World's largest outdoor retail show stays in Salt Lake City

AP News
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Posted: Aug 24, 2015 3:52 PM
World's largest outdoor retail show stays in Salt Lake City

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The world's largest outdoor retail show considered moving to other cities with more lodging and convention space but chose to stay in Utah after attendees revealed an overwhelming desire to keep the expo at the foot of the mountains in Salt Lake City, officials said Monday.

The Outdoor Retailer Show — which is staged twice a year and brings the state an estimated $45 million annual economic boost — extended its contract with Salt Lake City two more years through 2018.

Show officials contemplated relocating to Las Vegas, Chicago and other cities but decided to stay in Salt Lake City after exhibitors and attendees said they prefer Utah, Outdoor Retailer spokeswoman Kate Lowery said in a phone interview.

"Salt Lake City lives the same lifestyle that our show exemplifies," Lowery said. "The mountains and the lakes provide the opportunity to showcase our industry so well in Salt Lake City."

The retail expo has come to Salt Lake City for every show since 1996, except for 2002 during the Winter Olympics.

It "has grown well beyond a successful trade show and is part of the DNA of the state of Utah," said Brad Petersen, director of the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation.

The expo lets store owners meet with manufacturers and preview products in the pipeline. About 5,000 people attended the first show in Salt Lake City in 1996. The recent summer expo drew about 27,000 people.

However, a shortfall of hotel and convention space has forced some attendees to stay in suburbs and nearby cities, and some companies to put up their exhibits in temporary tents across the street from the convention center.

Lowery said the show has come up with creative solutions to the lodging crunch, ensuring anybody that wants to attend can find a room in the vicinity. She said show officials aren't worried that negotiations for a new convention center hotel recently fell through between Salt Lake County and Omni Hotels & Resorts.

"We know there' a little blip in the road, but we're 100 percent confident that's going to move forward in the right direction and that's going to open up opportunities for us in the future," Lowery said.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams vowed to take advantage of a nearly $100 million tax incentive package to find a private company to build a new convention center hotel that would remedy the shortage that led the show to look elsewhere.

He said offering parcels of government-owned land on the north and south ends of the convention center to build a hotel connected to the venue is attracting interest.

The Legislature passed a bill in 2014 approving up to $75 million in tax incentives for the builder of a new convention center hotel. Salt Lake County has offered as much as $25 million more in tax incentives.

Salt Lake County was in talks with Omni for a $300 million hotel with 1,000 rooms and additional convention meeting space.

County officials said the hotel company was asking for too much money up front and wouldn't agree to desired room rate protections. Omni officials said the economic terms didn't work for the Dallas-based company.

Lowery said California-based Emerald Expositions, the company that runs the show, prefers to keep shows on 3-year contracts. They extended the contract by two years this time to keep it on a three-year rolling cycle in line with most of the 90 shows the company oversees, she said.

Scott Beck, president of Visit Salt Lake, also downplayed the short length of the contract extension. He said county and state officials also want to stay on a three-year cycle with the show.

"This relationship has become about much more than a convention," Beck said. "It sort of defines us who we are not just as a county, but as a state. To have this renewed commitment is huge."