By THOMAS PEIPERT and JAMES ANDERSON – Associated Press
DENVER (AP) — The outdoor retail trade show is moving back to Salt Lake City from Denver next year, despite threats of boycotts from an environmental group and big-name leisure companies, the event’s organizer announced Wednesday.
Critics of Utah’s holding of the event say state politicians oppose efforts to protect national monuments and public lands.
But Emerald X, the publicly traded company that owns the biannual show, told stakeholders in a letter announcing the move that it would better promote the outdoor recreation industry and operate from its longtime Utah location for the environmental protection – where the show was held for decades before moving to Denver in 2018.
“Salt Lake City is our hometown, and we return with a commitment to making meaningful change,” the company said. “In reality, leaving after 2017 hasn’t brought the change we were hoping for, so we’re going to push back, not pull back. We strongly believe that staying engaged and contributing together to the ongoing discussion, no matter how difficult, is much more constructive.”
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This year’s June event will take place in Denver ahead of the show’s winter 2023 event in Salt Lake City.
Show organizers came under pressure in February when The Conservation Alliance and two dozen outdoor recreation companies — including Patagonia, REI and The North Face — threatened to boycott the event if it moves to Salt Lake City, despite widespread industry objections would be relocated.
Jeff Davis, Emerald X’s group vice president, said in an interview with The Associated Press that the company hopes to persuade skeptical contestants to stick with the show.
Emerald X consulted with hundreds of companies and exhibitors and considered multiple locations, including a residency in Denver. A “vast majority” of outdoor retailers wanted the event moved back to Utah, he said.
“We’ve spoken to all of the brands, and while we can’t speak for all of the brands, our tent is open,” Davis said. “We want as many participants as possible to contribute to what we believe to be positive change.”
Controversy over the event’s location has been smoldering since 2017, when Utah lawmakers asked then-President Donald Trump to overturn the newly designated Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah. Thirty outdoor retail companies objected, and the Outdoor Retailer Show announced it would be relocating to Denver from its longtime home in Salt Lake City.
Later that year, Trump reduced the size of Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, prompting a lawsuit from Patagonia over the reduction and a statement on its website that “the President stole your land.”
President Joe Biden restored the two monuments to their former sizes.
But a group called The Conservation Alliance, made up of more than 270 companies, has argued that Utah’s political leaders are still trying to undermine the monuments. Most members of the group are outdoor retailers, but the alliance also includes several breweries, photography companies, and a bank. Alliance officials did not immediately respond to phone messages asking for comment.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox welcomed Emerald X’s decision on Wednesday, saying, “This is great news for Utah’s expanding outdoor industry and everyone who loves to get outside and experience the state’s natural beauty. “
The Republican governor last year asked show organizers to move the event to Salt Lake City, saying the location offers economic benefits for the state and for outdoor retailers.
Emerald X also sent out a poll to the show’s contestants last year asking for their opinions on potentially moving to various cities — including Salt Lake City; Anaheim, California; Houston; Las Vegas and Orlando, Fla.
Marisa Nicholson, Outdoor Retailer’s show director, told the AP that it’s easier for exhibitors to demonstrate their ski, snowboard, kayak and other products in Utah. That’s because outdoor venues where the products can be used or tested are closer and easier to get to than in Denver, where it can take hours to drive to the Rockies from the downtown convention center where the show was held.
Nicholson said organizers also plan to make the winter and summer shows more accessible to consumers, rather than just commercial buyers and retailers.
She said, without giving details, that Outdoor Retailer plans to use proceeds from its Utah events to fund public lands protection efforts involving local, state and federal officials, as well as state tourism and business officials.
The Outdoor Retailer Show generates tens of millions of dollars in local economic impact, but benefits have been reduced due to the pandemic.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.
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