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County aims to build hotel by Salt Palace

SALT LAKE CITY — Forget Rice-Eccles Stadium.

The Salt Palace Convention Center was a big reason Salt Lake City was chosen to host the 2002 Olympics, said Salt Lake County Councilman Randy Horiuchi.

"It provided such an attractive ability for the press to be … located in one location … and served as the media convention outlet," Horiuchi said. "(The Salt Palace) does provide a very, very important revenue for us."

In an effort to make the Salt Palace Convention Center even more attractive for future events, the Salt Lake County Council on Tuesday agreed to the idea of asking for legislative authority to build a "headquarters hotel" across from the convention center.

The new building could cost up to $300 million, but with 90,000-plus square feet of conference space, additional hotel rooms and close proximity to the Salt Palace, it would make Salt Lake City an even more attractive conference destination, Horiuchi and others on the council say.

"It's important for us not to view this lightly," Horiuchi said. "I think the Salt Palace is a critical thing for us. This is the natural next step."

According to a study by the University of Denver and STR Analytics, opening a convention hotel to accompany the Salt Palace in 2014 would attract more conventions and would only negatively impact other Salt Lake City hotels in the short term.

The study, which compared Salt Lake City with Dallas; Austin, Texas; Omaha, Neb.; Phoenix; Tampa, Fla.; and Portland, Ore., found that none of the cities with convention centers saw drops in other hotel occupancy or rates. In fact, Denver's neighboring hotels did better than before.

"If you read the study, it's pretty clear this is a good idea," Horiuchi said. "We're not the first do it. We're one of many, and with all the circumstances that have happened, it's been a success."

Other council members were more hesitant, especially about the idea of the county's building competing with hotels such as the Little America and Grand America, even if the effects were only short term.

"I think it's questionable," said Councilman David Wilde, "that we shouldn't take it a step further and get into the hotel business."

If built, the hotel would be owned and operated by a private company. Tuesday's discussion wasn't about whether to build, but to "throw the idea out to the Legislature," Councilman Michael Jensen said.

e-mail: ashaha@desnews.com