Outdoor gear show in Utah through 2016, but may move to new host cities in the future

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SALT LAKE CITY — As the lucrative biannual outdoor retailer show kicks off in Salt Lake City this week, expo organizers say they're set to convene a group of industry leaders to discuss whether it makes sense to move the show out of Utah after their commitment runs out next year.

The show has been in Utah since 1996 and is estimated to bring in an annual economic benefit of $40 million to the state. About 22,000 attendees are expected at this week's show, which is a business-to-business expo that allows outdoor store owners to meet with manufacturers to preview products that will reach the retail market soon.

Outdoor Retailer spokeswoman Kate Lowery said the organization would love to keep the show in Salt Lake City, but the lack of hotel rooms and convention center space is a real challenge.

"There are convention centers all across the country and we will look at them all for the merits they provide," Lowery said. "Colorado is a great example, obviously Las Vegas has convention center space. We'll make a decision based on who can best accommodate the overall industry."

Brad Peterson, director of the Utah Governor's Office of Outdoor Recreation, says he's not worried about the show leaving. He says the state's relationship with show organizers is stronger than ever. He points out that show organizers have formed industry panels in the past to weigh in on the show's location, including in 2012, and decided Salt Lake City was the best option.

Peterson and other state and local officials tout Salt Lake City's close proximity to world-class outdoor recreation that allows show organizers to host demo days nearby where retailers can showcase new products at lakes and mountains. Many attendees hop-scotch between the show and the nearby outdoor venues while in town.

"There aren't many locations around the United States that have the same natural assets that Utah does with access to both lakes where they can go out and paddle board as well as the mountain resorts where they can go backcountry ski and tour," Peterson said.

Peterson and Lowery said both sides remain in constant talks about extending the contract.

Last year, the Utah legislature approved a $75 million tax incentive for the builder of an 800- to 1,000-room hotel near the convention center. Salt Lake County is negotiating with Omni, the only developer to submit a bid to build that hotel.

Lowery applauded the state for pushing to get a new convention center hotel built. Some attendees are forced to stay in suburbs and nearby towns because hotels fill up in downtown Salt Lake City. Show organizers have done their best to help people find ways to use the city's light rail and other public transportation to get to and from the show.

"While they may not have a hotel right across the street, this city is definitely able to accommodate them," Lowery said.

The show has grown so much that it now fills up the 679,000 square feet of the convention center, and the summer show uses an outdoor parking lot where temporary tents are put up for vendors.

The show features a mix of prominent, large companies such as Patagonia and Columbia, as well as smaller, businesses trying to gain a foothold in a lucrative industry. Consumers spend an estimated $646 billion annually on outdoor recreation, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. The association's past president, Frank Hugelmeyer, said last summer he's optimistic the show will stay long term in Utah. But Hugelmeyer resigned last fall and the Boulder, Colorado-based association has hired a search firm to find a new president.

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