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Utah Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau
Rendering of the Utah Valley Convention Center in downtown Provo that is anticipated to be completed by March 2012.

PROVO — Tuesday's ceremonial turning of dirt in a parking lot in downtown Provo was standard fare: Dignitaries spoke and then used gold-painted shovels to dig in the prepared soil placed in a square plot carved out of the asphalt.

But those in attendance expressed hope that the impact of the $38 million Utah County Convention Center that will rise on the site over the next two years will be extraordinary.

"This is a good thing, isn't it?" said Utah County Commissioner Gary Anderson as he surveyed the crowd gathered at the block bordered by Center Street, 300 West, 100 North and 200 West.

Commissioner Larry Ellertson compared the project to the Mormon pioneers' trek to Utah in 1847.

"I liken that faith to what we are feeling as we move ahead," Ellertson said. "It does take a certain amount of faith to do anything good."

County officials hope that the three-story, 120,000-square-foot convention center will capture enough of the state's convention business when it opens in March 2012 to justify the public expense.

Joel Racker, chief executive of the Utah Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau, estimates that Utah County has missed out on $18 million over the past five years because the county didn't have facilities large enough to attract convention business of all types.

"We are not building this for the Novell Brain Share or for Nu Skin," Racker said, referring to two major Provo businesses that have been forced to hold conventions in Salt Lake City because of lack on room in Utah County.

County Commissioner Steve White said the center already is driving other development, including plans for at least one hotel on the block immediately to the north, where Provo city is helping to build a 580-stall parking structure for use by the hotel and the convention center.

White said the center will create a demand for 2,000 hotel rooms in Utah County.

"This is a countywide benefit," he said.

The convention center already has prompted more government-sponsored construction in Provo because it will occupy space previously used by the Food and Care Coalition and Mountainlands Community Health.

The Food and Care Coalition already has moved into a new $11 million building in the Provo East Bay Business Center.

The community health center will close its downtown location Thursday and reopen Monday at 559 S. State. The building, which used to house the county health department, has undergone a $3.1 million remodel.

The county has issued $40.15 million in bonds to pay for the building and will pay them back over the next 30 years with Tourism, Recreation, Cultural and Convention Tax revenue — money generated from the county's hotel, car rental and restaurant businesses.

"I'm happy our local taxpayers won't have to pay for this," Anderson said at the groundbreaking.

Joel Wright, who is challenging Anderson for his council seat in the June 22 primary election, has contended that while local residents don't pay hotel taxes, they do pay the majority of local restaurant taxes.

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