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Anticipated Convention Center Hotel Bill Ready For Debate

A bill that would give a private developer financial incentives to build a new hotel and convention center in downtown Salt Lake City has been made public. The proposal recently gained the support of Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart, but opponents say it’s not good policy.

House Bill 356 offers a post-performance tax credit to a company willing to build and operate the facility—but only if it leads to an uptick in tax revenue. The state would also use the new money to lease meeting space back from the hotel.  Supporters say it’s a risk-free investment for taxpayers and the state. Connor Boyack, President of Libertas Institute disagrees. He says it puts competing businesses in the area, that don’t get the tax break, at a disadvantage.

“And while we love the end goal, we’d love to see another hotel,” Boyack says. We’d love see the increase conventions that come to Salt Lake City, we don’t think that goal justifies the government offering such heavy tax subsidies to private business.”

Salt Lake Chamber Vice President Jason Mathis says the hotel will eventually raise the average daily rate and occupancy levels at surrounding hotels.  

“In the short term, there could be some growing pains,” Mathis says. “And I think that the bill sponsors and the county have worked closely with other hotels to figure out what that might look like. But everyone acknowledges that in the long term this hotel will benefit all the other hotels because it will attract more large conventions to the community.”

House Speaker Becker Lockhart did not support a similar bill last year, but earlier this month, she announced she would co-sponsor the latest version, spearheaded by Republican Representative Brad Wilson. Lockhart supports the new bill, under the condition that some of the new revenue be used for promotional materials that would encourage visitors attending conventions in Salt Lake City, to also visit Utah attractions outside Salt Lake City.

The hotel is projected to cost $335 million. 

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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