Mega-hotel plans resurface in S.L. County
City and county may team up for study.
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It would be Utah's largest hotel, towering over downtown Salt Lake City with up to 1,200 rooms to woo conventions that might otherwise bypass the Beehive State.

Tourism officials have renewed their push for a so-called convention headquarters hotel that would be built, in part, with government assistance near the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center.

A partnership is in the works between Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City — not to build the hotel, but to hire a consultant to determine how the relationship between a private hotelier and government might work.

A private company could build the hotel, for instance, with government pitching in on a parking garage or convention hall.

"There is an opportunity here," said Bob Farrington, the city's economic development director. "But we need an adviser to help us explore it further."

The concept of a convention headquarters hotel is nothing new. Last year, Denver-based STR Analytics completed a study showing that a mega-hotel with 1,000-plus rooms, 90,000 square feet of meeting space and a full-service restaurant could survive, and likely thrive, in the valley.

Although it initially would siphon some business from existing hotels, the study showed those lodges would likely rebound within five years and capture more guests at higher room rates than they did before.

The Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau has pushed vigorously for the project for years, arguing the county is losing a considerable number of convention attendees because it lacks accommodations found in competing markets.

Scott Beck, the bureau's president and CEO, said the county recently lost the American Public Libraries Association convention, with its 18,000 delegates. That gathering went to Denver, where convention attendees could be squeezed into 16 hotels instead of 29.

"It is all about the rooms," Beck said. "You can have a really big box, but if you don't have the support facility with the hotel rooms to fill that box, your box sits empty or underutilized."

But some officials, including County Councilman David Wilde, are wary. He worries taxpayers could be dinged if the hotel — with whatever amenities government provides — fails to meet its financial expectations. He also wonders why the private sector doesn't do the project itself.

"I just don't understand why — if this is such a great idea and there are so many people who want to use that hotel — someone like Hilton or Marriott ... doesn't say, 'I'm going to build that hotel because it is going to be packed all the time,' " Wilde told colleagues during a Tuesday committee meeting.

Fellow Councilman Arlyn Bradshaw counters that it is protecting taxpayer dollars to go ahead with the project.

"If we are going to continue to compete and get the best return on the decades' worth of tax dollars that have already been spent on the Salt Palace," he said, "then we need to move forward and make it as attractive as possible to potential conventions."

This month, the City and County councils will decide whether to partner up and look for a hotel consultant. The city is expected to receive a briefing next week, followed by the county a week later.

jstettler@sltrib.com

Twitter: Stettler_Trib