Outdoor Retailer Show nearing decision about whether to stay in Salt Lake City beyond 2016

Industries Associated Press

Organizers of a lucrative biannual outdoor retailer show that has been in Salt Lake City for nearly two decades said Wednesday they are getting close to making a decision about whether the show will stay beyond 2016.

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Outdoor Retailer Show spokeswoman Kate Lowery said the organization expects to announce plans within the next month about the future of a show that has grown so much that it struggles to find enough hotel rooms and convention center space in Salt Lake City.

The next two shows, in the winter and summer of next year, will be in Utah, but the show has made no commitment beyond those dates. They bring an estimated $45 million in annual economic impact for Utah.

Lowery said they are currently "dotting I's and crossing Ts," so they can make an announcement. That's the same exact way Scott Beck, president of Visit Salt Lake, characterized negotiations he said are daily and ongoing between the two sides.

Beck said they are working to accommodate different dates the organization wants for future shows. Making that happen means shifting and juggling other future conventions, he said.

The next winter show in January, for instance, was moved up two weeks to better suit the outdoor industry's cycles of production and distribution but also to move it to a different date than the Sundance Film Festival. That frees up more hotel rooms and rental cars, Beck said.

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Outdoor Retailer officials have previously said they would love to stay in Utah, but they have expressed concerns about a shortage of hotel rooms and convention center space. About 27,000 are expected over four days at this this week at the summer version of the business-to-business expo. When it first came to Salt Lake City in 1996, there were only 5,000 people.

In a possible remedy, Salt Lake County has been negotiating since October with Omni Hotels & Resorts over plans for a $300 million hotel near the convention center that would include up to 1,000 rooms and additional convention meeting space.

Once the county endorses a hotel proposal, the developer can apply for up to $75 million in state tax credits.

Omni, the only developer to submit bid for the project, and county officials have been tight-lipped about their talks, which they had hoped to wrap up around April.

Alyson Heyrend, a spokeswoman for Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, said Wednesday that the county plans to make an announcement about the hotel project on Tuesday, but she would not say if it would be news of an endorsement and would not answer questions about the scope of the talks.

Charlie Muller, an acquisitions and development consultant with Omni, said in a statement Wednesday that the company remains interested in the project and will have more information to share once the county makes further decisions.

Construction for the project is expected to take about two years.

"We're hopeful everything comes through, because it obviously benefits us," Lowery said.

Beck said his organization has been advocating for the new convention center hotel for years. Not only is it vital for the Outdoor Retailer Show, the largest convention each year in Salt Lake City, it would allow the city to be in the market for dozens of other conventions that don't consider Utah because of the lack of convention space.

Brad Peterson, director of the Utah Governor's Office of Outdoor Recreation, said he's confident in Salt Lake City's prospects as the future home for the show. He said the city and state have a good relationship with the outdoor industry and typically businesses don't relocate if things are going well.

He noted that negotiations have been ongoing since the show's last contract renewal in 2013 and are not hung up on any public announcement about progress on a convention hotel.

Peterson said available hotel space is just one factor that the show's organizers have considered. Salt Lake City's public transportation, proximity to ski resorts, climbing areas and lakes also play a huge role, he said.

That's one of the reasons that Kip Gerenda of San Francisco prefers the show being in Utah rather than in a city with more hotels and convention center space like Las Vegas.

"It's hard to replicate the proximity to the outdoors with the convention center," said Gerenda, in town for this week's show with Mountain Hardwear.

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This story has been corrected to show the Outdoor Retailer Show has been in Salt Lake City for nearly two decades, not one decade.