A convention hotel? Sure, but not on taxpayers’ dime

It’s been 17 years since I first wrote about the need for a full-service convention headquarters hotel in downtown Salt Lake City. Naively, back in 1995 I wrote, “Once they understand the need and realize money can be made, developers will build a large hotel on their own. That’s how the free market works.”

I still believe that’s how the free market works, but it definitely hasn’t met the need for a large convention hotel.

A Deseret New story this week said convention officials are raising the issue again. Without such a hotel, there won’t be many more big conventions such as the USANA International Convention that was in town last week or the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. Those people don’t like spreading delegates among dozens of hotels.

The city does lose some conventions because it lacks a convention hotel. Once, as a board member of the Society of Professional Journalists, I looked into bringing that group’s annual convention here. The bottom line was that the city didn’t have a hotel large enough to keep all delegates under one roof.

Still, this is one problem taxpayers shouldn’t have to fix. Proponents will tell you, correctly, that building a large hotel just doesn’t pencil out for a private developer. But using taxpayer money to make it happen doesn’t pencil out, either.

A subsidy would naturally take business away from some of the existing hotels that house delegates. It also would put downward pressure on room rates because of the increase in the supply of rooms. Taxpayer subsidies to private businesses are patently unfair.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’m also not sure if the problem is as big as some suggest.

Any benefit from a public subsidy would have to be weighed against the money brought in by new conventions.

Meanwhile, it’s hard to keep up with all the magazines and surveys that rank Utah as a fantastic place to do business. Forbes recently ranked the state No. 1. CNBC ranked it No. 2, and Business Insider magazine put Salt Lake City 15th on the list of hottest American cities for the future.

Convention business is important. Real economic development is far more important. Keep things in perspective. Smart taxing policies allow local economies to thrive. Despite 17 years of agonizing, the lack of a large hotel hasn’t been a disaster.

Categories: Utah issues

About the Author

Jay Evensen

Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist for the Deseret News. He has 32 years of journalism experience covering politics and a variety of other assignments at news organizations ranging from United Press International in New York City to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Deseret News, where he has worked since 1986. During that time, he has won numerous local, regional and national awards. Most recently, he was given the Cameron Duncan Media Award, given annually in Washington, D.C., by the advocacy group RESULTS, to the journalist judged to have done the most to further the cause of the world's poorest people.

One comment

  1. utah_1

    A new County Hotel is being looked at even though it could cause the Grand America and others to go under? I have read the reports sent to the Convention Center about the proposed County Hotel. It was pretty obvious that the connection between the existing county convention center and hotels doesn’t work and that the hotels as a whole think the County is competing with them instead of working with them.

    I would like to see the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau work with the existing hotel owners instead of trying to compete with them. They almost ignore both the Little America and Grand America Hotel and that you can ride TRAX free from the north convention center exit to those hotels.

    The hotels near the Salt Palace Convention Center should be able to market their individual hotel and the fact that they have all the convention and meeting room space that someone could want with the convention center. The convention center should be able to market with the surrounding hotels to utilize their meeting rooms and convention space if more space is needed.

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