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Legislature says 'go' on convention hotel, 'go slow' on future of unincorporated Salt Lake County

Published: Thursday, March 13 2014 5:40 p.m. MDT

Salt Lake City.

Ravell Call, Deseret News Archives

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SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County can move forward with plans for a convention hotel but must take time to study the future of the unincorporated county under two bills passed by the Utah Legislature.

Last year, lawmakers defeated a bill to facilitate development of a convention hotel adjacent to the Salt Palace Convention Center. This year's proposal, HB356, is tied to a statewide tourism initiative to encourage convention-goers to extend their stays or return to Utah as tourists.

It also allows for sales tax rebates up to $75 million over 20 years to the hotel developer if the hotel meets certain performance benchmarks. The privately constructed and owned hotel will include public meeting space paid for by the hotelier in exchange for the tax rebates.

HB356 was initially opposed by hotel owners who argued that tax rebates would give the 850- to 1,000-room convention hotel an unfair advantage in the marketplace. The legislation was later amended to include a mitigation fund, to be initially funded at $2 million. Local hoteliers gave their support to the final version of the legislation, which passed easily in House and Senate.

Meanwhile, another bill approved by lawmakers presses the pause button on annexations and incorporations in unincorporated Salt Lake County until November 2015.

SB216 freezes boundaries of the unincorporated county, with the exception of a proposed annexation of a Millcreek neighborhood to Holladay.

It also respects the work of a group of residents seeking to incorporate Millcreek Township into a city. Public hearings on the issue will be postponed, but backers who recently filed signatures to relaunch the process of getting the issue on the ballot do not have to start over with the effort. Under the legislation, the soonest the question could be placed before voters is 2016.

Millcreek voters turned down an incorporation bid in November 2012, defeating the ballot question by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent.

A previously announced mega-city concept, which would have brought the entire unincorporated county under its own municipal council, was shelved. However, the legislation requires the county to conduct an intensive study about the area's future, including a regional services district similar to the Unified Fire Authority.

About 160,000 people live in unincorporated Salt Lake County.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, dubbed the legislation her "kumbayah bill" because it was widely supported by people on all sides of the annexation and incorporation debate.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com

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