This has been a good year for conventions in the Salt Lake area, which are a great help to the local economy, Rick Davis, president of the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Thursday.

Transient room taxes, which support the bureau's tourism and convention-booking activities, are 18 percent higher so far this year when compared to the same period a year ago, Davis said.Several large conventions have been held this year and several more with thousands of participants also are scheduled for later this year.

Davis said his staff already this year has booked 70,000 room-nights in local hotels and motels in connection with conventions being held in future years.

His comments seemed to set the stage for a report from John Rosenthal, director of administrative services for Salt Lake County, who talked about the concept of building a new arena and expanding the Salt Palace convention facilities.

Rosenthal said that between now and September, when the study will be completed, many ideas will be presented on how to expand the facilities and where they will be located. "All of the facilities could be built as proposed, some could be cut out and others may be proposed as the study progress," Rosenthal said.

The need for an expanded arena reached a head during the recent National Basketball Association playoffs involving the Utah Jazz and their popularity during the season, when all but two of the games were sellouts. A new collective bargaining agreement with the players will increase their annual salaries from an average of $500,000 to $900,000, and the only way to afford that is to raise ticket prices or install more seats.

Rosenthal said the city recently lost a large convention because of a lack of adequate exhibit space, and of the 200 largest trade shows in the United States the Salt Palace can only bid on three. This is an indication of the need for more exhibit space, he said.

Some of the concepts being discussed are a 25,000-seat arena, expansion of exhibit space, moving the Hansen Planetarium to near the Salt Palace and building a science center, installing an AMAX-type theatre, building a speed skating oval, holding the Utah State Fair in the expanded Salt Palace facilities and encircling the Salt Palace with the proposed light-rail transportation system.

In addition to studying what facilities will be constructed, the feasibility committee also will study how they will be financed.