Salt Lake City convention hotel clears hurdle sort of
Would private hotels suffer? Would Japantown take another step toward extinction? Would hoteliers howl at having their tax dollars go toward a potentially competing establishment?
The Salt Lake County Council remains haunted by those questions and more as officials weigh the construction of a convention headquarters hotel in Utah's capital.
Still, a split council voted warily Tuesday to move a step closer to the project.
Although officials aren't ready to pursue a mega-hotel which would include up to 1,200 rooms, 100,000 square feet of meeting space and a full-service restaurant in the heart of Salt Lake City's convention district the council voted to gather more information on hiring a consultant to work out the details of bringing a privately run, but publicly supported hotel to the Beehive State.
"To do our due diligence, we need to get all the data," said Republican Councilman Michael Jensen, who added that he is skeptical and may ultimately vote against the hotel.
The council seemed largely resistant Tuesday to participating in the building of a headquarters hotel. While the facility would be privately built, it would include public support to construct meeting rooms or a parking garage.
GOP Councilman Richard Snelgrove warned of a possible "white elephant" and questioned why a private developer wouldn't do it if it was financially feasible.
Fellow Republican Councilman Steve DeBry asked whether the hospitality community would find it palatable to have their tax dollars generated from overnight stays put into a competing lodge.
Erin Litvack, the county's director of community services, defended the project as a way to keep the convention market here relevant. Without it, she fears, large-scale conventions would continue to bypass the state.
"The bottom line is economic development," she said. "It is about attracting people to our destination to spend money and leave it behind."
Visit Salt Lake estimates the county lost 140,792 overnight hotel stays last year because it lacked a convention center hotel.
So the county is considering teaming up with Salt Lake City to hire a consultant to work out the details of a potential partnership between the government and a private hotelier.
But the County Council isn't ready to make that decision yet. The reluctance isn't just on the Republican side.
Democratic Councilwoman Jani Iwamoto wants assurances that the needs of Japantown (which already fills up when large conventions come to the nearby Salt Palace) are considered.
And another Democrat, Councilman Jim Bradley, wonders whether the hotel still would be needed if the county's largest convention, Outdoor Retailer , decided to hold its summer and winter exhibitions elsewhere.
Last week, City Council members expressed reservations about the hotel proposal as well.
Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake and a longtime advocate of the project, argued Tuesday that the demand is already there for a hotel.
"It is not: 'Build it and they will come,' " he said. "It is: 'They want to come, but we have to build it.' "
The council voted 5-3 to gather more information on a hotel consultant. Council members David Wilde, Snelgrove and DeBry voted no; Bradley abstained.
The Salt Lake County Council wants more information about the cost, timeline and objective of hiring a consultant to explore the construction of a convention headquarters hotel before it makes a decision to move forward. A proposed partnership with Salt Lake City will remain on hold until that happens.