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Experts worried about the financial “hole” the Outdoor Retailer show will leave in Utah

People gather at the Jordanelle Reservoir to browse the water sport tents and try out a multitude of water crafts on Tuesday, July 25, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Outdoor Retailer show is in full swing for one more weekend before they pack up and relocate to Denver, Colorado. As some Utahns enjoy the OR’s final days in our state, others are scrambling to find new conventions to fill the gap this show will leave.

Jason Mathis, Executive Director of the Downtown Alliance, said he was working with Visit Salt Lake more than 20 years ago when they first brought the Outdoor Retailer show to Utah.

“No one knew anything about them except that they were signing a multi-year contract,” Mathis said “But they were a fraction of the size of what they grew to become in Utah.”

After years of attracting people to a state that brands itself as a “Premier Outdoor Destination”, Mathis said the OR has grown to nearly 30 thousand attendees per show. It’s a massive number for a city the size of Salt Lake to host, and Mathis believes Denver will likely face the same crowding problems.

“Denver has the capability to do a great job,” Mathis said, “but I don’t know that they are necessarily understanding all the implications of what it means to host the show.”

As the OR has grown Scott Beck, CEO of Visit Salt Lake, said downtown hotels filled up quickly for each show and attendees have reached out to the surrounding counties to find accommodations.

“I think we’ll easily replace the downtown component but the regional impact will be pretty significant for suburban communities.” Mathis said, “The real challenge will be for hotel owners in Davis County, Summit County and Utah County that relied on Outdoor Retailer show for business. They don’t have that ability to attract a major convention to a small suburban community.”

Beck added that twice a year the show would bring in nearly 30 thousand people- all ready to burn through cash.

“The summer show is 30 thousand delegates, the winter show is 25 thousand delegates,” Beck said,” So that’s 55 thousand people roughly spending a thousand dollars which is roughly 55 million dollars.”

That’s only what the delegates spend. He said the full cost to Utah when the OR leaves will be a lot harder to stomach.

“Conservative estimate would be to triple it,” Beck said.

It is now Visit Salt Lake’s job to try and line up conventions to fill the two gaps they haven’t had to worry about since the 1990’s.

“They’re leaving earlier than anticipated, so 2018 will be a little bigger of a hole than 2019,”Beck said. “We cannot find a trade show within a year to replace a trade show of this size.”

Given enough time, Beck said they will find interested shows to plug the gap. Already more than half of their contracts are yearly and, while this will be an extra burden, Beck said it is a weight they can handle.

Meanwhile, the County is still in talks to build a mega hotel that would bring another 750 to 900 rooms to the downtown area. The plan has been repeatedly stalled as Beck said the private company behind the project raises funds. With the OR’S departure, Mathis said the expansion would be very helpful in recruiting new business.

“That’s more important now than it ever was.” Mathis said. “If we are going to expand our universe of conventions we can pursue, a convention center hotel is critically important for us to fill the hole from Outdoor Retailer’s departure.”

The show continues until Saturday at three PM.