The fate of a special events center for Utah Valley Community College lies in the hands of Utah County residents who vote next month whether to bond for the facility.

The County Commission now has the power to impose a 1 percent tax on the county's eating establishments to pay off the debt for the $7.7 million building. Gov. Norm Bangerter signed the legislation that will allow the county to impose the optional tax. The tax is to be earmarked for tourism, recreation and convention facilities.Commissioner Gary Herbert said in a news conference Tuesday, "We are leaning toward implementing that tax." UVCC held a meeting with the press Tuesday morning to tout the community benefits of an 8,500-seat arena and to dispel "misconceptions" about the project. Local legislators and municipal leaders attended the gathering.

Supporters of the project say economic benefits include additional tourist dollars, sales and room tax revenue, increased real estate values and additional employment.

While the commission has tipped its hand about the tax, voters still have their poker faces on about the bond. "This bond isn't an automatic thing, folks," Sen. Chuck Peterson, R-Provo, told officials. Next Monday, the commission will discuss whether to impose the tax. The county stands to collect about $800,000 a year through the tax.

UVCC President Kerry Romesburg said the college will drop its push for the arena should residents vote down the proposed general obligation bond. The election will be held April 9.

"It ought to be people telling government what they need to have and ought to have rather than government telling people what they need to have and ought to have," Herbert said.

"If the bond doesn't pass, we'll build a P.E. building," Romesburg said. The college expects to receive $10 million from the state next year to construct a physical education complex. It wants to piggyback the events center on it using revenue from the proposed bond.

Without voter approval next month, Romesburg said, the county might never see a new arena. He said he will not seek an industrial revenue bond because events centers that have been built that way are not self-sustaining.

The election is set for April because the 1991 Legislature authorized the college $50,000 in planning money. Planners need to know by July 1 whether to begin work on a physical education building or a special events center.

If the center is built, officials promise its use will serve countywide needs.

"We would not dominate the facility," Romesburg said. College officials foresee the center hosting 100 non-college activities a year. Those activities could include concerts, business trade shows, sporting events and religious meetings.

"I look at it as kind of a mini-Salt Palace," Peterson said.

Utah Valley's "Salt Palace" is to be owned by the state, which will pick up two-thirds of its operation and maintenance costs. The remainder will be covered by renting out the facility, sales receipts and concessions.

The center is to be governed by a nine-member board of directors - five appointed by the commission and the other four by the UVCC president.

Orem Mayor Blaine Willis said the city's plan to widen 1200 West should handle increased traffic around the school. College officials have also proposed another entrance to campus.

The special events center is to be built north of the school's Activity Center.