May 25, 2023 - Business

Portland officials are working to keep REI in town

A man carrying an REI bag crosses the street toward an REI store.

The REI store in NW Portland is slated to close early next year. Photo: Emily Harris/Axios

Portland is actively seeking real estate to keep REI in the city after the outdoor retailer announced plans to close its only store within city limits, and city officials are also considering tax incentives to keep and attract new employers.

Why it matters: REI's decision to close its flagship Pearl District store early next year was an economic and political blow to Mayor Ted Wheeler, who said at the time he was "committed" to keeping REI in town but did not say how.

Catch up quick: In its April closure announcement, REI highlighted record levels of theft and expensive security measures, plus no help from its landlord to address the problems.

  • Email and text records from city officials at the time show that months of back-and-forth with the company left both sides frustrated, and that the closure announcement caught the mayor by surprise.
  • "We should be very clear about what we did, specifically, to accommodate REI. The idea that people think we did nothing is beyond maddening," Wheeler texted his chief of staff, according to records Axios received.
  • At the time, REI chief commercial officer Cameron Janes wrote to city officials that the likelihood of the company staying in its current location was "essentially zero."

The latest: Andrew Fitzpatrick, Wheeler's director of economic development, told Axios that Portland is in "ongoing and direct conversations" with the company, looking for properties REI could operate "safely and successfully."

  • "In the next few weeks, we want to have a definitive list of options for them to consider," Fitzpatrick said, making clear the city would not be directly involved in any lease or purchase.
  • Last week, REI told Axios that the company is "currently assessing what a long-term solution might be for the region," but did not comment on conversations with the city.

Separately, Fitzpatrick said the mayor is exploring potential tax incentives for employers generally.

  • These could be "new incentives or the expansion of existing incentives that would be more effective at retention and attraction of employers in the city," Fitzpatrick said.
  • He gave no timeline, but noted such incentives would not only apply to REI.

The bottom line: Portland could score a political — and shopping — win by keeping REI in the city, but the company is not publicly committing to anything.


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