Teeples: Without convention center hotel, large-scale sporting events may not be in Utah's future

Published: Wednesday, May 1 2013 11:30 a.m. MDT

USANA convention attendees walk to the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City Friday, Aug. 17, 2012. Lawmakers turned down a proposal to purchase land and build parking facilities for a downtown convention center hotel to accompany the Salt Palace earlier this year. Without a hotel, Salt Lake City is missing out on major sporting events.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Salt Lake City has played host to some of the biggest events in the sporting world — the NBA All-star game, the MLS All-star game, the Outdoor Retailer Expo, the recently-concluded second round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and the 2002 Winter Olympics come to mind.

NBA fans would love to see the All-Star game return to EnergySolutions Arena. Local merchants want the Outdoor Retailers Expo to stick around for decades to come. The city would love to see the NCAA Sweet 16 and Elite Eight return, and there is talk already of being in the running for the 2026 Winter Olympic Games.

These events bring exposure and money to the local economy, but hosting events of this scale and magnitude may not be logistically possible anymore.

The sad part is that it’s not because tickets wouldn’t get sold. It’s all about beds, baths and parking stalls.

The benefits of building a convention center hotel

Most cities fit for hosting major events have a central hub for lodging — a convention center hotel, also known as a “headquarters hotel” — but Salt Lake City is not one of them. Such structures provide hotel rooms, parking, ancillary meeting space and all other necessary infrastructure.

Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake, the city’s convention and visitors’ bureau, said Utah and Salt Lake City are missing out on a terrific opportunity to promote themselves.

“Direct exposure is a significant branding and marketing tool,” he said. “When you bring thousands of people to your destination, they become fans. We saw this on a global level with the Olympics, we see on a national basis in terms of the number of outdoor companies that now call Utah home having been exposed to our area from the Outdoor Retailer Trade Shows.”

As the state’s fan base has grown, the state’s infrastructure has not kept pace. The Outdoor Retailer Expo has expressed numerous concerns and threatened to leave Salt Lake multiple times. Although the show recently announced it intends to stay in Salt Lake City through 2016, proponents for a convention center hotel say Utah and Salt Lake City should be concerned about the ability to keep the conference — as well as its ever growing list of 22,000+ attendees — after the current contract ends.

Outdoor retailer isn’t the only concern. Without a hotel, it’s difficult to get event organizers to consider a city, and it’s already excluding Salt Lake from seeing major expos and athletic tournaments. That means Utah may have seen its last NBA All-star game, MLS All-star game, Winter Olympic Games and NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.

Non-sporting events are not any more likely to come either. For instance, Utah Republicans have said Salt Lake City would be a fantastic place for the Republican National Convention. Proponents have said it’s disappointing that a major Microsoft, Oracle or Cisco convention cannot be held in Salt Lake given how tech-business-centric the Wasatch Front is.

These lost conventions do not simply result in lost promotional opportunity. They also result in lost money and jobs.

“It is significant and very quantifiable,” Beck said. “The latest report from Smith Travel Research and the University of Denver commissioned by the Salt Lake County Council estimated the lost revenue from the lack of a convention center hotel to be $90 million annually.

“And remember, this is not just a loss to Salt Lake City. The largest beneficiary of any tax revenue is the state of Utah as they receive the largest portion of all sales and use taxes.”

Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere