Salt Lake politicos, industry debate role of government in hotel development

Published: Saturday, Aug. 27 2011 5:00 p.m. MDT

Beck said a headquarters hotel would be qualitatively different than the existing stock of hotels in downtown Salt Lake City because they are typically very large full-service facilities — 850 to 1,200 rooms — and are attached to a convention center. They serve as the business hub of conventions. A convention, Beck said, is a revenue driver for trade groups and professional organizations. They fare better financially if their operations are centralized, therefore more efficient.

Because the hotel would be a national brand, it would use its corporate resources to market Salt Lake City as a destination, Beck said. That would build on the efforts of the convention bureau.

Beck said a large headquarters hotel enables a meeting or convention planner to book rooms for attendees in one hotel instead of splitting them among several smaller hotels. A single venue allows convention delegates to more readily network and socialize.

County Councilman Richard Snelgrove is unconvinced of the need. He has urged the council to retreat from the proposal.

"It's speculative. The whole theory behind it is 'Build it and they will come,'" he said.

Beck takes a different view. "It's not  'Build it and they will come.' It's they want to come. We need to build it. We have a decade's worth of lost business reports," he said. In 2009, Salt Lake lost some $363 million in future delegate spending because of the lack of a convention hotel, according to Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates.

While the convention hotel is an impediment to growth of the city's convention business, the chamber working group noted that Salt Lake faces other challenges when competing with other cities.

"Lingering misperceptions about Utah liquor laws and lack of vibrant cultural and entertainment district are other major factors that limit Salt Lake's ability to compete for large conventions," the group wrote.

The County Council has directed the administration to proceed with preparing a request for proposals to hire a consultant that can better answer questions such as the best funding mechanism for such a project and impacts to the marketplace.

"We are doing our best to answer their questions. That's our role and responsibility," said Erin Litvak, Salt Lake County's director of community services.

"We're just continuing to move forward."

Litvak said the issue likely would return to the County Council for further consideration in early 2012.

South Towne Expo Center

5 exhibit halls or 243,000 square feet of exhibit space

11 meeting rooms ranging from 6,400 to 1,600 square feet in size

Total meeting/exhibit space: 270,800 square feet

Salt Palace Convention Center

515,000 square feet of exhibit space

66 meeting rooms totaling 164,000 square feet, including a 45,000-square-foot grand ballroom

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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