball Stadium

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Copyright 2017 The Salt Lake Tribune
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The Salt Lake Tribune

 

Now in his 60s, former college swimmer Gleed Toombes is still an active guy. He swims at Steiner Aquatic Center and swings a racket at the Eccles Tennis Center -- both near his house on Sunnyside Avenue.

But in more than two decades of living in his neighborhood, Toombes has watched the University of Utah creep closer and closer to his doorstep. The school expanded the football stadium in the late '90s, bringing more game-day traffic to his street. The U. more recently has built new, bigger football facilities on Guardsman Way, and its newest proposal -- to expand the baseball practice field on Guardsman into a full-fledged stadium -- has him on guard, to say the least.

"It's been a little bit of a virus, expanding the campus south," he said. "I'm tired of it."

Utah athletics is in the early stages of a plan to bring the baseball team to campus, building out the practice field with seating and other amenities to create a game-ready atmosphere. The team currently rents Smith's Ballpark for home games, and players ferry equipment back and forth between campus and the field.

The Utes revealed study results at a community forum on Tuesday, which evaluated five sites but settled on the original Guardsman Way location as the best option. The estimated $7.5 million project requires the university to buy a sliver of land from Salt Lake City -- a somewhat slanted property measuring 33 feet wide and and 439 feet long. It would be needed to shift the diamond slightly east to make room for seating and move the left-field fence to a regulation distance. But that parcel is currently within Sunnyside Park, meaning the deal will require more negotiations between the university and city to get it done.

It's early in the process, but District 6 Councilman Charlie Luke said he's skeptical of the university's plan, which in his view asks for open space but offers little to the city in return.

"Once you build on it, it's basically gone as open space," Luke said. "Instead of having the city bend over backward to accommodate this stadium, I would be open to seeing something viable and valuable in the community -- something to make it right. I haven't seen anything to that effect yet."

The property the Utes need is small. It would back up close against a softball field in Sunnyside, but the university argues the steep slope of the area already makes it a little-used segment of the park.

The Utes presented two stadium construction options: one if the university is able to acquire the land, and one more angled into the current university-owned parcel if they aren't able to expand. The second design would be closer to the street on Guardsman Way, and foul balls might spray more toward cars and pedestrians. It's clear the university would like to build their first version.

"At the end of the day, we want to shoot for what's best for our team, our university, the fans and the community," Utah athletic director Chris Hill said. "We want to be good neighbors, and make sure we're listening to what makes sense."

It will be a lengthy process for the university to acquire the land, which would have to be rezoned -- requiring public hearings and other hurdles before the Utes could break ground. Donors are believed to be lined up for the stadium, but getting the land is seen as the biggest hurdle.

Luke said he's met with Hill several times. Hill lives in the neighborhood, so he understands how residents could be affected, and he's sensitive to that concern.

In the meantime, residents along Sunnyside Avenue and in the Yalecrest neighborhood shared skepticism at Tuesday's forum that the university has the best interests of the community at heart.

"We're all glad the university is successful, but as they expand, they take on more open space," said Steve Alder, who lives on Sunnyside Avenue. "If you've been around a little bit, you know you have to fight to preserve these areas, because you're not going to give them back."

kgoon@sltrib.com Twitter: @kylegoon

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April 2, 2017
 
 
 

 

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