Twice a year, the outdoor industry gathers to showcase its newest gear, talk policy and rally around campaigns to increase diversity and access to public lands. Brands build multi-level booths with slacklines across their upper story, freeze chunks of ice to test the traction on their new footwear and make it rain all day on jackets treated with a new formula for water repellency.
Retailers browse what could line their shelves in the seasons to come and spend a day at a local ski area or reservoir testing out new skis and stand-up paddleboards. Some 40,000 people visit Salt Lake City, the show's home for the last two decades, in conjunction with this event.
But last month, the trade show's host organization, the Outdoor Industry Association, announced it's leaving Utah after a contentious discussion over how the state's legislators approach public lands. US Sen. Martin Heinrich was quick to throw New Mexico into the list of options.
"As you solicit proposals for a new venue to host the Outdoor Retailer trade show, I would urge you to give strong consideration to the state of New Mexico," he wrote to the president and CEO of Emerald Expositions, parent company for the trade show. "New Mexico's vibrant and vast public lands are a vital part of the state's culture and economy, and New Mexico has a tradition of stakeholders coming together to support conservation and the outdoor recreation industry."
Citing the state's longstanding support for public lands, the Democratic congressman positioned the Land of Enchantment as a committed counterpoint to the Beehive State, where lawmakers want the feds to hand over land. Already, outdoor recreation provides New Mexico with more than $450 million in tax revenue, directly supports 68,000 jobs and produces $6.1 billion in consumer spending each year. Outdoor Retailer produces some $45 million in annual economic impact for Utah. Utah's loss, the senator has said, could be New Mexico's gain.
The bidding process is confidential, says Emerald Expositions communications staff, and they're unable to share any details on the process.
While Heinrich urges the group from Capitol Hill, the OIA is watching how New Mexico's lawmakers handle outdoor recreation. On their list is House Bill 485, which would combine the state's economic development and tourism departments into a single entity. But there's also Senate Bill 364—sponsored by Minority Floor Leader Stuart Ingle (R-Portales), a farmer—which would require the governor, commissioner of public lands, and the attorney general to determine if a national monument "is confined to the smallest area necessary."
That sounds not unlike what's going on in Utah, where legislators are calling on President Trump and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to overturn the Bears Ears National Monument. President Obama just designated the monument on December 28 to protect the archaeological resources found in that network of red sandstone canyons.
Even if ideologies align, there's the question of logistics.
"The senator's thoughts and spirits are ones we completely agree with, that Santa Fe and New Mexico have all of the pristine and wonderful outdoor type of opportunities that any of the other great Western states have," says John Feins, with Tourism Santa Fe.
But the simple issue is that the show had been busting at the seams, even in the Salt Palace Convention Center's 675,000 square feet of space. Booths and displays sprawl into nearby parking lots and lawns during the summer show, the larger of the two. Santa Fe has just 40,000 square feet. Visit Albuquerque President and CEO Tania Armenta says she's waiting to see what Emerald outlines in its official request for proposal and then will decide how to move forward.
Even if the show were to explore a two-city convention and use both Albuquerque, with a convention center offering just 270,000 square feet, and Santa Fe's facilities, Feins says, that's less than half of the space the show currently uses.
"We've been having a discussion, but we're looking at their floor plan. We've been looking at their needs, and it's just going to be a big uphill climb, despite how appropriate our setting is," he says. "Spiritually and theoretically it's truly the home for the show, but infrastructurally, we're facing an uphill battle here."
Albuquerque is a little more optimistic. That city hosted the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance convention last year and will again this June. The alliance just combined forces with Outdoor Retailer and expects to merge the shows in 2018.