Thursday, November 23, 2017
News Roundup

Hillsborough County dangles a new hook in front of Bass Pro Shops

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TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan is hoping to finally land his trophy fish.

Commissioners will consider on Wednesday a new, scaled-down $8.25 million incentive package to land a Bass Pro Shops mega recreational store in Brandon.

This time, rather than pay Bass Pro for the privilege of its presence, the money would go strictly to the developer to pay for road work in the area to support the store, surrounding shops and offices, and a hotel. No money would go to Bass Pro.

Hagan says the development will pay for itself within five years, then add $2.6 million annually in increased sales, property and tourism taxes starting in 2019. And a consultant has estimated it will create nearly 3,300 jobs, more than half of them part-time construction jobs through the next five years with the rest being permanent retail and other jobs.

Bass Pro is expected to open in May 2014, provided commissioners sign off on the deal. Hagan says the incentive package is far less generous than ones other cities have dangled at Bass that have reached to the tens of millions of dollars, not to mention one offered by Hillsborough earlier this year.

"For starters, we're not giving Bass a dime," said Hagan, who has taken on luring the store chain as a pet cause. "So it's a dramatically different proposal than what was initially considered."

Hagan said he is personally negotiating further with Bass Pro officials to get the company to contribute to the county's Environmental Lands Acquisition and Preservation Program, possibly to help open lands bought for posterity as passive recreation sites. Without that part of the agreement, he said he won't support the project.

Bass Pro, a minimall for outdoor enthusiasts, has been rumored to be eyeing the region for a store location for years. Early this year came word that the county was actively negotiating with the company on an incentive package that came to $15 million in subsidies, including direct payments to Bass Pro.

Local retailers from bait shop owners to those operating shooting ranges and boat stores protested, and other commissioners generally expressed skepticism. Bass Pro withdrew from talks.

It's not clear how commissioners will view the modified proposal, as they were given details late Friday.

"I'm going into it with eyes wide open," said Commissioner Al Higginbotham, a customer of the Bass Pro store in Orlando who has nevertheless been a skeptic of subsidizing the development of one in Hillsborough. "There's concern over whether we should be doing this for retail. I don't know how we're going to justify this to small businesses who will be harmed by this business coming here."

County engineer Mike Williams said this time there are no special inducements to Bass Pro, beyond the road work that the county was planning at some date in the future.

"They're no special tax relief or credits or any of that for this project," Williams said.

The overall development is known as the Estuary. It is on the west side of Interstate 75, across from Westfield Brandon mall, and bordered by Falkenburg Road and the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.

Money from the county would go to developer I-75/Palm River Road LLC for extending Palm River Road south through the property to Falkenburg, widening Falkenburg near the development to six lanes and adding a traffic signal. The money would be paid after Bass Pro receives a certificate of occupancy.

The overall Estuary project would include:

• A 150,000-square-foot Bass Pro store;

• an 89,600-square-foot hotel;

• other unspecified stores and restaurants totaling just more than 240,000 square feet, plus another 30,000 square feet for offices; and

• 60,000 square feet for unspecified entertainment uses.

As part of a county analysis, the developer has indicated that there may be other so-called destination retailers that draw tourists beyond Bass Pro included in the project. Developer representative Vin Marchetti, with the Greenberg Traurig law firm, said his clients have a contract firmed up with Bass Pro.

"The next critical step is the County Commission approval," Marchetti said. "From that point forward, it will essentially be permitting and on to construction. I'm hoping some day I can shop in the store in Brandon, which is where I live."

Bill Varian can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3387.

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