SALT LAKE CITY — The massive Outdoor Retailer trade show will be returning to Utah.
FOX 13 News first reported on the show's return Wednesday morning. It's a surprise about-face for a show that left Salt Lake City in part because of the state's environmental policies and political leaders' support for President Trump's shrinking of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments and other federal land policies.
"We can’t wait to come back to Salt Lake City and bring everyone back together again," Jeff Davis, the vice-president of Emerald Group, which puts on Outdoor Retailer, said on Wednesday.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall helped negotiate the return to Utah's capital city. She touted her administration's environmental policies and the benefits of the show being here.
"Outdoor Retailer committed to coming and standing shoulder to shoulder with Salt Lake City and I think Salt Lake County as well, as we work so hard to protect our natural resources. They are a heavy hitter that’s now coming back to work with us," she said in an interview with FOX 13 News.
.@OutdoorRetailer is coming home to Salt Lake City!!!!! 🎿⛷🏂🧗♀️🚴♂️☀️❄️— Mayor Erin Mendenhall (@slcmayor) March 23, 2022
Davis praised Mayor Mendenhall and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson in their commitment to stand with Outdoor Retailer on environmental issues.
FOX 13 News is told the trade show will be here for a three-year commitment. It's unknown if some of the most vocal companies who objected to Utah's policies, will return. A number of companies have previously threatened a boycott. Patagonia's CEO said in an email they would not and criticized Outdoor Retailer for even considering Salt Lake City.
"We are disappointed the owners of Outdoor Retailer are blatantly ignoring the Indigenous Peoples, local activists and outdoor athletes who spent years working to conserve and protect wild lands in Utah by moving the show back to Salt Lake City. Until we hear a firm commitment to protect our national monuments, we remain steadfast in our position and won’t return to the trade show in Utah," said Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert.
REI said it would also boycott Salt Lake City.
"REI will not participate in any OR trade show in the state so long as Utah’s leaders persist in attacking our public lands and the laws that protect them. We remain committed to our employees, members, vendors and communities in the state," the co-op's executive vice-president, Ben Steele, said in an email to FOX 13 News.
"The co-op is unwavering in our commitment to public lands—the mountains, deserts, prairies, waters and forests that tens of millions of Americans from all backgrounds cherish and enjoy annually. We recognize and maintain solidarity with the Native American communities who have stewarded these lands for generations and continue to lead the campaign for their protection.We hope Emerald will reconsider the host site of Outdoor Retailer in the future."
Asked about the companies that sought to boycott, Davis acknowledged there has been some mixed opinions about the return to Salt Lake City.
"We really want Outdoor Retailer to be an open tent for people who want to make positive change in the outdoor community," he said.
Mayor Wilson urged the companies to join them in pushing for change.
"If they don’t come they’re not at the table. I’m working every day, there are great partners doing so as well to make sure the environment and the quality of life we enjoy every day... is maintained," she said.
The show is a huge money-generator for Utah's hospitality industry, which has suffered in the COVID-19 pandemic. It generates roughly $45 million a year. In February, Governor Spencer Cox declared that Utah did not miss the trade show, but they were always welcome to return. On Wednesday, he welcomed them back.
"This is great news for Utah’s expanding outdoor industry and all those who love getting outside and experiencing the state’s natural beauty. We look forward to welcoming Outdoor Retailers back to Salt Lake City," Gov. Cox said in a statement to FOX 13 News.
It wasn't all politics to lure Outdoor Retailer back. Davis told FOX 13 News that the decision to return to Utah came after surveying its vendors and members, who liked a lot of the amenities Salt Lake City had to offer.
"What we hear from our community is they love the airport. They love the transit from the airport to the convention center. They feel like costs are a little bit lower than doing business in Denver. Access to the mountains is a little bit easier in Salt Lake than it is Denver," he said.
The trade show will also have more space, another longstanding complaint about Utah. Kaitlin Eskelson, the CEO of Visit Salt Lake, said they will have a convention center hotel opening soon.
"Now that we have the Hyatt, it provides 60,000 square feet of meeting space so we suddenly are big enough to re-accommodate them without having the parking lot tent," Eskelson said.