Sunday, April 22, 2018
Business

Bass Pro resolves logo dispute, but will it influence vote

VALRICO — Kelly Morris wasn't alone in his battle with Bass Pro Shops.

He had support — local, across the country and as far away as Australia — in his fight against the giant outdoors retailer over his logo. He even had a Hillsborough County commissioner on his side.

Morris, who owns the Simple Life Outfitters, was battling to keep his company's logo of three fish — a snook, bass and redfish inside a green circle. Bass Pro Shops claimed it too closely resembled its well-known logo of a bass fish inside a red and yellow circle.

People from all over the country rallied to support Morris, who runs a 1,200-square-foot shop that features outdoors apparel on State Road 60 in Valrico. Morris and his cousin, Todd Bliss, designed the logo.

A petition, called "Help Us Stop Bass Pro Shops From Bullying Small Town Local Business," popped up on change.org and had more than 500 supporters in 24 hours.

"It was overwhelming," said Morris, 46, who also received supportive emails and phone calls from as far away as Australia.

On Saturday, Kelly Morris' logo fight ended peacefully. Bass Pro Shops founder and owner Johnny Morris and his wife, who had been visiting Fort Myers, drove to the Simple Life Outfitters and apologized.

"He looked at the logo and said they did not look similar," Kelly Morris said. "He said as of Monday (Jan. 14) we are going to pull all opposition to your logo."

County Commissioner Ken Hagan is happy the little guy didn't lose his logo.

"I was furious," Hagan said. "I planned to call Johnny Morris."

Hagan said he thinks a "legal hack" opposed the Simple Life Outfitters' logo and Johnny Morris corrected the situation when it came to his attention.

It's a good thing the issue was resolved now because county commissioners next month will continue their discussion about a proposed development anchored by Bass Pro Shops.

Bass Pro Shops wants to build a new store in Brandon, near Westfield mall.

But, the go-ahead is on hold as commissioners discuss about $8 million in tax dollars for infrastructure improvements for the development that would be anchored by the outdoors retailer.

The issue, which had opposition from some local business owners in December, will be discussed again before the county commissioners Feb. 6.

Hagan said he would not have wanted Bass Pro Shops in the project if it continued to battle with small businessman Kelly Morris over his logo.

"I think it would have been a unanimous vote of denial," Hagan said. "I would have led the charge in opposition."

Hagan is happy he'll now be able to vote with an open mind.

So far, he likes what the development will bring to the county — 1,700 construction jobs, 1,500 permanent jobs and $3 million in annual property and sales tax revenue. That land now brings in less than a $1,000 dollars a year in property tax revenue. In addition to Bass, it would include a hotel and other businesses and restaurants.

Hagan also wants to point out that Bass Pro Shops isn't getting cash from the county. Any infrastructure dollars go to the developer. He also said the county will eventually need to make these improvements in that area.

"We are considering the infrastructure — not because of Bass — but because of the entire development," he said.

While Hagan said the logo controversy could have hurt Bass Pro Shops' chance to land a store in Brandon, he didn't think Johnny Morris stopped the action against the Simple Life Outfitters simply to get good publicity.

"I don't think so," Hagan said. "I think it speaks volumes about their corporate leadership. That's the kind of man he is."

Hagan said he will listen to the pros and cons again in February before casting his vote. Hopefully, he joked, there will be no more logo issues.

Kelly Morris doesn't think taxpayers should contribute to the new development plan. Nor does he like what a company like Bass Pro Shops will do to the local businesses in the area.

"We're paying to help our competition," he said.

Plant City resident Zack Clark happily updated his petition this week on change.org. He's thrilled he got the word out and happy his friend Kelly Morris won his fight with Bass Pro Shops.

"I declared a victory on it," he said.

Bass Pro Shops could not be reached for comment.

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