Mega hotel supporters scrambling after vote fails

Posted at 7:45 PM, Mar 15, 2013
and last updated 2013-03-16 01:39:53-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Supporters of a huge convention center hotel to be built near the Salt Palace are scrambling after the Utah State Legislature rejected a bill that would have given $33 million in taxpayer money to help fund the project.

SB 267, which would have funded part of the estimated $350 million project, died by a vote of 39-35 in the House in the waning hours of the legislature on Thursday. Lawmakers were divided on whether taxpayer money should be used to fund something the private sector could pay for, and the impact on existing hotels.

"Who are you hanging out there to dry in the wind? You're hanging out the people who have already invested the money to be here without the incentives," said Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi. "This is bad policy any way you cut it, even though it's a great idea."

Supporters insisted the mega hotel would benefit the entire state by luring bigger conventions and increasing tourism.

"People come to Utah and they travel all over," said Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City. "They don't always just come to one destination and leave. This bill is not just good for Salt Lake County, it's good for the entire state."

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams insisted the taxpayer money would only be used to fund meeting space in any convention center hotel, not the rooms. That would be privately funded, he said.

His office gave FOX 13 a list of 27 conventions they claim have passed on Salt Lake City as a convention site because it does not have a headquarters hotel. Some of the conventions had estimated attendance of more than 10,000 people and would have returned in subsequent years.

"We'll continue to fall behind until we decide to take action or decide tourism isn't important for our economy," said McAdams.

The mayor claims the legislature's decision could also jeopardize one of the state's most lucrative conventions -- the Outdoor Retailer's Expo.

"The Outdoor Retailers have said that without this hotel they won't continue their contract beyond 2016," McAdams said. "That's a one-time impact of $60 million to our local economy."

Downtown boosters and lobbyists plan to persuade lawmakers over the interim session and bring it back to the Utah State Legislature next year.

"Eventually a convention hotel will be built in Salt Lake City. The question is when," said Jason Mathis, the director of the Downtown Alliance. "We'd like to do it when interest rates are low and construction costs are low. This is something our community needs and the time is right to do it."

Related story:
Bill helps pay for $335M convention center-hotel in SLC