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Here’s why talk about Salt Palace Convention Center expansion never seems to end.
The folks who put on the Outdoor Retailer summer and winter trade shows there every year — contributing an estimated $40 million annually to the local economy — are deciding where to hold the shows after the current contract with Salt Lake County expires in 2014. Salt Lake City is definitely a front-runner, but four cities are interested in taking it away, particularly Denver.
Organizers of Utah’s largest trade shows (27,000 attendees at Summer Market, 21,000 at Winter) asked participants for thoughts about future show locations. Their findings:
Salt Lake City is the top choice of retailers and exhibitors, if more exhibit space and hotel rooms can be provided
Top rival Denver’s convention facility also is too small.
28 percent of show participants are from Utah; 80 percent of them want Outdoor Retailer to stay here no matter what
Among out-of-state retailers, 43 percent favor moving the summer show, 40 percent want to keep it here, the rest are unsure.
Source: Outdoor Industry Association
So on Thursday, Outdoor Retailer officials released results of a survey of 2,300 participating members, seeking their input on whether the shows should stay or move.
The conclusion: While members like coming to Utah for the shows, there is plenty of sentiment that what’s offered here is too little for the shows’ ever-growing needs.
Too little space for exhibitors. Not enough hotel rooms close to the downtown action. Too few rental cars and taxis.
"We are a size-10 foot trying to fit into a size-8 shoe in all aspects," said Lori Herrera, executive vice president of the Outdoor Industry Association, the umbrella organization representing a high percentage of the companies and individuals taking part in Outdoor Retailer (OR).
What does OR need?
About 800 more hotel rooms than the 17,000 available now, said Liz Crawford, OR’s senior marketing director. And about 900,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space, considerably more than the Salt Palace’s current 515,000 square feet. Less desirable space under tents in parking lots around the convention center does not count, she added.
Survey results put a little more pressure on Salt Lake County officials who oversee operations of the Salt Palace and the Visit Salt Lake convention and visitors bureau. They have been asked to provide financial support for a 1,000-room convention-headquarters hotel and recently formed a committee to review the importance of conventions to the county.
On the one hand, county officials do not want to squander the public’s $700 million investment to date in the Salt Palace by letting its biggest customer, year in and year out since 1996, slip away.
At the same time, there is resistance to Salt Lake County having to jump every time Outdoor Retailer asks for more, threatening to leave if its desires are not satisfied. This summer, Council Chairman David Wilde and member Steve DeBry bristled the most at the pressure exerted on the county to keep making the Salt Palace bigger.
In the last expansion, launched in 2004, $58 million of exhibit space was built on a fast track and completed in time for Outdoor Retailer’s 2006 Summer Market.
"We know there is no one-size-fits-all solution," OIA’s Herrera said. "It is also clear that to continue to meet the physical needs of the show in Salt Lake City, we must have 2the support of the community and local and state officials."
The survey found that:
• Retailers and exhibitors like Salt Lake better than other cities, if more exhibit space and hotel rooms can be provided. Denver is their second choice.
• Eighty percent of participating Utahns, who make up 28 percent of attendees, want the shows to stay "no matter what the scenario."
• But among the larger group of out-of-state retailers, 43 percent would prefer to see the Summer Market move rather than stay in currently cramped quarters; 40 percent want to stay here.
• Opinions are evenly mixed about holding events at two Salt Lake Valley facilities (such as South Towne Exposition Center in Sandy and the Salt Palace). But 85 percent said they would resist being moved to the secondary site.
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