DENVER – Outside in the bright light and nearly 90 degree heat of a beautiful Colorado summer day, members of the Colorado state government and leaders from the outdoor recreation industry announced an agreement Thursday to bring the Outdoor Retailer Show to Colorado.
“What this announcement proves is that Denver and the state of Colorado is indeed a global international player when it comes to outdoor recreational opportunities,” said Michael Hancock, mayor of Denver.
The announcement marks a tipping point in a process that began in February when conversations between the retail show and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert broke down over a difference of opinion on the management and importance of the public lands that are the lifeblood of the outdoor recreation industry. The retail show had been held in Salt Lake City for more than 20 years.
More than once, the show considered leaving Utah over philosophical, particularly public land policies, differences. It finally did after Gov. Gary Herbert signed a resolution calling on federal officials to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument, which President Barack Obama designated on 1.3 million acres of land in southeastern Utah considered sacred to Native American tribes.
The show was under contract to host two shows in 2018 in Utah, but organizers had already said they were considering other options for next year. The organization’s biannual events attracted an estimated $45 million in annual direct spending to Utah. When show organizers started talking about leaving Utah, Colorado began enticing the show’s producers to Denver to serve as the ultimate feather in the conservation and outdoor recreation cap the state wears on a national and global stage.
Governor John Hickenlooper was among those who campaigned for the show. At Thursday’s announcement, Hickenlooper said in addition to the economic impact of having the show in Denver, the real benefit comes from acknowledging the importance of Colorado’s public lands and the state’s stewardship of them.
“It is part of the defining characteristic of Colorado. This is a place where a young entrepreneur can come and not just create a business but create a lifestyle and have a balanced life,” Hickenlooper said.
The Outdoor Retailer show, which is held in July and November, will add to the SnowSports Industries America Snow Show that is held in Denver each year in January. The state expects to see an economic impact of $110 million from the three shows.
The benefits of the retail show moving to Denver are expected to extend beyond the Front Range, as it will make Colorado the hub for the outdoor retail industry and encourage existing companies to move facilities to the state or expand those already in Colorado, said Luis Benitez, director of Colorado’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Office.
But the move from Utah to Colorado goes beyond economics. Colorado’s commitment to protecting public lands was a draw, said Marisa Nicholson, Outdoor Retailer Show director.
“There’s different ways to relay political messages. Sometimes it’s a march, sometimes it a bill and sometimes it’s the power of the purse, and this definitely shows that Utah will lose tens of millions of dollars year after year because they got politically on the wrong side of an issue,” said state Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail and main sponsor of the bill that created Colorado’s Public Lands Day. .
Benitez said much work has to be done to put on all three trade shows in Denver. The office has to incorporate Snow Show, which it acquired in May, into its production and it has to negotiate the logistics of moving venues. Outdoor Retailer’s producers also expect Colorado to maintain the public land stewardship values that attracted the show.
“You can’t have one without the other. You have to protect the land to have the economy, and you have to have the economy to prove the importance of protecting the land,” Donovan said.