Monday, May 28, 2018
News Roundup

Hillsborough commissioners postpone decision on road subsidy for Bass Pro Shops

TAMPA — Bass Pro Shops will have to wait a little bit longer before getting a shot at landing a new store in Brandon.

After a lengthy and contentious discussion, Hillsborough County commissioners voted 6-1 late Wednesday afternoon to postpone until Feb. 6 the issue of $8.25 million for road improvements at a development anchored by the outdoors retailer. Commissioner Mark Sharpe voted against revisiting the plan.

Earlier Wednesday, a couple dozen owners and employees of some sporting goods and other local businesses urged commissioners to reject the roads package.

"The last thing we need is a giant mass merchandiser taking what little business we have," said Thomas Mahoney, owner of T.A. Mahoney, a marine accessories company that operates just a few miles from the proposed Bass Pro site.

Many of the speakers told commissioners that it was particularly galling to them that their government was considering using tax dollars to subsidize a competing out-of-town business.

"I believe the board will be choosing sides — them against us," said Jon Reinke, a Valrico resident and owner of Outcast Watersports near Brandon.

Jeff Boje, whose family owns bowling alleys in Brandon and Riverview, said the Brandon site has been operating for more than 30 years. He noted that at the newer bowling alley in Riverview, his family's company had to build an access road at its own expense. The only thing asked for was a traffic signal at the new intersection and that was turned down, he added.

The two bowling alleys employ 200 people, he said.

Boje also expressed concern about Bass Pro Shops' plan for 16 new bowling lanes at a time when league bowling, which used to sustain businesses like the Bojes', has sharply declined.

"I welcome competition," Boje said, "but I welcome it on an even and fair playing field."

Representatives of the Estuary development and Bass Pro Shops were also present Wednesday morning.

Martin Mac Donald, Bass Pro Shops' director of conservation, approached Boje and his family to assure them that the retailer isn't looking to put them out of business. The inclusion of bowling lanes at other Bass Pro Shops has actually prompted more interest in the sport, he said, and he expects that to spill over to other bowling lane operators.

"It's really opening a new interest in bowling," he said of Bass Pro Shops' recent inclusion of lanes at its stores. "We think it's having a positive effect."

Others had different reasons for opposing the subsidy.

Joel Lopez, a self-described technologist from Wesley Chapel, said subsidizing retail development sends a terrible message to people in the technology field who are considering places to start new businesses.

"You're saying we're a backwater and we relish being a backwater," he said.

Two of the 16 people who addressed commissioners spoke in favor of the project and the jobs it will create.

Frank Ripa of Ripa & Associates, a site development company, said the 1,700 construction jobs that the project is expected to create in the next five years are badly needed.

"The construction industry has been hit very hard. This is a major, significant and exciting project," he said.

Commissioners were expected to discuss and vote on the incentive package at 2:45 p.m. Wednesday.

The Estuary site is on the west side of Interstate 75, across from Westfield Brandon mall, and borders 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 proposed development includes a 150,000-square-foot Bass Pro store, an 89,600-square-foot hotel, other unspecified stores and restaurants totaling just over 240,000 square feet, 30,000 square feet of offices, and 60,000 square feet for unspecified entertainment uses.

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