A plan to keep the Salt Palace going once it is expanded to attract convention business nationwide appeared to be crumbling Friday morning, with hotel and motel owners squarely against proposed tax increases.
Despite the lack of agreement, Salt Lake County Commissioner Randy Horiuchi said he still will try to push through the state Legislature the plan he and fellow commissioner Jim Bradley have proposed. He also remained optimistic."We have a good plan," Horiuchi said. "Legislators deal day in and day out with buildings. That's why we have a great advantage in selling this."
The plan calls for a 1 percent increase in hotel room taxes and a 1 percent increase in restaurant taxes. Together with money from a newly approved tax on car rentals, the taxes would raise about $4 million - money commissioners say is needed for upkeep on the facility.
But hotel and motel owners refused to support an increase in their taxes, saying they would lose business. They also said the proposed taxes would hit them doubly hard because most hotels and motels include a restaurant. Hotels and motels in Salt Lake County already charge 10.35 percent tax on all rooms.
"This shows a substantial commitment already from the hotel community," said Bob Valentine, director of the Salt Lake Valley Hotel Association.
Horiuchi said the hotel tax is desirable. "From the perspective of the legislators, it's not a tax on their constituents," he said.
He said lawmakers may find a better plan, "but we'll start out pushing the plan Jim and I have presented."
Restaurants have agreed to support their 1 percent tax hike, but only if 60 percent of the money goes to the state Travel Council to be used for advertising.
The tax hikes would be used only for maintaining the facility once it is expanded. In the meantime, the county wants $15 million each from the state and Salt Lake City to pay for the first phase of expansion. The county also would pay $15 million.
However, even that proposal has a hitch. Salt Lake City says it will pay its share only if it never again has to pay a cent toward support of the fine arts. Currently, the county, city and state each pay about $300,000 per year to support fine arts such as the symphony and ballet.
City officials say that arrangement was meant to last only three years.
"I think, for the sake of the Legislature, I'd like to keep the fine arts issue separate," Horiuchi said.
But city officials appear unlikely to budge on their demands.
Officials have said the renovation is needed because the city is losing valuable convention business. They claim the Salt Palace is too small and outdated.