Outdoor Retailer trade show shopping for a new host city as outdoor industry blasts Utah public land policies

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Salt Lake City’s Outdoor Retailer trade show is shopping for a new home.

As outdoor industry leaders blast Utah’s state and national political leaders over support for the federal government shedding public lands, the industry’s premier winter and summer gatherings are soliciting proposals for a new venue location in November 2018. The Outdoor Retailer summer and winter shows, which have been in Salt Lake City since 1996, draw more than 25,000 to the city’s Salt Palace Convention Center twice a year, delivering an annual economic impact of about $45 million.

“We’ve been listening to the concerns from the industry and agree that it’s time to explore our options,” said Marisa Nicholson, the director of the Outdoor Retailer trade shows, in a statement Monday. “Salt Lake City has been an incredible home to Outdoor Retailer and the outdoor community for the past 20 years, and we aren’t opposed to staying, but we need to do what’s best for the industry and for the business of outdoor retail.”

The last time the Outdoor Retailer trade shows — which are owned by the country’s largest business-to-business trade show operator, Emerald Expositions, but are sponsored by Boulder’s Outdoor Industry Association — went looking for a new home, in 2012, Denver made the short list, joining Salt Lake City; Las Vegas; Anaheim, Calif.; and Orlando, Fla.

Those locations were identified through web-based industry surveys that profiled communities that were capable of hosting the Outdoor Retailer trade shows, which require a footprint in excess of 900,000 square feet for the bustling summer gathering. Back in 2012, show organizers asked Salt Lake and Denver to expand their convention centers to fit the shows. Salt Lake erected outdoor pavilions to accommodate the show’s growth, seeking a four-year contract renewal to host the show from 2014 through the summer of 2018. but Denver balked at growing the 580,000-square-foot Colorado Convention Center for a single trade show. The city’s Visit Denver convention bureau suggested using the National Western Complex and Pepsi Center parking lots for extra space.

“We are expanding our convention center and the National Western Center and look forward to working with OR on any potential opportunities in the future,” Visit Denver chief Richard Scharf said Monday, noting that Denver’s convention center is able to host 95 percent of the country’s trade shows and conventions. “Currently, it appears that all the shows will fit nicely in our center and hotel package, and our city is already known for the outdoors.”

Voters recently approved a sales tax continuation that would spark the city of Denver’s $1.1 billion plan to grow the National Western Center into a complex capable of hosting large gatherings.

Gov. John Hickenlooper recently told The Denver Post that he doesn’t agree with Utah’s position on public lands and will elevate his state’s celebration of public lands and the outdoor recreation industry if Denver is identified as a potential host for the Outdoor Retailer trade shows. The governor recently announced that Denver had extended its contract for the Snowsports Industries America annual Snow Show, which came to Denver in 2010 after 37 years in Las Vegas, through 2030.

An open-arms embrace of public lands “plays into venue selection,” said Amy Roberts, the head of the Outdoor Industry Association, which counts 1,245 manufacturer, retailer and associate members and sponsors the Outdoor Retailer trade shows.

“Public lands are really a foundation issue for the industry,” Roberts said. “We see public lands as an important part of America but it’s also the infrastructure of our industry.”

Emerald Expositions, which owns more than 60 trade shows and hosts more than 100 events for 10 industry sectors including healthcare, technology, military, food and construction, said logistical factors are important considerations alongside the political, cultural and environmental positions within the industry.

The size of the convention space, the opportunity for ancillary locations — Outdoor Retailer, for example, needs nearby ski slopes for its winter demo and a lake or river for its summer demo —  the number and affordability of hotel rooms and the convenience of flights all factor into the decision for choosing a trade show host, said Emerald Exposition’s Darrell Denny. (Denny declined to elaborate on the Request for Proposal and what cities have been identified as potential hosts.)

On top of the logistics, Denny said, every trade show community has its own “unique issues” that are sometimes political or surround concerns with host-city legislation or policy.

“In every instance, it’s different. But this is a bit of a unique circumstance and it’s a little bit unlike any other,” said Denny, the head of Emerald’s sports trade shows, which includes Interbike in Las Vegas, the largest annual cycling industry show in North America, and the Surf Expo in Orlando, the world’s largest board sports and beach lifestyle tradeshow. “The combination of the outdoor culture with a degree of both environmental and land policy sensitivity … it’s a larger driver in the scheme of things than are typically the case in an average trade show.”

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