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Outdoor trade show on verge of leaving Utah after 2 decades

SALT LAKE CITY — A lucrative outdoor trade show that's been staged in Utah for two decades appears one step closer to leaving after a Thursday conference call intended to smooth discord over public lands issues between industry leaders and Gov. Gary Herbert ended with both sides disappointed.

The hunt for a new host city for the Outdoor Retailer show — which brings an estimated $45 million in annual direct spending to Utah — will continue after Herbert refused to budge on fundamental disagreements about how to preserve public lands, said Amy Roberts, Outdoor Industry Association executive director.

A decision about a future home could come as early as this spring, she said.

A resolution recently passed by Utah's state legislature and signed by Herbert calling on President Donald Trump to rescind the new Bears Ears National Monument was the culmination of years of actions that show the state is more interested in seizing control of its public lands than preserving them for hiking, biking and skiing, she said.

"Our members have made it very clear they won't support the show in Utah," Roberts said.

Leaders Patagonia, The North Face and REI joined Utah state officials and representatives from the Outdoor Industry Association on the hourlong call Thursday. Patagonia is leading a call to boycott future shows in Utah, a campaign several companies have since joined, including Arc'teryx.

The call was "frustrating" and ended "curtly," said Paul Edwards, a spokesman for Herbert. The governor's offer to put a small group together from both sides to work through their differences of opinion was declined, Edwards said.

"We felt that we were being presented with an ultimatum," Edwards said.

Edwards said Herbert and Utah officials tried to discuss issues other than public lands that relate to the show, such as a proposed convention hotel that show organizers had said was needed, but the outdoor industry officials only wanted to talk about Bears Ears.

They were also disappointed that outdoor industry leaders decided to do a conference call rather than an in-person meeting. Roberts said that decision was made for efficiency and to make sure the leaders from Patagonia, The North Face and REI could join in.

Herbert said earlier in the day during a his monthly news conference on KUED that trade show organizers should remember that it's been a "blessing" for them to have Salt Lake City as a host for the last two decades and it's helped the expo grow significantly.

The event has grown from 5,000 people at the first show in 1996 to about 29,000 last summer. It attracts an estimated $45 million in annual direct spending to Utah, filling hotels and restaurants during the two shows held each year.

This isn't the first time show organizers have threatened to leave Salt Lake City over the state's public lands stance but the organization seems much more upset this time and far more serious about leaving.

The discord first surfaced in early January at the start of the winter show when powerful industry executive Peter Metcalf of Black Diamond Equipment called for the show to leave Utah for what he described as the state's assault on public lands.

Earlier this month, the show announced it would open request proposals from other cities to host shows starting as early as November 2018 after its current contract runs out that summer in Utah.

A coalition of major outdoor companies led by Black Diamond Equipment this week sent a letter to Herbert saying they'll push the show to leave unless Herbert backs away from the polices that threaten public lands.

Asked if he would consider reversing his stance on Bears Ears, Herbert didn't rule it out but said, "My job is to reflect the will and desires of the people of Utah."

Roberts said she expects cities from several states to bid on hosting future shows.

Colorado is likely to be one of them. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper recently said his state would be a good fit and a Colorado land conservation group placed playful advertisements Wednesday in Utah's two largest newspapers highlighting why the neighbouring state would be a better home.

Roberts said the door is not completely closed on Utah, but said it's up to Utah to make the next move if they want to try and salvage the show.

"We didn't make any progress on the call," Roberts said. "If there's going to be any progress, it's up to the governor to come back and let us know what that might be."

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Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price contributed to this report.

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