Spending $62 million on a proposed expansion of the Salt Palace is a lot of money, but failure to carry out the renovation would drop Salt Lake City into minor league status in competing for national conventions. It would be a serious blow to the local economy.
That was the message this week to members of the Salt Lake Rotary Club as backers of the Salt Palace plan continue their effort to educate the public about the economic value of the convention facilities. It deserves repeating.As John Scowcroft, former chairman of the Salt Lake Area Chamaber of Commerce, put it: Not expanding the Salt Palace would be to "move backward" in the ability to hold conventions.
The current plan calls for the state, Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County to each provide $15 million for the expansion and the rest to come from special taxes on convention-related businesses such as hotels. Unless all three legs of this state and local government support follow through, the project will collapse.
And trying to do the job for less would simply cost more in the long run.
The Salt Palace as it now stands simply does not provide the facilities to compete with other major cities in the West. In addition, the 20-year-old Salt Palace is aging and not particularly gracefully.
Not only is the facility unable to compete successfully for new business, some conventions that were on the books have canceled out because of shortcomings in the Salt Palace.
Direct convention spending is $50 million for this year and will shrink to $38 million by 1997 without renovation. A fully expanded center would boost convention spending to $178 million by 1997. The loss of that much spending by out-of-state visitors would be a real blow to Salt Lake area businesses.
If the Salt Palace is to be renovated and expanded, it needs to be done in the best possible fashion. Half measures would only come back later to be an expensive problem and would detract from the ability of the facility to sell itself to potential visitors.
The Salt Palace has great potential to be a positive economic force in the community and to be something of which all Utahns can be proud. Let's move ahead. Too many delays and reviews can amount to the same thing as doing nothing. And convention business does not happen overnight. Steps must be taken now to reap a payoff later in the decade.