Public lands politics sends Outdoor Retailer show to Colorado and out of Utah

Author: Peter Marcus - July 6, 2017 - Updated: July 6, 2017

State and Denver officials join organizers of the lucrative Outdoor Retailer show on Thursday to announce the show is leaving Utah and moving to Colorado. Some of the move was based on politics in Utah over public lands. (Photo by Peter Marcus/

Calling open public lands the “catalyst” behind the move, state and Denver officials on Thursday formally announced the high-profile Outdoor Retailer show is coming to Colorado.

News of the announcement was reported by Colorado Politics and other outlets on Wednesday, though the pomp and circumstance came on Thursday morning at a news conference with elected leaders, organizers of the trade show, and outdoor recreational industry organizations.

“Our announcement today solidifies Colorado’s place as the leader in the outdoor recreation industry,” said Luis Benitez, director of Colorado’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, who was joined by Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.

Standing outside in the hot sun near a garden by the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, organizers of the massive trade show highlighted three events as part of the package, including the Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show, Outdoor Retailer Summer Market and Outdoor Retailer Winter Market.

Estimates call for 85,000 people per year to Denver at the Colorado Convention Center, with an annual direct and indirect economic impact of about $110 million per year. It is the world’s largest trade exhibition for the outdoor retail industry.

The outdoor recreation economy in Colorado already generates about $28 billion in consumer spending every year and supports 229,000 jobs.

The relocation of the show to Denver from Salt Lake City begins in January 2018 with the Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show, scheduled for Jan. 25-28, 2018. The Outdoor Retailer Summer Market is scheduled for July 23-26, 2018, and the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market is scheduled for Nov. 8-11, 2018.

Public lands debate fuels move 

State and Denver officials began heavily lobbying for the show to move from Utah to Colorado after some attendees of the event became frustrated with the position Utah leaders have taken on public lands. The show had been in Utah for more than two decades.

Major retailers and attendees of the show began asking for it to move from Salt Lake City after Republicans there called for transferring management of federal public lands over to the state’s authority, which could open up more of it for drilling, grazing or local commerce. Some Republican leaders even called for overturning monument designations in Utah.

“It was clearly a catalyst. For years we’ve been talking about the importance of public lands,” said Hickenlooper, a Democrat.

The governor pointed to U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican, who have both stood up for public lands in Colorado. Gardner, for example, asked Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for a commitment that Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in Cortez would not lose its designation.

Organizers of the show, which is owned by California-based Emerald Expositions, pointed to Colorado’s commitment to open public lands, including an action by the legislature last year to create a Public Lands Day. Over 35 percent of the state is public lands.

“Outdoor recreation and the protection of public lands shouldn’t be politically polarizing. In fact, they are a bipartisan issue,” said Amy Roberts, executive director of the Boulder-based Outdoor Industry Association.

Colorado faces its own debate

Colorado has faced its own political debates over public lands. In the 2015 legislative session, Colorado Republican lawmakers ran an unsuccessful bill to create a study of how the state could help manage federal public lands. In 2016, another unsuccessful Republican bill would have given local and state law enforcement more authority over federally managed lands.

Even the Public Lands Day measure last year in the legislature saw controversy, as Republicans attempted to amend the resolution to include language around state management of federal public lands. Lawmakers ultimately compromised to reach agreement.

Conservationists worry that transferring management of federal public lands to the states would lead to mismanagement or private development on those lands, closing them off for recreational activities.

Pete Maysmith, director of Conservation Colorado, said Colorado has an overall friendlier approach to public lands than what was heard from some Republicans in Utah. Conservation Colorado launched a campaign to woo away the show, including ads in the Salt Lake Tribune and the Desert News.

“They hurt their case (in Utah),” Maysmith said. “The industry made it very clear that that’s not a policy environment or a political environment where they want to have their marquee show. It’s antithetical to what they’re all about – protecting public lands and getting people outdoors.”

But Colorado Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, cautioned against taking too hard of a jab at Utah Republicans for a policy position that contributed to losing the lucrative show.

Grantham reminded Democrats that gun control laws passed in Colorado in 2013 caused Magpul Industries, one of the country’s largest producers of ammunition magazines, to leave Colorado. The company last year announced a deal to supply magazines to the Marines, which could have been a boon for Colorado.

“It cuts both ways,” Grantham said. “Beggars can’t be choosers, and we’re glad to have them (the Outdoor Retailer show) here. I would hope the other side would be as willing to change their politics to welcome back in Magpul.”

Peter Marcus

Peter Marcus

Peter Marcus is senior statehouse reporter for Colorado Politics. He covers the legislature and previously covered politics, the governor’s office, the legislature and Congress for The Durango Herald. He joined The Herald in 2014 from The Colorado Statesman, a Denver-based political weekly. The Washington Post twice named Marcus one of the nation’s top state-based political and legislative reporters.