Make us your home page
Instagram

County officials eye Bass Pro Shops for east Hillsborough

TAMPA — Its arrival in these parts has been rumored for so long it's taken on almost mythical status, like some fabled 16-point buck seen at the edge of the swamp but never photographed.

Now some officials are making a concerted push to lure Bass Pro Shops, the giant toy store and playground for hunters, fishermen and general outdoor enthusiasts, to the Tampa Bay market.

Hillsborough County's administrator and commission chairman are traveling today to Gulf Coast Town Center in Fort Myers, home of one of the nearest Bass Pro Shops. There they will meet with company president Jim Hagale, and representatives of prospective developers, to see what it would take to land a store in eastern Hillsborough County.

They will tour the Fort Myers store and huddle in the private Hemingway Room for discussions. Plans for the get-together were firmed up in a Thursday conference call noted on the calendars of County Administrator Mike Merrill and Commission Chairman Ken Hagan.

"We're meeting … to see if we can come together with some agreement on moving forward, or not," Merrill said.

Bass Pro Shops and/or the developer are seeking some form of taxpayer subsidy for the project, in which the outdoor shop would serve as an anchor to a larger complex of businesses at Falkenburg Road and the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway. Merrill declined to discuss the nature or amount of the subsidy being discussed, citing state law that shields such deals from disclosure until they are final.

Hagan did not return phone calls seeking comment, and Larry Whitely, communications manager for Bass Pro Shops, said the company does not discuss prospective locations.

Vin Marchetti, a lawyer representing the owners and developer of the prospective site, declined to discuss today's meeting or divulge his clients.

"I am actively involved in the negotiations," is all he'd say.

Merrill said individual players have been holding discussions for a long period and that the point of today's meeting is to get all the parties together to begin finalizing a proposal. Any subsidy proposal would need to go to the full Board of County Commissioners for approval.

"I really think we all want to try and bring this in for a landing," Merrill said. "I think we're all hopeful we can come away with something where we can have at least conceptual agreement."

Talk of Springfield, Mo.-based Bass Pro Shops opening a store in the Tampa Bay region has bubbled since at least the early 2000s. It has shown up on site plans or developer wish lists everywhere from the Shops at Wiregrass to the Florida State Fairgrounds to a redeveloped Tropicana Field (should the Tampa Bay Rays leave there).

The massive stores hold a special allure for sportsmen, with their mix of clothing, sporting equipment, guns, boats and entertainment all housed in buildings that range from 100,000 to 400,000 square feet. Each shop is built to reflect its setting, with some including museums, restaurants, waterfalls, bowling lanes and fish ponds stocked with local species so pros can demonstrate the effectiveness of lures.

Economic development boosters describe such stores as destination retail, places that attract customers from 100 miles out or more. Tourist attractions. That potential here is unclear because, along with Fort Myers, there is a Bass Pro Shops in Orlando.

In 2010, Hagan helped secure voter approval for an economic incentive plan that allows the county to refund a portion of property taxes to certain types of new and expanding businesses for up to 10 years. He cited Bass Pro Shops as a likely beneficiary of the proposal, though actual guidelines for the incentives appear to exclude stores.

Following the vote, public word of Bass Pro Shops coming to the region all but disappeared.

The shops, or the developments they anchor, have repeatedly taken advantage of taxpayer assistance elsewhere before opening, whether in the form of tax rebates or road or other infrastructure upgrades. The subsidies have run into the tens of millions of dollars in many cases.

The Buffalo-based nonprofit Public Accountability Initiative documented more than $500 million in public subsides awarded to Bass Pro Shops-associated developments last decade, largely using newspaper accounts. In that time, the retailer expanded from 14 locations to more than 50, its report said.

Merrill refused to discuss even a range of possible subsidy offers. He did say any incentive will not come from the property tax rebate program Hagan pushed. And he said he'll be evaluating any proposal based on its prospective return to taxpayers and potential for job creation.

"I want to make sure we get good value," he said.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report, which includes information from AmmoLand.com. Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or varian@tampabay.com.

.

Bass Pro Shops

It is a privately held company based in Springfield, Mo. It started in 1971 as an 8-foot-wide retail space inside another store, selling specialized fishing gear, according to the company website. It expanded into catalog sales and boat, fishing equipment and gun manufacturing. As of November, it operated 58 stores, selling outdoor gear and clothing and offering entertainment options, in the United States and Canada. The stores typically employ about 300 people and span often far more than 100,000 square feet done up to feel like a hunting lodge.

Sources: AmmoLand.com, Bass Pro Shops, news reports

County officials eye Bass Pro Shops for east Hillsborough 02/17/12 [Last modified: Saturday, February 18, 2012 12:04am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Report slams Pinellas construction licensing agency and leaders

    Local Government

    LARGO — The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board mismanaged its finances, lacked accountability and disregarded its own rules, according to a scathing report released Wednesday by the county's inspector general.

    Rodney Fischer, the executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, resigned in January.  [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  2. A meatless burger that tastes like meat? Ciccio Restaurants will serve the Impossible Burger.

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — The most red-hot hamburger in the nation right now contains no meat.

    Ciccio executive chef Luis Flores prepares an Impossible Burger Wednesday at the Epicurean Hotel Food Theatre in Tampa.
  3. Construction starts on USF medical school, the first piece of Tampa's Water Street project

    Health

    TAMPA — Dozens of workers in hard hats and boots were busy at work at the corner of South Meridian Avenue and Channelside Drive Wednesday morning, signaling the start of construction on the University of South Florida's new Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute.

    Construction is underway for the new Morsani College of Medicine and USF Health Heart Institute in downtown Tampa. This view is from atop Amalie Arena, where local officials gathered Wednesday to celebrate the first piece of what will be the new Water Street District. The USF building is expected to open in late 2019. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times]
  4. Tampa Bay among top 25 metro areas with fastest growing economies

    Economic Development

    Tampa Bay had the 24th fastest growing economy among 382 metro areas in the country for 2016. According to an analysis by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Tampa Bay's gross domestic product, or GDP, increased 4.2 percent from 2015 to 2016 to hit $126.2 billion.

    Tampa Bay had the 24th fastest growing economy in the country for 2016. Rentals were one of the areas that contributed to Tampa Bay's GDP growth. Pictured is attorney David Eaton in front of his rental home. 
[SCOTT KEELER | Times]
  5. Tampa Bay cools down to more moderate home price increases

    Real Estate

    The increase in home prices throughout much of the Tampa Bay area is definitely slowing from the torrid rate a year ago.

    This home close to Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa sold for $3.055 million in August, making it Hillsborough County's top sale of the month. [Courtesy of Bredt Cobitz]