The states of Colorado, Montana and Oregon have all expressed interest in hosting the Outdoor Retailer show after the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) announced that it was looking for a new venue as soon as possible. The contract with Salt Lake City runs through the summer of 2018, but the OIA hinted that next July's show may be the last one to he held there after two decades. A final decision to withdraw OR from the capital of Utah could be made by mid-May at the latest.
Right now, the state of Colorado appears to be in the best position to host OR because of its exhibition and hotel facilities and the vicinity of the mountains for product demonstrations. It already hosts the SIA snow show in Denver. Copper Mountain, where the ski demos are conducted, is only about 90 minutes away from the city.
The city of Portland in Oregon is planning to open a new convention center in 2019, but it can only offer 7,256 hotel rooms, according to the Portland Business Journal. Even though 17 additional hotels are in the pipeline, that would be insufficient for a show that attracts up to 45,000 visitors.
The announcement about the change of venue for the OR show followed an unproductive conference call on Feb. 16 with Utah's state governor, Gary Herbert, in an attempt to reverse his stance against the protection of public lands. Specifically, Amy Roberts, executive director of the OIA, and top executives of Patagonia and REI were unable to reverse his decision to ask the administration of President Donald Trump to rescind the designation of Utah's Bears Ears mountains as a protected “national monument” that can be accessed by the general public.
The Bears Ears mesas are considered by native Americans to be a spiritual area. Reportedly, Herbert said during the call that he wanted the U.S. Congress to give the local Indian tribes a bigger role in managing the Bears Ears area, which he said is not well managed. The day after the call, Herbert approved a resolution that will reduce the size of another national monument in his state, the Grand Staircase-Escalante.
Protesting against the governor, Patagonia, Arc'teryx, Polartec and other smaller companies said they will boycott next July's session of the OR show. Patagonia and Arc'teryx announced their decision even before the discussion with Utah's governor. Arc'teryx said it will instead donate $150,000 over the next three years to the Conservation Alliance for its Public Lands Defense Fund. Ibex said it would make a donation to the organization and reduce its stand at OR.
However, the Conservation Alliance said it will continue to participate in the OR show because it feels that it is the best place to organize “an effective business response to the imminent threats to our public lands.”
Many big and small companies and the OIA have in fact called on the industry to exhibit at the fair in order to build up a united front, without giving up the battle against the reclamation of public lands for possible commercial purposes. “We must be louder and stronger than our opposition,” said The North Face. “Our goal is not just to speak. Our goal is to be heard,” echoed Marisa Nicholson, director of the OR show.
She said that OR and the OIA were exploring the idea of using the time and funds earmarked for the traditional Industry Breakfast during the show to express the industry's opinion through rallies, conservation town halls and a community camp-out on city parks.
Dan Nordstrom, chief executive of Outdoor Research, argued in an open letter that it's time for everyone involved in the outdoor movement to come together and “become a true political force,” as there will be nothing for Utah politicians to lose after the show leaves Salt Lake City. He said the industry should leverage sophisticated political lobbying and galvanize grassroots engagement. As an industry estimated to be worth $646 billion, the outdoor sector has the strength to do it, if it is united, he indicated, because it is larger than pharmaceuticals or mining and agriculture combined.