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Three companies interested in being the first-ever private managers of the Salt Palace have been invited to July 25th finalist interviews with a county selection committee.

The three companies were chosen Monday after 11 members of a special selection committee met for about five hours to evaluate six companies that submitted proposals by the Friday deadline, said Contracts and Procurement Director Richard L. Chamberlain.The three finalists are Ogden Allied Inc., New York City; Spectacor Management Group, Philadelphia; and Leisure Management International, Houston. The applicants cut from the list are Douglas Management Group, Louisville; F.H. Uhlig and Associates, Springville, Ill.; and Prowswood Management, Salt Lake City.

Another would-be applicant, Salt Lake-based Emerson International, was not allowed to submit a bid because it missed the 3 p.m. Friday deadline by several minutes. Allowing the late entry would not have been fair to the groups that got the necessary copies of their bid documents in on time, Chamberlain said, adding that the three firms chosen as finalists had distinct advantages over all of the other proposals, including Emerson's.

"We're very satisfied. We were impressed with the majority of the responses coming in," Chamberlain said. "There was a distinct break between the three we selected and the others."

Documents included with the bid proposals show the three finalists for the Salt Palace contract have an extensive list of experience with other convention facilities and sports arenas. Spectacor's portfolio includes the Superdome, Three Rivers Stadium and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and 14 other facilities. Leisure Management's list includes the Astrodome and 11 other facilities in Texas, Louisiana and Florida. Ogden Allied's portfolio includes 18 arenas, civic centers and convention facilities.

Each of the six initial proposals was evaluated and ranked by each member of the selection committee. Committee members will now prepare for the July 25 oral interviews with the three companies on the short list.

Each company's proposal included the fee it would charge to become the Salt Palace's first private manager and revenue amounts the firm thought it could bring to the Salt Palace. Chamberlain said he would not disclose the management fees and said he doesn't know how accurate the revenue figures are. "They all seem quite rosy."

Following the oral interviews, the committee will rank the three finalists for the Salt Lake County Commission in a staff meeting. If the schedule holds, the Commission will receive the recommendation July 26 and will take it the same day to the Salt Palace and Fine Arts Advisory Board.

But not everyone wants to see the Salt Palace turned over to private managers so quickly.

Democrat Jim Bradley and Republican Henry Hilton, both vying for Commissioner Bart Barker's seat, held a joint press conference Tuesday afternoon to say they believe Barker and political appointees under him should remove themselves from the decisionmaking process; or that a decision about Salt Palace management should be postponed until after the November election.

Barker said removing himself or county officials close to him from the selection process would take away those who know the most about the Salt Palace and its needs. Delaying the management contract until after the November election would be unfair to the companies that submitted proposals, he said.