"We've heard member discontent as well as comments from Utah's [political] delegations and efforts on public-land policy that are out of alignment with what our industry stands for," said Amy Roberts, executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association, which has close ties to the show and encouraged the show's owner, Emerald Expositions, to seek a range of potential host cities.
Prominent outdoor-industry executives Peter Metcalf, founder of Black Diamond Equipment, and Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, have called publicly in recent weeks for the shows to depart Utah, citing concerns over public-lands access.
Roberts specifically cited several recent moves by Utah politicians: a bill passed last week in the Legislature urging President Donald Trump to rescind his predecessor's designation of Bears Ears National Monument; a rules change proposed in Congress by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, to change how federal lands are valued and make them easier to sell; and other efforts to have federal lands turned over to the state, where "they would eventually be sold off and privately held and not accessible to recreationists," she said.
"The overriding theme," Roberts said, "is a disagreement over keeping public lands public, and we really see that as a foundational issue for our industry."
Gov. Gary Herbert, though, says "Utah is a public-lands state and always will be," according to Paul Edwards, his spokesman
The large amount of public land in Utah, Edwards said, is one reason why the state is often in the crosshairs of criticism. Two-thirds of Utah is federally owned land, compared to one-third of Colorado.
"There's just less interface with these public-lands issues in that state," Edwards said. "It's just a different environment there in terms of how much of the land comes under federal jurisdiction and, hence, the possibility for questions about its appropriate use and management."
A spokesman for Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said show organizers should take into account what the city offers, including proximity to mountain recreation and progressive policies on environmental stewardship, preserving open space and reducing carbon emissions.
"When they take a thoughtful look," Biskupski spokesman Matthew Rojas said, "we're confident they will see we really do share the same values."
Scott Beck, president of Visit Salt Lake, said he learned Friday the show was seeking other suitors, in the form of requests for proposals, or RFPs — and he welcomed the move.
"We love the RFP process; we do a good job on the RFP process," Beck said. "... We know, based on our long history with the show, that the Salt Palace Convention Center is one of, if not the most, sustainable [convention centers] out there."
"It's going to be tough for them to find as strong a venue," Edwards said.
Beck also noted that Outdoor Retailer entertains proposals from other cities every time its contract is up for renegotiation — though in previous years proposals have been accepted by invitation only.
"It's still not open to every city in the country," Beck said. "... It's still a small circle of [cities] that can physically host what will be requested in the RFP."