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Promising big dollars, Great American Outdoor Show starts Saturday

- Last modified: January 31, 2014 at 11:59 AM
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After losing an estimated $80 million last year, the Harrisburg area economy could receive a $100 million shot in the arm with the return of the sportsmen's show — now called the Great American Outdoor Show — at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center.

The outdoor show, which starts Saturday, returns with a new producer, the National Rifle Association, and the promise of a different experience from top to bottom.

“It’s a whole new show,” said Jeremy Greene, a spokesman for the NRA.

The former Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show was canceled last January after a vendor boycott of the show. The boycott was a response to former show organizer Reed Exhibitions’ decision to ban semi-automatic firearms — sometimes called “modern sporting rifles” or “assault weapons” — from the 2013 show after the elementary school shootings in Newtown, Conn.

This year, more than 1,100 exhibitors in areas including fishing, hunting, boating, camping and archery are expected to fill about 650,000 square feet of space in the Harrisburg complex, according to the NRA. The NRA has expanded the number of national manufacturers and accessory brands.

There will be a family fun zone area and various contests, seminars and demonstrations. A full schedule is available online.

The NRA also is bringing in country artist Brantley Gilbert for its NRA Country Jam at the show.

“We’ve taken every single piece and tried to improve the show,” Greene said.

Attendance is estimated at 200,000, which is a modest number from previous shows that have reported 250,000.

Either way, it’s still a big chunk of the overall annual attendance at the complex, which attracts about 1.25 million visitors, according to the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau. It is the largest privately produced show at the complex.

The NRA said this is the first step in the process of making this show a national attraction.

It has about 900,000 members within 300 miles of Harrisburg.

The cancellation of last year’s show included about $44 million in direct economic impact on lodging, said Rick Dunlap, a bureau spokesman.

Last year, the bureau had 22 official room block hotels booked for the show. Those hotels lost about 40 percent of their revenue in that first quarter, Dunlap said.

NRA officials also estimate that many of the smaller exhibitors who have made the outdoor show a mainstay in their year lost 60 to 70 percent of their annual sales because of last year’s canceled show.

The bureau has 31 hotels offering a special rate for this year’s event. Dauphin County has more than 8,000 hotel rooms and about 90 hotels.

“From hotel partners, the current feedback has been very positive. Some hotels have been full or near full (of reservations) for weeks and others have been slowly gaining guests,” Sharon Altland, director of sales for the bureau, said in a statement.

The $100 million economic impact number doesn’t account for the possible distribution partnerships or even new standalone locations that visiting companies could ink after coming here.

Extended-stay visitors should also help other local attractions, including the National Civil War Museum and Gettysburg, which just came off its 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

The outdoor show runs through Feb. 9. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for senior citizens and $6 for children ages 6 to 12.

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