Forget Las Vegas. Salt Lake City wants to be a major league player in the convention business, and Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County and the state are putting up some big bucks to help make that happen.
But in return, it's going to cost you more to dine and more to rent a motel room.Lawmakers put their final stamp of approval on two different bills that will provide funding for Salt Palace renovation: one that appropriates $15 million in state money to the project and the other that allows counties to impose a 1 percent sales tax increase on restaurants and allows Salt Lake County to impose a 1/2-percent increase on the hotel lodging tax.
Under the conditions of the bill, the restaurant tax revenue goes toward tourism promotion, while the lodging tax can be used only by Salt Lake County to maintain the Salt Palace.
"It's not everything I wanted either," said House Majority Leader Rob Bishop, R-Brigham City, the sponsor of the bills. "But in this business you have to compromise, and it's the best compromise under the circumstances. The city and county put up their share and the state puts up its share. It was a negotiated deal."
Salt Lake City and County officials say they are losing millions of dollars in convention business every year because the Salt Palace is too small and its facilities inadequate to meet the demands of large conventions.
And they promise the state the money will be returned several fold in increased tax revenue from conventions.
But lawmakers who don't live in Salt Lake County were divided over whether to support the measure, many arguing that increased conventions in Salt Lake City do nothing for the rest of the state. And they say the package deal is a back-door approach to funding a project that would normally require voter approval for general obligation bonds.
"I think it's fair to say the county did not want this to go to a vote of the people," said Rep. Glen Brown, R-Coalville.
The $15 million package bogged down briefly amid charges of pork-barrel politics after lawmakers tacked on an additional $2 million for non-Salt Palace projects, including the Capitol Theater in Logan, the Egyptian Theater in Ogden, the Shakespeare Theater in Cedar City, the Union Depot in Ogden, Hill Air Force Base Museum and a community theater in Perry, Box Elder County.