Future of Outdoor Retailer murky as lawmakers seek to rescind Bears Ears
Legislator: ‘We can’t let those types of decisions dictate good public policy’
The Outdoor Retailer trade show, whose presence in Salt Lake City is vital for many businesses in the Park City area, says it may leave Utah after Gov. Gary Herbert signed a resolution supported by three Republican legislators who represent parts of Summit County that expresses strong opposition to the newly created Bears Ears National Monument.
Reps. Tim Quinn and Logan Wilde, as well as Sen. Allen Christensen were among those who voted in favor of H.C.R. 11. The resolution urges President Trump to rescind the national monument status of Bears Ears, an area of land in southeastern Utah whose protection was hotly debated even before Barack Obama designated it in one of his final actions as president.
House minority leader Brian King, a Democratic legislator, voted against the measure, while Republican Sen. Kevin Van Tassell did not vote. Van Tassell, however, did vote Wednesday for a similar resolution, H.C.R. 12, that calls for a reduction of the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which Bill Clinton designated in 1996. Quinn, Wilde and Christensen also supported the resolution, which the governor had not signed as of Friday morning.
The outdoor industry, which identifies the protection of public lands as a critical issue, was quick to voice its displeasure with the Bears Ears legislation. In response, the Outdoor Retailer, which has been held twice a year in Salt Lake for more than two decades — and is slated to add a third annual show in 2018 — announced that it will explore other host cities when its contract with Salt Lake City expires in 2018.
Outdoor Retailer is one of the largest events of its kind, and brings in more than 45,000 visitors and an estimated $40 million in direct spending to the state. Several cities have tried to lure the lucrative show away from Salt Lake over the years.
Losing Outdoor Retailer would be a blow to several Summit County outdoor companies that use it to sell merchandise to retailers all over the country or scope out the season’s trendy products. Since the show is held nearby, the companies save thousands of dollars in lodging and travel expenses, and they were vocal about keeping the show in Salt Lake in 2015, the most recent time its organizers considered a potential move.
“We’d like to stress we have not made a decision to leave Salt Lake City,” said Marisa Nicholson, show director of Outdoor Retailer, in a press release. “This said, we believe it is important to evaluate our location options to ensure Outdoor Retailer is hosted in the best city and venue that will serve our customers’ unique culture and diverse business needs across multiple market segments.”
After the Outdoor Retailer announcement, Patagonia, a national clothing retailer and major player in the outdoor industry, said it will no longer attend the trade show due to the Bears Ears resolution and the state’s public lands policies. Both announcements came in the wake of a call last month from Peter Metcalf, a Summit County resident and the influential founder of the Utah-based company Black Diamond, for the industry to boycott Utah if lawmakers don’t reverse course on public lands issues.
In an interview, Quinn, a freshman legislator whose district includes Park City, acknowledged the significance of Outdoor Retailer’s economic contributions, as well as its importance for Summit County businesses, saying he would like to keep the show in Salt Lake. However, he noted it’s not the first time the trade show has tried to use a soon-expiring contract as leverage to influence legislators.
Lawmakers, he said, must be careful to avoid being beholden to the wishes of an industry at the expense of making decisions in the best interest of the state.
“As legislators, we ought to be worried all the time when sources of revenue to the state, whether they be conventions or trade shows or so forth, threaten to decide to leave the state,” he said. “But we can’t let those types of decisions dictate good public policy.”
Additionally, Quinn said he supports protecting public lands, including Bears Ears. He voted for the resolution, however, because, in his view, the state is better equipped than the federal government to manage the 1.35 million acres of land included in the national monument.
“There’s a disconnect between Washington, D.C., and the communities involved in this,” he said. “I just think it was bad policy to take 1.35 million acres — 109,000 of which were school trust lands that we use to help fund education in this state.”
He added that he is anticipating legislation will soon be introduced aimed at protecting Bears Ears and the Native American artifacts the land holds.
“It will do it in a much smaller way, a more responsible way, that will put the state and Native Americans in charge, not the federal government, who doesn’t even know what they’re designating,” he said, declining to comment further on the potential legislation.
In contrast, King, the Democratic House minority leader whose district stretches into Summit Park, lauded the process Obama used to designate Bears Ears and said the resources the federal government can devote to protecting the land dwarfs what the state could provide.
“They are greater, and more predictable, than the resources available to the state,” he said, adding that polls have shown that as many as half of Utah residents support the national monument designation.
Those in the outdoor industry are justified in their anger toward Utah lawmakers, King said, adding that he will do everything he can to keep Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake.
“Too many people in the state Legislature are basically hostile toward public land preservation, and they are very, very accommodating to private interests getting into our public lands and using them for private gain,” he said. “I’m frustrated to the degree to which we have handed other states, people who are competing with Utah, (tools) to get the kind of business and presence Outdoor Retailer provides for Utah. … We’ve given those other states the ability to say, ‘Utah isn’t aligned with what you guys want.’ And they’re right in many ways.”
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Another ski season is in the books, and much to the relief of the restaurant industry, the outlook, like the weather, is looking sunny.