Salt Lake City prepares for world's largest outdoor retail show

SALT LAKE CITY – For the first time in years, the world’s largest outdoor retail show will open in Salt Lake City without questions swirling about whether the expo will bolt for another city with more lodging and convention space.

Show organizers announced in August that the expo will stay in Utah through 2018, expressing confidence Utah can remain the long-term home. The expo is staged twice a year and brings the state an estimated $45 million annual economic impact.

About 22,000 people are expected at this week’s winter show. It starts Thursday and runs through Sunday.

To ensure the lucrative expo stays long-term, Salt Lake County officials are trying to find a company to build a new large hotel near the convention centre and take advantage of at least $75 million in possible tax credits.

Three firms turned in proposals by a mid-December deadline: Austin, Texas-based RLB Swerdling and two Utah firms: JLJL in Midvale and DDRM Cos. in Sandy. A county bid committee will meet Jan. 14 to review the proposals.

This is the county’s second attempt to entice a company to build an 800- to 1,000-room hotel to remedy a shortfall of hotel and convention space that has forced some attendees to stay in suburbs and nearby cities, and some companies to put up their exhibits in temporary tents across the street from the convention centre.

The county had been negotiating with Omni Hotels & Resorts, but that deal fell through in August when the company sought a heftier incentive package from the government.

Outdoor Retail Show officials knew the deal fell through when they announced they would stay in Salt Lake City. They called it a blip on the radar.

The Legislature passed a bill in 2014 approving up to $75 million in tax incentives for the builder of a new convention centre hotel. Salt Lake County has offered as much as $25 million more in tax incentives.

To sweeten the deal, the county this time is offering two parcels of government-owned land on the south and north ends of the convention centre that could be used to build a connected hotel.

The retail expo has come to Salt Lake City for every show since 1996, except for 2002 during the Winter Olympics.

The expo lets store owners meet with manufacturers and preview products in the pipeline. About 5,000 people attended the first show in Salt Lake City in 1996. The recent summer expo drew about 27,000 people.