Two long-awaited and important bills - essentially giving the financial go-ahead for renovation and expansion of the Salt Palace Cenvention Center - were introduced into the Legislature this week. The measures need to be approved this time around. Similar efforts, although contained in the governor's budget, failed in last year's session.
One bill, HB437, would appropriate $15 million - the state's share of the estimated $60 million project. The one-time expenditure would come from fiscal 1990-91 funds and be paid to Salt Lake County, owner of the Salt Palace, as needed for remodeling and construction work.A second bill, HB 438, authorizing a county sales tax up to 1 percent on restaurants and other places where food is sold and consumed on the prem-ises, would assist Salt Lake County in future operation of the Salt Palace. Other counties that adopted the tax could use the money for tourism promotion.
Several other bills dealing with essentially the same issues have been introduced in the House and Senate.
Unfortunately, a campaign against the restaurtant sales tax has been launched by restaurant owners and operators. They are bitterly opposed to the bill, and it faces an uphill fight for approval. As one lawmaker put it, the prospects are "very fragile."
Money raised by the tax is sorely needed by Salt Lake County to effectively operate the expanded Salt Palace without going into the red.
The appropriations measure would establish a seven-member Salt Palace Convention Center Oversight Committee by June 1 to monitor the use of state funds in the project.
The committee would review work on the Salt Palace at least monthly, including design, development and bidding, as well as creation of a master plan for improvement of the convention center. State money could be spent only upon formal vote of the oversight committee.
Expansion of the Salt Palace is badly needed. The facility is losing some of its ability to attract conventions because of the lack of size and adequate facilities. Newer convention centers in other cities hold an advantage over the Salt Palace in this regard.
In fact, in just the past six months, a number of groups representing thousands of conventiongoers and millions of dollars have dropped Salt Lake City as a convention site. Although they had high praise for the city, they cited inadequate and unacceptable conditions at the Salt Palace.
Each delay in getting the renovation funded and started means more such negative decisions.
The state appropriation of funds for the Salt Palace is the key to getting the project started since the city and county have already pledged their share of the undertaking. The legislation should not be allowed to stall and fail at the final moment as it did in last year's session.