Industry leader hopeful world's largest outdoor-gear expo can stay in Salt Lake City long term

The president of the Outdoor Industry Association said Wednesday that he is optimistic the world's largest outdoor-gear trade show can remain in Salt Lake City for the long term now that the state is pushing for a new convention center hotel.

Frank Hugelmeyer told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he was very pleased the Utah legislature during its last session approved a $75 million tax incentive for the builder of an 800- to 1,000-room hotel near the convention center.

"Our issue here has really been the size of the hotel lot, so getting another 800 to 1,000 rooms is going to be terrific and really help us grow," Hugelmeyer said. "We would like to stay in Salt Lake City: It is a real connection to our ethos as an industry."

To date, no company has stepped up to build the new hotel, and no site has been selected.

The show has taken place in Utah since 1996 and pours an estimated $40 million into the local economy annually. Organizers considered moving a few years ago citing a shortage of exhibition space and hotel rooms. Many attendees have to stay in hotels in the suburbs of Salt Lake City or nearby mountain towns because downtown hotels fill up months before the show.

Organizers have signed a contract to continue holding their biannual expo in the state through August 2016. The industry and Utah state officials are engaged in ongoing talks for a formal commitment beyond that, but nothing has been settled yet, Hugelmeyer said.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is also hopeful the show will stay beyond 2016, and he is working to position Utah as a top state for outdoor recreation, said the governor's spokesman, Marty Carpenter, in a statement.

Hugelmeyer spoke during the opening day of the summer retail show that runs through Saturday at the Salt Palace Convention Center. About 25,000 attendees are expected at the show, where they will browse products on display from 1,300 vendors promoting an array of outdoor gear including backpacks, shoes, kayaks and camping equipment.

It is a business-to-business expo designed to let outdoor store owners meet with manufacturers to see new products that will reach the retail market in several months. The show features a mix of well-known, large companies such as Patagonia and Columbia as well as smaller, unknown businesses trying to gain a foothold in a lucrative industry. Consumers spend an estimated $646 billion annually on outdoor recreation, Hugelmeyer said.

The show has grown so much over the years that it now fills up all 679,000 square feet of the convention center as well as the outdoor parking lot, where temporary tents are erected for hundreds of additional vendors.

A lack of hotel rooms is a genuine concern, but most want the show to stay in Utah, said Jim Silvestri, president of Summit Distribution based in East Norwich, New York.

"It's the mecca of the outdoors, so I would hate for them to move it," Silvestri said. "You could go to a place like Orlando, where you have a billion-square-foot convention center, but is that really the place where the outdoor sports people want to be?"