SALT LAKE CITY — After state lawmakers in 2013 narrowly defeated legislation to create tax incentives for the private developer of a proposed convention hotel, House Speaker Becky Lockhart challenged Salt Lake County leaders to reassess their proposal.
"I think there's a pretty good case this is a win for Salt Lake County and the taxpayers of Salt Lake County," Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said. "The speaker challenged me to broaden the benefit."
Under a new proposal, a portion of the new revenue generated by the hotel would fund statewide tourism efforts to encourage convention-goers to extend their stays to visit other parts of the state or to return to the state as tourists.
"It's low hanging fruit for us to reach out to the people who are coming for a convention and show them what a great place Utah is and all we've got to experience here," McAdams said.
On Wednesday, Lockhart lent her support to the Experience Utah concept, describing it as "a visionary venture."
"We should be more than a stopover. We should be a destination for millions and millions of people for whom Utah is just where they want to go. They just don't know it yet," Lockhart said.
McAdams said the new proposal would provide post-performance incentives to developers and owners of a privately held hotel that would have 850 to 1,000 rooms.
Because the incentives would be offered only after the hotel met certain performance benchmarks, there would be little risk to taxpayers, he said. The hotel would be asked to front the expense of building 80,000 to 100,000 square feet of meeting space that would be used in conjunction with the Salt Palace Convention Center.
If the hotel meets performance requirements, it would receive tax rebates capped at $33 million at present value or $75 million over 20 years. The arrangement is similar in nature to incentives offered to Adobe and eBay, McAdams said.
While Lockhart said she supports the Experience Utah concept proposed by the county, other lawmakers oppose any public participation in the project.
Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, said building a 1,000-room hotel in downtown Salt Lake City with any government participation would harm existing hotels developed with private money.
“Are we going to be indifferent to the hotels that are playing by the rules, paying their taxes and struggling in real-world conditions? How do we stand and say we don’t care?” asked Pitcher, who owns hotels in Davis and Weber counties.
The new proposal “deserves the all-time award for bad public policy,” he said.
McAdams disagrees, noting if the hotel secured even a small portion of the convention business Salt Lake now loses to other cities, it will be a win for tourism statewide.
"(Lockhart has) provided real leadership, challenging us to come up with a proposal that has no risk to the taxpayer but benefits not only Salt Lake County but serves a benefit to the entire state. I believe we've done that. I believe this proposal will benefit our tourism market statewide," McAdams said.
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