Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Politics

Developers of complex that would include Bass Pro Shops lower request for public money

TAMPA — Developers of a major retail complex that would include a Bass Pro Shops are offering to lower the amount of public money they are seeking by about $2 million.

In exchange, the I-75/Palm River Road LLC is seeking permission to build other parts of its Estuary project off Falkenburg Road in eastern Hillsborough County more quickly than it would be able to currently.

The proposal would lessen the amount of public money put into the project — to reimburse the developer for road work — to about $6.25 million.

"Bass Pro isn't receiving any subsidies, incentives or up-front money," said County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan, who confirmed details of the proposal. "It's just a creative way to try to allow the county to reduce its commitment."

Hagan confirmed that if the deal does go forward, developers have tentatively reached agreement with another company that would build a large golf driving range and entertainment complex at the 150-acre Estuary. He identified the operator as TopGolf, founded in London, which operates similar venues in fewer than a dozen locations in England and the United States.

TopGolf centers feature three decks of heated and cooled driving bays. Customers not only can work out kinks in their swing but compete with each other using microchipped golf balls to hit targets, drive the ball farthest or participate in other games.

The business also comes with a restaurant, bar and conference center and plays host for events ranging from business meetings to bachelorette parties.

"This is indicative of the level of interest that Bass Pro can create out there," said Beth Leytham, a spokeswoman for the development group.

A TopGolf spokeswoman said she could not confirm a new site until an agreement is finalized.

Bass Pro has indeed attracted interest, and confirmation of TopGolf as a possible companion to the sporting goods retailer will no doubt draw more.

The megastore has been rumored to be scouting the Tampa Bay region for years. Then early last year, county officials confirmed they were considering a $15 million incentive package to lure Bass Pro to Hillsborough, with much of the money going to the giant retailer.

Bass Pro offers a large line of recreational and outdoor-themed gear, from fishing rods to camouflage bedspreads. Its stores are custom-built, featuring things like stocked indoor fish ponds for customers to see lures demonstrated, restaurants and taxidermy. The proposed 150,000-square-foot store near Westfield Brandon mall would even have bowling lanes.

But small business owners protested their government subsidizing a major new competitor, and the proposal failed to gain traction among commissioners. So developers came back with a lower request, for $8.25 million in reimbursements, if they agreed to widen and extend roads serving the immediate area.

Estuary developers would get the money only after Bass Pro is built, Falkenburg Road is widened and Palm River Road is extended through the Estuary. Still greeted by howls of protest from small business owners, commissioners voted 6-1 in December to delay an up-or-down decision.

Commissioner Al Higginbotham, who has been working with small business owners to gauge if there is a level of public assistance they would support for the Estuary, says he's still hearing skepticism. He's skeptical, too.

"I have hammered on getting the numbers down," he said. "I'm still not there yet."

Local business opponents say the lower amount does little to change their mind.

"Fifty cents would be too much to give to that development," said Tom Mahoney, owner of T.A. Mahoney, a marine accessories company. "If they can't pay for the infrastructure around there they have no business coming to this community to begin with."

Modifications of development agreements in place before the Bass Pro proposal emerged that would speed development of the Estuary are scheduled to go to commissioners for public hearing Feb. 6 and 13. Details of the financial agreement would go to the board Feb. 20.

Hagan said while he appreciates business owners' concerns, the selling points are high. Money would go toward road work that will be needed at some point. The county will make the money back through higher sales and property taxes within four years and turn a $3 million profit annually after that. As many as 3,000 jobs would get created by the Estuary in construction and retail jobs, the county estimates.

"I understand the issues and concerns. They're valid," Hagan said. "I don't know in my time on the board that we've ever had an economic development opportunity like this."

Comments
Focused on Cuba’s future, Rep. Castor skips meeting with Raul Castro

Focused on Cuba’s future, Rep. Castor skips meeting with Raul Castro

TAMPA — One highlight of a congressional delegation’s visit to Cuba this week was an impromptu meeting with President Raul Castro.But not for U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor.The Tampa Democrat joined five other Democrats on the trip, in part to investigate th...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Melania Trump’s parents are legal permanent residents, raising questions on ‘chain migration’

Melania Trump’s parents are legal permanent residents, raising questions on ‘chain migration’

The parents of first lady Melania Trump have become legal permanent residents of the United States and are close to obtaining their citizenship, according to people familiar with their status, but their attorney declined to say how or when the couple...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Alex Trebek will moderate a Republican debate in the Pennsylvania governor’s race

Alex Trebek will moderate a Republican debate in the Pennsylvania governor’s race

We’ll take "surprising side gigs" for $1,000! "Jeopardy" host Alex Trebek will moderate a debate among Republican hopefuls vying for the Pennsylvania gubernatorial nomination.The longtime game show star will be questioning candidates at an Oct. 1 for...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Spring Hill candidate for Congress: ‘I care about this community — I will scream that from the rafters’

Spring Hill candidate for Congress: ‘I care about this community — I will scream that from the rafters’

SPRING HILL — A Hernando County woman new to the political arena has filed as the fifth Democrat to run against longtime Florida lawmaker U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster for his spot in the U.S. House of Representatives.Dana Cottrell, 49, has lived in Sprin...
Updated: 6 hours ago
St. Petersburg regatta to Havana again buffeted by politics

St. Petersburg regatta to Havana again buffeted by politics

The 2017 St. Petersburg-Habana Yacht Race was celebrated as more than a competitive regatta to Cuba’s capital city of Havana.The relaunch of the maritime competition canceled since 1959 was hailed as a reflection of the detente started under former P...
Published: 02/20/18
Special counsel files new charge in Russia probe

Special counsel files new charge in Russia probe

WASHINGTON — The special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election charged an attorney Tuesday with lying to federal investigators about his interactions with a former Trump campaign official. A charging document filed in federa...
Published: 02/20/18
Man featured on ‘Trump Dating’ site has child sex conviction

Man featured on ‘Trump Dating’ site has child sex conviction

GREENSBORO, N.C. — A North Carolina man with a felony conviction for indecent liberties with a child was one-half of the poster couple for a new "Trump Dating" website.News outlets reported Monday that visitors to the dating site geared toward suppor...
Published: 02/20/18
Ex-workers at Russian ‘troll factory’ trust U.S. indictment

Ex-workers at Russian ‘troll factory’ trust U.S. indictment

Associated PressST. PETERSBURG, Russia — While Russian officials scoff at a U.S. indictment charging 13 Russians with meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, several people who worked at the same St. Petersburg, Russia, "troll factory" say t...
Published: 02/19/18
Trump offers support for limited effort on background checks

Trump offers support for limited effort on background checks

Associated PressWEST PALM BEACH — From the confines of his Mar-a-Lago golf club, President Donald Trump offered support Monday for a limited strengthening of federal background checks on gun purchases while staying largely mum in the past few days ab...
Published: 02/19/18
For the weary White House, Florida shooting offered a ‘reprieve’ from scandals

For the weary White House, Florida shooting offered a ‘reprieve’ from scandals

The White House was under siege.Domestic abuse allegations against a senior aide were ignored, pointing to a potential high-level coverup. Two Cabinet secretaries were caught chargin taxpayers for luxury travel. A Playboy centerfold alleged an extram...
Published: 02/19/18