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Future of outdoor trade show in Salt Lake City gets down to business

Published: Thursday, Aug. 2 2012 7:05 p.m. MDT

Stand up paddle boarding demonstration at the Outdoor Retailer show Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012, in Salt Lake City.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — With the annual outdoor retailers show apparently Utah's to lose, the head of the Salt Lake convention bureau says the outcome hinges more on business than politics.

Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake, said the city knows "exactly what they're looking for" after discussions with organizers the past 11 months.

"We don't look at it as though they're looking to leave Salt Lake. They're looking for the best place for the future of the show. And clearly Salt Lake is one of those places," he said.

Politics goals are important, but so are business goals, Beck said. "Our organization focuses on business goals."

Outdoor Industry Association President and CEO Frank Hugelmeyer expressed the trade group's displeasure with Utah's public lands policies in a strongly worded prepared statement Wednesday. He suggested those positions could hinder the city's ability to retain the convention.

In an interview Thursday, Hugelmeyer didn't back off from those remarks. OIA still wants a seat at the table when state leaders make public lands policy and it wants to collaborate on an outdoor recreation strategy.

But he said the biggest threat to the show's future in Utah is lack of hotel and convention space.

"Our issues surrounding staying in Salt Lake, in Utah are the logistical issues. We love being in Utah," he said. "We had a great run here. We want to keep it going."

Hugelmeyer said OIA intends to work with the state and Nielsen Expositions, which owns the show, to find a path to keeping it in Salt Lake City.

The Summer Outdoor Retailer Market 2012, which opened Thursday, features 11,000 retailers and will draw 27,000 visitors.

About 300 new companies requested space this year. Hugelmeyer expects more next year, and therein lies the problem. Salt Lake City, he said, can't accommodate them with either hotel rooms or display space.

"It's more about allowing innovation to rise than whether it's too big or too small," he said, noting stand up paddling took off as a sport after being featured in the show several years ago.

Beck recognizes Salt Lake City is missing a key piece to being more competitive in keeping the outdoor retailers expo and attracting other large conventions.

"There's a product development hole we have right now and that is development of a convention center hotel," he said.

It wouldn't need to be a mammoth like the Venetian in Las Vegas, but a 1,000-room hotel with 80,000 to 100,000 square feet of exhibition space, he said.

Absent that, though, Beck said there are other ways to meet the outdoor industry's needs such as "pods" around town to house various sectors of the show. That would be a change in format, but Beck suggested it would better than moving.

Hugelmeyer said that although it's preferable for the floor space to be contiguous, it doesn't have to be.

Should the outdoor retailers decide go elsewhere after the current contract expires in 2014, four cities are waiting in the wings. Show organizers have narrowed their list to Denver, Las Vegas, Anaheim and Chicago. Beck said that is for the summer show only, not the smaller Outdoor Retailer Winter Market.

After meeting with Gov. Gary Herbert on Wednesday, Hugelmeyer said he expects the state to set up a process to talk about solutions in 30 days.

"We need certainty and we need it soon," he said.

Beck said he doesn't feel rushed or that "there is a gun at our head to make some quick decision."

"We feel comfortable meeting the deadline. We know what we can sustain and what we can support. We've been very open about that and so have they," he said.

Beck said he expects discussions to start as early as October for the benefit of all parties. Decisions about where to hold such big shows have to be made at least three years out, he said.

"We also have a future," Beck said. "We want to know, are we selling space or are we holding space?"

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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