Critics say that the Utah legislature is opposed to efforts to preserve national monuments and public lands.
In a letter to stakeholders, Emerald X, the publicly traded firm that owns the biannual event, stated that it could better promote outdoor recreation and fight for environmental protections from Utah, where it has been held since the 1970s. The show moved to Denver in 2018 after being held there for many decades.
The company stated that Salt Lake City was their hometown and they are returning with a commitment towards achieving meaningful change. "In reality, we have not seen the changes we hoped for after 2017, so we will not be pulling back. We believe that being involved and contributing collectively to the ongoing conversation is far more constructive than leaving after 2017.
Denver will host the June event this year, ahead of Salt Lake City's winter 2023 event.
In February, show organizers were under fire from The Conservation Alliance and 22 outdoor recreation companies (including Patagonia and REI) . They threatened to boycott the event if it moved back to Salt Lake City, despite widespread industry objections.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Jeff Davis, the group vice president for Emerald X stated that the company hopes to persuade skeptical participants to stay with the show.
Emerald X consulted hundreds of exhibitors and firms, and considered several locations, including Denver. He stated that the "overriding majority of outdoor retailers" wanted the event to return to Utah.
Davis stated, "We have spoken to all brands and, while we can't speak for all brands, our tent remains open." "We want everyone to be a part of what we believe to be a positive shift."
Since 2017, when Utah lawmakers requested that Donald Trump repeal Bears Ears National Monument, which was in southeastern Utah, the dispute over the location of the event has been simmering. The Outdoor Retailer Show announced that it would be moving from Salt Lake City to Denver after thirty outdoor retailers objected.
Later in the year, Trump reduced Bears Ears' size and the southern Utah Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This prompted a lawsuit by Patagonia and a declaration on Patagonia's website that "The president stole your land."
The monuments have been restored to their original dimensions by President Joe Biden.
But, The Conservation Alliance, which is made up of more then 270 companies, argued that Utah's political leaders continue to try to destroy the monuments by taking legal action to remove protections. The majority of members are outdoor retailers. However, the alliance also includes several banks, breweries and photography companies.
Wednesday's statements by REI, Patagonia, and the alliance were critical of the decision to move Outdoor Retailer and promised to boycott the show.
Ryan Gellert, Patagonia CEO, stated that "we are disappointed that the owners of Outdoor Retailer are so blatantly disregarding the Indigenous Peoples and local activists who spent years working for the preservation and protection of wild lands in Utah by moving it back to Salt Lake City."
Utah Gov. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox welcomes Emerald X's decision. He said, "This is great for Utah's expanding outdoors industry and all those who enjoy getting outside and experiencing Utah's natural beauty."
In an interview with KSL NewsRadio, he took a more aggressive tone when addressing the companies that threatened to boycott the station.
"You don’t have to threaten us or tell us what to do. Cox stated that this is not how it will work.
Last year, the Republican governor asked organizers to bring the event back to Salt Lake City. He said that the location provided economic benefits to the state and outdoor retailers.
Emerald X also sent a survey to show attendees last year asking for their thoughts on a move to different cities, including Salt Lake City, Anaheim, California, Houston, Las Vegas, Orlando, Florida, and Las Vegas.
Marisa Nicholson is the show director for Outdoor Retailer. She told the AP that it's much easier for exhibitors in Utah to demonstrate their ski, snowboarding, kayaking or other products. Outdoor venues that can be used or tested the products are easier to reach than Denver. It can take hours to travel to the Rockies from Denver's downtown convention center.
Nicholson stated that organizers plan to make the summer and winter shows more accessible to consumers than just commercial buyers or retailers.
Without giving details, she said that Outdoor Retailer will use the revenue it makes from Utah events to help fund public land protection efforts. This includes involvement by local, state, and federal officials as well as state tourism officials.
The Outdoor Retailer Show generates tens to millions of dollars in local economic impacts, but these benefits have been diminished by the pandemic.