Friday, December 15, 2017
News Roundup

Incentive-laden deal for Bass Pro Shops store in Brandon dead – for now

TAMPA — A proposal to land a major sporting goods chain with millions of dollars in tax incentives is dead for now.

Bass Pro Shops has told developers of the Estuary commercial complex in Brandon that it is ending negotiations with them over the prospective construction project.

"Both you and Bass Pro Shops have negotiated in good faith, but we cannot reach agreement on essential terms and conditions," Bass Pro vice president and general counsel Larry K. Wilcher told developer David Verardo in a letter the retailer shared with Hillsborough County officials.

The company has expressed an interest in looking for other Hillsborough locations, county Administrator Mike Merrill said.

But a location change would mean the $15 million in proposed tax incentives would likely need to be reworked, county chief financial administrator Bonnie Wise said. That would potentially cloak terms of any new negotiations in secrecy until, and if, a deal is reached.

"We're not working on any other sites right now," Wise said. "I think every site has to be looked at uniquely."

A representative for the developer's company, Verardo Investors LLC, and the land owner expressed hope that a deal for construction at the Estuary could still be reached.

"The letter received by my client was interpreted to mean that the terms of the proposed deal as the client suggested were not acceptable to Bass Pro," said Vin Marchetti, a Tampa-based attorney. "But it would not prevent other terms from being proposed in the future."

He agreed with Wise's assessment that talks about any government incentive package for another location would likely need to start from scratch. He estimated it could take at least a year of new negotiations.

The county also paid $21,344 to an independent consulting firm, Urban Development and Mobility Solutions, to help with bargaining of the proposed incentive package.

Much of the incentive for the Estuary — about $8 million — would have gone to pay for road work around the development. Much of the rest was tied to Bass Pro reaching certain sales thresholds, including a significant portion of spending by out-of-town shoppers.

The Estuary development site is on the west side of Interstate 75, across from the Westfield Brandon mall between Falkenburg Road and the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway. Plans called for a Bass Pro Shops store of at least 145,000 square feet, another nearly half-million square feet of other shopping and a hotel.

Bass Pro had been rumored for years to be scouting for locations throughout the Tampa Bay region. About two years ago, County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan said he was working with the company to build a store in Tampa.

Hagan said incentives would be merited because a Bass Pro Shops store would lure shoppers from outside the immediate area. It would serve, in effect, as a tourist draw, he contended.

Negotiations proceeded in secret under state laws that shield business incentive discussions until they are finalized. But the shield comes off after two years of negotiations, which happened in March, and county officials disclosed the details.

Bass Pro's letter to the developers was dated almost the same day, March 12, but did not become public until last week.

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

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