As host city of the OR shows since 1996 ... we genuinely feel our community’s service-first mentality and our unparalleled access to this industry’s proving grounds, the great outdoors, makes Salt Lake the obvious choice for the OR shows. —Scott Beck, president & CEO of Visit Salt Lake
SALT LAKE CITY — After several months of deliberation, Utah's largest trade show will be staying put after all.
Outdoor Retailer announced at its Winter All Mountain Demo on Tuesday that it has elected to remain in Salt Lake City through at least 2016.
The convention currently accommodates 22,000 attendees and had been considering moving out of Utah due primarily to the difficulty of accommodating its ever-growing guest list at the Salt Palace Convention Center and temporary pavilions.
Outdoor Retailer showcases advancements in outdoor technology and brings an estimated $18.5 million of visitor spending and $40 million overall to the local economy each year.
Outdoor Retailer CEO Kenji Haroutunian said the company felt Utah was too much of a natural fit to leave behind.
"Outdoor Retailer is grateful to be able to remain in Salt Lake City for the next three years," Haroutunian announced. "The industry has a collective affection for this town. The shared outdoor passions, cost efficiency of doing business, and the partnership of regional and state officials have all directly contributed to the current vibrancy and success of the show."
Friction between outdoor industry leaders and Utah legislators escalated early last year after lawmakers passed a bill stipulating that more than 22 million acres of federally held land be turned over to the state. The action fueled additional speculation that Outdoor Retailer would take its convention to another city, such as with Las Vegas, Denver, Orlando or Anaheim, Calif.
However, the two sides appeared to make nice when the Governor's Office of Economic Development recently offered Visit Salt Lake — a nonprofit partner of Outdoor Retailer – an additional $2.6 million grant to fund temporary exhibit space.
“We're grateful for it because (the grant) was a mechanism whereby the community can complete and fulfill the deal. It was an integral element that we could not have gone forward without," Visit Salt Lake CEO Scott Beck said.
Despite the extra resources, questions remain about how attendees' lodging needs will be accommodated moving forward. Limited hotel capacity and public transportation have plagued the convention in the past.
"It's hard work to make a convention that spans 40 miles still feel like it's connected," Beck said. "But it's not impossible. We have seen other conventions that have done it."
The Outdoor Retailer trade show has steadily risen in popularity since it partnered with Visit Salt Lake in 1996. Organizers have recently tightened registration for both vendors and participants in order to reign in growth.
"Salt Lake ranked the highest as far as what our stakeholders wanted was concerned," said Maura Lansford, a spokeswoman for Outdoor Retailer. "But it came with the caveat that nobody is interested in commuting to the convention from Provo or Park City or these other faraway locations to participate. So it became a real 'between a rock and a hard place' scenario."
Haroutunian insisted that while the logistics remain a major concern, the convention's first choice all along was to stay in Utah.
"The Wasatch Front's setting is one of the greatest resources and special parts of our show," he said. "There's no other place like it. There really isn't."
According to research provided by the University of Utah, the average attendee at the Outdoor Retailer convention spends $923 over the span of about three days. Gov. Gary Herbert said he believes the economic impact of Tuesday's announcement will be far-reaching.
"This is great news for Utah's economy and further evidence that Utah is the premier place for outdoor recreation," Herbert said in a statement. "I applaud the diligence of all stakeholders who worked hard to accommodate the trade show's needs. It's part of our community, and we are earnest in our desire to keep the show in Utah beyond 2016, even permanently.”
This year's Winter Market show runs through Saturday at Solitude Mountain Resort.