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County, city take steps toward new convention hotel in Salt Lake City

Published: Saturday, Aug. 13 2011 11:09 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City are taking the first steps to develop a new convention center hotel.

Many cities — Denver; San Diego; San Antonio; Phoenix; Reno, Nev.; Anaheim, Calif.; and Los Angeles — have developed convention center hotels enhancing their competitive advantage, according to county documents.

"As a result, Salt Lake is not currently considered a viable competitor with these communities and will struggle to maintain our current level of convention business without a convention center hotel," according to background information prepared for the Salt Lake County Council.

On Tuesday, the County Council will consider an agreement between the county and city to hire a consultant to help derive the "maximum economic benefit of the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center." That would include public participation in a privately financed hotel. The agreement also would have to be approved by the Salt Lake City Council.

Utah's largest convention is the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. The convention's summer and winter markets will remain in Salt Lake City through 2014. During the upcoming winter market, however, decisions are expected to be made about the show's future in the Beehive State.

"We recognize for groups like the Outdoor Retailers and others we need more space,"Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon said Saturday.

If a new convention hotel were built, Salt Lake County would be willing to invest in about 100,000 square feet of additional meeting space and parking.

"The idea is the hotel developer pays for the hotel and the city and county would pay for additional meeting and parking space, which would be under our control," Corroon said.

Discussions have been under way for a year among the city, county, convention officials and private industry about developing a convention hotel in Salt Lake City, he said.

"We've told them we don't have interest in investing public money in a hotel, but we're willing to invest in meeting space and parking space," Corroon said.

The retailers summer and winter markets bring in tens of millions of dollars in direct visitor spending to Salt Lake City and surrounding communities. A Salt Lake convention delegate in 2010 spent $923 during an average three-day stay, according to the University of Utah Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

The mayor said the convention hotel proposal, as currently envisioned, "is a model that makes sense for government. We're not publicly financing the hotel, but we're able to reduce our costs by sharing some of the costs with the developer."

A consultant would advise the city and county on the scope of public support needed to develop the hotel.

"The final step in the process will be to secure the needed public financial contributions and finalize county and city interlocal agreement for financing," the proposal states.

The convention center is "currently underutilized, and taxpayers are not receiving an optimum return on investment," according to county documents. Research indicates that a Salt Lake convention center hotel that is feasible would require some form of government support.

Long term, construction and operation of a new hotel would provide 4,270 jobs and $214 million in earnings, according to county documents.

Email: marjorie@desnews.com

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