Barry Short, Vice Chair, Utah Libertarian Party
If you're looking for a big money crony capitalist project that government has no business being involved in, look no further than the latest "deal" to build a new hotel next to the Salt Palace Convention Center. It's brought to you by the Governor's Office of Economic Development (GOED) - an agency which Brian Kamerath and I proposed downsizing and/or eliminating during our run in 2016.
Each year, the GOED gets a lump sum from the legislature that it can spend at its discretion, usually somewhere around 50 million dollars. It goes to business subsidies, tourism promotion, and, frankly, whatever may pop into the governor's head or fall into his lap. There may be times where such expenditures are warranted, but building a commercial, for profit hotel is not one of them.
First of all, possibly the worst thing government can do is create new competition for existing businesses. There are a lot of hotels and hotel rooms in downtown Salt Lake City. Most of them aren't getting tax incentives that tip the playing field; giving a new hotel the competitive advantage of lower operating costs puts all the existing hotels at a disadvantage.
And the thing is, SLC hotel rooms are not at a premium most of the time. Yes, prices can get up there a few weekends a year - general conference, and a few other special events that bring people downtown for multiple days. But the rest of the time, prices are pretty competitive - go onto a site like Hotwire or Priceline to look for bargains and you can see for yourself. So there really is no great demand for more rooms.
Ah, but the powers that be have another idea that they want to sell you. Here's SL mayor Jackie Biskupski:
“The proposed hotel will allow Salt Lake to attract larger conventions and future national and international events, furthering our place as a worldwide destination.”
Sounds good, except it just isn't true, it's P.T. Barnum level hokum and flim flam. Convention Centers around the world are underperforming, and it has nothing to do with the availability of hotel rooms. What's changed is that technology - specifically advanced teleconferencing - has simply made travel for business far less needed than it once was. You and I see the splashy public-facing events - pop culture cons, the departed Outdoor Retailers show - but the bread and butter of convention center operation was always business conferences, educational seminars, and trade-only shows that operated during the week while the rest of us were at work. All of those have increased their customer base by simply removing the cost of travel and lodging, replacing it with lower-cost but higher profit online meetings. Trying to recreate a 1995 business model in 2018 simply will not work.
And just to be extra clear, here's one more absolute truth about the business world: if a hotel operator thought they could profitably operate a new hotel next to the Salt Palace, they'd build it and wouldn't need any tax subsidies. That's what they are in business to do! If they thought they could operate a large hotel/convention center complex profitably, they would build both and not look to partner with anyone, including (maybe especially!) government. (Oh, they might ask for subsidies, and who could blame them? But if they believed there was money to be made, the lack of subsidies wouldn't be an issue and would not stop their business development.)
Just say no to corporate cronyism. If you feel motivated, call the governor's office, or send an email, and let the governor know that your tax dollars should not be spent so unwisely.