Comic Con producer backs convention center hotel

Posted at 8:07 PM, Dec 27, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-27 23:50:29-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- State lawmakers will again be asked to decide whether to put money toward building a mega-hotel next to the Salt Palace.

Supporters claim the state is losing millions of dollars because conventions won't come here without one.

The idea of a convention center hotel is getting support from the producer of Salt Lake Comic Con, who brought tens of thousands to downtown Salt Lake City last year. The convention, in its first year, quickly grew to become one of the largest conventions the state has ever seen.

"A convention center hotel would be a big help for us," Salt Lake Comic Con producer Dan Farr told FOX 13 in a recent interview.

Farr, who is gearing up for Fan-X and next year's Salt Lake Comic Con, said he believes a convention center hotel attached to the Salt Palace would bring in bigger conventions.

"In my opinion, they need one here, yes," he said. "I think it would be very valuable to the city. The stuff that will come after it, we're going to be able to reach conventions that would not be coming here without the hotel."

A bill that would have spent $100 million to fund a convention center hotel died in the final minutes of last year's legislative session. Supporters have been lobbying lawmakers and plan to reintroduce it when the Utah State Legislature convenes in January.

"We're very hopeful that this year it will move forward," said Jason Mathis, the executive director of the Downtown Alliance.

Lawmakers rejected the mega-hotel bill for a number of reasons, including spending taxpayer dollars for something a private developer can do, concerns about economic impacts on nearby hotels and spending statewide taxpayer dollars for something that Salt Lake City itself benefits from.

Mathis insisted any taxpayer dollars would be spent post-construction.

"We're not advocating for tax dollars to be used to go to this hotel other than a post-performance incentive," Mathis said.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said the bill has been re-worked to address some concerns, including an effort to persuade tourists to see more of the state.

"We know that tourism in Salt Lake County spreads throughout the state," he said. "People will come for a convention in Salt Lake and then go and see some of our national parks."

The Salt Lake County Mayor's Office provided FOX 13 with a list of 30 conventions they claim Salt Lake City lost out on because of a lack of a convention center hotel. Some of the conventions were multi-year deals (meaning they would return in later years) with estimated attendance of more than 144,000.

The lost money from the missed conventions, the county mayor's office estimates, is more than $133 million.

"About 25 have said the reason they didn't come to Salt Lake City is because we don't have adequate hotel space for them," said McAdams.

Legislative leadership is expected to get a briefing on the convention center hotel bill in the coming weeks.