The battle for public lands is spilling over into the world of commerce. And that smells like opportunity to me.
Salt Lake City has been home to the twice-yearly Outdoor Retailer show, a trade show that brings gear manufacturers together for a chance to show off their latest products in all things outdoor recreation. Salt Lake City is a great spot for this to be, as it’s close to great skiing, hiking, climbing and a whole bunch of other activities that the participants of the OR show cater to.
But here’s the problem: Utah’s governor, state legislators and congressional delegation have been hell-bent on pushing new laws to divest the federal government of its public lands inventory in favor of state control or private development. And really, “state control” is a euphemism for eventually selling out to the highest bidder, be that the energy industry, mining interests, loggers, or real estate developers hoping to sell big parcels to people who want their golf course mansions to have mountain views.
This hits home to the companies who attend the semi-annual expo, as these folks depend on people who like to hike, fish, hunt, climb, bike, ski, camp and otherwise play in the nation’s public lands. Reduced access has a way of deterring said playful activities, and that means these folks buy less stuff from gear-makers. No bueno, dude.
So OR’s organizers are talking about pulling out of SLC. It’s not because the skiing sucks or the national and state parks there are lame. Totally the opposite. But if that state’s leaders want to turn the place into a giant mine pit, well, why stay there at all? One manufacturer, Patagonia, has already said it won’t be at any more OR shows until it leaves Utah or until state officials get a clue. Others may follow suit.
So where might OR go? Seattle? Denver? Las Vegas?
Great choices. But let me make a dark horse pitch for a city that won’t be on anyone’s list.
Come to my city. Bring OR to Tulsa!
OK, OK, quit laughing. Really. Stop already! I’m kinda serious here. Let me make my case…
As I see it, an event like OR needs some things: convention space, hotel rooms, some infrastructure, entertainment options, access to outdoor recreation (duh!) and local support. Let’s break it down:
Hotels: There are more than 1,650 hotel rooms in downtown alone, and that doesn’t include one new 8-story hotel opening soon. Add to that the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino east of downtown and the new RiverSpirit Hotel and Casino in south Tulsa. And plenty more. Like more than 14,000 rooms. Not more than SLC, but hey. We’re workin on it.
Entertainment options: There is an entire section of the north side of downtown (the Brady Arts District) dedicated to having a good time. Music venues, art museums, pubs, bars, dance clubs and then some. Craft brewers, too. We’ve got our own ballet company and symphony. And I did mention casinos? Not as many as Vegas, but way more than Denver or SLC. Imagine the bliss of closing a deal over a rousing hand of Texas hold-‘em. Can’t do that in Utah, but you can here!
Direct flights: Yup. To and from New York, Los Angeles, Denver, Houston, Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Miami, Minneapolis, Phoenix and then some. We ain’t LaGuardia, but I’m told that’s a good thing.
Outdoor rec: No, there are no big mountains here. But we aren’t bereft of things for the outdoorsy set, and you don’t even have to leave our city limits. Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness is 300 acres and 48 miles of singletrack goodness, one of the top mountain biking destinations in the country, and is a haven for hikers and trail runners, too. Imagine doing demos out there! Tulsa was recently ranked third in the nation among the most popular cities for active millennials (important demographic!). Rowing/paddling sports can be had on various stretches of the Arkansas River, and there are loads of lakes and state parks with places to hike, climb, bike, paddle, camp and run. And if you’re trying to show off the latest in fishing gear, you will find no more fertile ground for this sport than right here, which has twice hosted the Bassmaster Classic.
Commitment to public lands: Locally, we’ve got it in abundance. When the city had a choice between wild green space and an outlet mall, it chose the former, eventually doubling down by including a $7 million expansion of the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area as part of a sales tax initiative passed last year. The city is also in the midst of completing a $350 million park and green space project near downtown. Our city leaders get it. Just don’t ask us about our state leaders or congressional delegation. Yeah, let’s glaze over that one for now…
So there you have it, my unofficial, unsanctioned and unauthorized pitch to flee Salt Lake City and find a new home for one of your two (soon to be three?) shows a year. We’re pretty awesome, and we’d be good hosts. I’ll personally give you the dime tour. What about those state/federal elected officials, you ask? Did I mention the amazing trails and casinos?