With occupancy rates hovering around 60 percent and more competitors popping up all the time, many south valley hotel managers may be feeling a little like their business has been lately - depressed.

But officials of the Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau spent much of a Monday meeting with those hoteliers stressing the positive events that are happening - and will happen - in the southern part of Salt Lake County."It's hard not to see all of the good things that are going on in the south valley," said Richard E. Davis, bureau president and chief executive. "My concern is that it's encouraging too much development."

Davis ran down the sad statistics for about 135 bureau and hotel representatives during the meeting at the CottonTree Inn in Sandy. For example, the number of available hotel rooms in the area has increased from 1,282 in 1994 to a projected 3,231 by the end of this year, but occupancy rates have dropped about 18 percent since 1996.

Hotels can blame overbuilding and I-15 construction for their problems, he said. But the bureau can help them overcome the dismal scene by improving their marketing and readying them for opportunities that do arise.

Julianne Peck, director of the Salt Lake County Community & Support Services Department, said one of those opportunities will come to life in November 2000, when the county's South Towne Expo Center opens in Sandy.

"This facility is going to be a great economic boon to Sandy City and the surrounding area," Peck said.

The expo center will cost $40 million to $60 million to build, depending on its size, she said. The county is scheduled to start a design/build process on the building within the next 10 days, and groundbreaking should occur next summer.

Peck said the center could include anywhere from 200,000 to 250,000 square feet of exhibit space and 8,000 to 12,000 square feet of meeting rooms.

"The main objective of this facility is to house consumer shows" like the Festival of Trees, gun shows, bridal shows and car shows, she said.

Projected attendance at events in the expo center is about 500,000 in the first year, increasing to 650,000 within 10 years of opening.

Consumer shows do not draw as many overnight guests as large conventions, Peck said. But the expo center will host some conventions to free up downtown's Salt Palace Convention Center, and she thinks it will help south valley hoteliers.

"South Towne Expo Center will be built. It will open in November 2000.

And it will mean good things for Sandy City," she said.

John Hiskey, Sandy's economic development director, also tried to cheer the hotel managers with talk of Larry H. Miller's Jordan Commons project in Sandy, the Jordan Landing development in West Jordan and the construction of thousands of square feet of new office space in the area.

"I've never seen anything like this in my history in economic development or in my history in city government," Hiskey said.

But Davis warned that such good news should not encourage other lodging companies to move ahead with plans to build in the south valley.

"I hope those who are considering entering the market will see what's here and what's under construction," he said. "I think the number of rooms we have here now can sustain the business."