Saturday, February 24, 2018
Business

Sue Carlton: Y'all come, Bass, but on your own dime

Growth is good. New business, also good.

Construction cranes bobbing, tourists spending, retail thriving — all good.

And feeling like we won't be mired in the muck of this rotten economy forever — that would be nice, too.

But offering up millions in tax money to land Bass Pro Shops in our midst?

Now, that sounds like a shortsighted, badly aimed shot at kick-starting the local economy.

Today, Hillsborough County commissioners consider an $8.25 million incentive package that would bring the outdoor megastore to the suburbs off Interstate 75 near the Westfield Brandon mall. Ultimately, the site is supposed to include restaurants, offices and a hotel.

(And hey, if nothing else, it would sure be nice to give tourists motoring through something better to remember us by than that massive Confederate flag that flies by the highway.)

If you are unfamiliar, Bass Pro Shops is a big-box store and "destination" business aimed at fishing, hunting, camping and other fresh-air endeavors. Even if a 150,000-square-foot outdoor sporting goods behemoth is not your thing, there is positive news in the fact that a big and savvy business is interested in us as a potential place to land.

And, apparently, interested in what we're willing to do to get them here.

That would be a lot, if you ask commission Chairman Ken Hagan, the elected official behind the proposal who says this will make economic sense for the county over the years.

That $8.25 million, by the way, is an improvement over the $15 million figure being thrown around in an earlier incarnation of the plan. At least the scaled-down amount is supposed to go for road improvements to support the store and surrounding development, and not to Bass Pro Shops directly.

Not that the distinction will likely matter to taxpayers adding up all those zeros. Or to local business owners who would soon compete with the big-daddy Bass Pro store. And who probably never got so much as a government-subsidized cup of coffee.

Much less millions.

In considering this, commissioners should remember: This is an electorate unwilling to vote for a transportation tax that would have improved roads and bus service and brought in light rail. And that was an actual plan for the future. But voters were in no mood to pay for it without the feel of solid ground and certainty beneath their feet.

How solid does subsidizing private business sound?

And by the way, if dangling those come-hither millions is the precedent for getting big stores to like us enough to settle here, can I put in a word for Trader Joe's, and its cheap wines and good cheeses?

But no — even Joe's should want us for our merits, not our millions.

Not that government incentives are always a bad idea — when they are considered carefully, handed out sparingly and, most importantly, focused on the future and the greater long-term good of the region.

But such incentives are supposed to be about bringing to town high-end industry with long-term potential and good-paying jobs.

A Bass Pro Shops here?

Sure.

Commissioners should send a message that their business would be welcomed with great enthusiasm and open arms.

Just not with our millions as part of the package.

Comments
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