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Hotel tax bill aiding Real passes House

Public disapproves: 66% oppose use of funds for stadium

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Deseret Morning News graphic

The controversial hotel tax that county officials say would finance some $45 million toward the proposed Real Salt Lake soccer stadium passed the House Tuesday by a 47-28 vote.

HB371 would allow all counties in the state to levy a 1.25 percent tax on hotel accommodations for tourism projects.

But, as bill sponsor Rep. David Clark, R-Santa Clara, said during debate, "This has wrestled down to a soccer stadium in the south end of this valley."

Real Salt Lake plans to break ground on a $145 million stadium later this year. However, stadium officials are asking for a $45 million contribution from the public sector. If the hotel tax passes, Salt Lake County has said their county room tax dollars would fund the multi-million dollar private-public partnership.

The House vote didn't reflect public sentiment of the plan, according to a new Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll. A Dan Jones & Associates survey found 66 percent oppose Salt Lake County's use of the tax to help finance the stadium. Twenty-three percent favored the idea and 10 percent didn't know. The poll of 415 Utahns has a 5 percent margin of error.

While the debate on the bill was brief, most of the discussion centered on an amendment that would have eliminated the option for counties to fund sports venues with hotel tax dollars.

"There has got to come a time in the philosophy of this body where we do not allow money to go into the private infrastructure," said Rep. David Ure, R-Kamas, in favor of the amendment proposed by Rep. Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan.

But the amendment failed.

Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan, who observed the debate from the House gallery, said the proposed stadium at the northwest corner of 9400 South and State Street would benefit the entire state. "We will use some of that money to help with the infrastructure," he said. "It's something we'll have to do in the future anyway."

Improvements include widening roads and adding a storm water line down 9400 South. But the $45 million Real is asking for would not come just from county hotel tax dollars, Dolan said. Through tax increment financing, the property taxes Real pays to Sandy on the 22-acre project would go back to the stadium as public money Real officials are asking for.

The first 10 years of the county's hotel tax dollars are already committed to the Salt Palace Center Expansion and South Towne Expo Center parking garage, money lawmakers approved only for that use last year.

But Josh Ewing, Real spokesperson, said soccer, Sandy and county officials have discussed creating a 20-year bond to channel hotel tax money into the soccer stadium after 2016.

"We obviously have support from Sandy and it's good to see we have support from the legislatures for this world-class stadium," Ewing said.

E-mail: astowell@desnews.com