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Senate committee advances bill facilitating convention hotel

Published: Friday, March 7 2014 2:22 p.m. MST

USANA convention attendees walk to the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City Friday, Aug. 17, 2012. A project two decades in the making moved a step closer to reality Friday when a Senate committee voted unanimously to recommend a bill that would facilitate a downtown convention hotel.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — A project two decades in the making moved a step closer to reality Friday when a Senate committee voted unanimously to recommend a bill that would facilitate a downtown convention hotel.

Under HB356, private developers of the facility adjacent to the Salt Palace Convention center would receive post-performance tax rebates for fronting the cost of additional convention meeting space.

The rebates would be tied to hotel-generated revenue, and public funds for the project would apply only to the proposed 100,000 square feet of meeting space, as well as infrastructure.

The Utah Hotel and Lodging Association and Sinclair Oil, which owns the Grand America and Little America hotels, are on board with the project. It was the general sentiment of the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee meeting that a good solution had been found.

"I’m pleased to announce that after a very grueling process, after some very tough negotiations, our concerns have been alleviated to the point where we can come out in support of this bill," said Jordan Garn of the Utah Hotel and Lodging Association.

The Utah Taxpayers Association continues to oppose the bill. Royce Van Tassell, the association's vice president, said the convention hotel will unfairly receive a subsidy in situations such as he and his wife having a romantic night out or tourists vacationing in Salt Lake City to visit Temple Square.

"Those are economic activities that really have nothing to do with the convention center," Van Tassell said. "They’re activities that are going to happen whether or not this hotel is built. It’s just inappropriate to provide tax subsidies for economic activity that is going to happen regardless of providing that."

HB356, sponsored by Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, also would create a mitigation fund to reimburse some of the losses existing hotels could experience as a result of a new convention hotel.

The bill also provides for a bounce-back voucher fund to encourage conventiongoers to stay longer or come back to visit Utah again.

Wilson said he expects the facility to generate nearly $700 million in state and local taxes over the next 20 years. Of that, 5 percent — about $175,000 a year — would go to the bounce-back-and-stay program to market the state.

"Yahoo for us," said Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, saying the convention hotel and facility will be an economic boon for the state. "I think this is just a win-win thing, and I’m so excited to put Utahns to work … because Utah builds best."

HB356 was approved by the House 53-21 and will now be heard by the full Senate.

Email: madbrown@deseretnews.com

Twitter: Madeleine6

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