Is the Downtown Convention Hotel Worth the Risk?

Begrudgingly, even opponents of the proposed convention center hotel in downtown Salt Lake City say the legislation passed last year is well-crafted policy.

Attendees at the Utah Taxpayers Association conference, who are not huge fans of spending public money on a convention center hotel, say the approach taken by lawmakers was prudent. HB 356 gives post-performance tax credits to the hotel operators if they meet certain benchmarks after the hotel is constructed. The legislature also created a mitigation fund in case the new hotel siphons away business from other downtown facilities.

“Needless to say, we were less than thrilled by the bill,” says Association vice-president Royce Van Tassell. “But what lawmakers passed was an improvement over what was proposed the year before.”

Rep. Brad Wilson says without a convention hotel, a number of conventions are skipping Utah – and taking their dollars with them.

“Our convention space at the Salt Palace isn’t big enough,” says Wilson. “Many of the great shows that have come here have outgrown us. There are some things only government can do, and helping to provide this kind of infrastructure is one of them.”

Van Tassell acknowledges Utah is missing out on some convention business, but lack of a convention hotel is not the reason they’re skipping the Beehive State.

“When we evaluated why conventions chose to not come to Utah, the main reasons were our weather and a perceived lack of nightlife. They did mention the lack of a convention hotel, but that wasn’t the number one reason.”

Jeremy Keele, senior policy advisor to Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, says building the hotel will be a huge economic boon to the state.

“Just think of the Outdoor Retailers convention. That show brings $40 million of economic development to the state. And, this is the best kind of tax revenue – they come, then they leave. We don’t have to educate their kids or give other public services for them.

Keele also says attracting more conventions will pay off for the state, not just Salt Lake City and County.

“Companies come to these conventions and see what a great state this is. In many instances, they are inspired to move or grow their company here, which is a big multiplier for our economy.”