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Potential TopGolf location helped by Bass Pro Shops subsidy

London-based TopGolf, which offers a driving range with an array of golf-oriented games and a bar and restaurant, is looking at Tampa Bay area sites.
London-based TopGolf, which offers a driving range with an array of golf-oriented games and a bar and restaurant, is looking at Tampa Bay area sites.
Published Feb. 27, 2013

BRANDON

Bill Place opened Ace Golf driving range in Brandon about 20 years ago. He expanded to Riverview 10 years later, and runs a golf course in Tampa, too.

He saw a need for recreation in Brandon, and grew his business a little at a time.

"We couldn't do everything all at once, so we added mini golf, then we added additional batting cages," he said.

He's not worried about a little competition, as long as its on an even playing field. So the prospect of a TopGolf — a sports entertainment complex featuring a high-tech driving range, bar and restaurant — concerns him.

A vote last week by the Hillsborough County Commission to approve a $6.25 million subsidy for road improvements to the Estuary shopping complex across from the Westfield Brandon mall to bring a Bass Pro Shops to the area is expected to lure other large retailers to the area as well.

The board voted 6-1 in favor of the plan, with Commissioner Kevin Beckner casting the no vote.

No money will go directly to Bass Pro. It will fund work mainly on interior roads providing access to the property, which developers typically pay for themselves.

The London-based TopGolf, which has locations in Texas, Virginia and Illinois, is looking at potential locations in the bay area.

Brandon is one possibility, though Adrienne Browne, a spokesperson for TopGolf, said the company does not have any confirmed locations planned in Florida.

The company is considering Tampa Bay, she said, adding that TopGolf looks for potential locations in all major cities with a strong sports and entertainment presence.

Place's Ace Golf in Brandon has done well, he said, but the Riverview location has been more marginal because of slower development in that area.

"We've built the business up and the Riverview one is still going to take a while, until that area develops a little more out there and the road gets finished," he said.

The road improvements in Brandon and Bass Pro's track record of success in its other locations are expected to make it an anchor for other large retailers like TopGolf.

Place is worried about what it would do to his Riverview location if the company came here.

"It could marginalize that location enough perhaps that it wouldn't make sense," he said.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner shares these concerns. He said that while he is in favor of Bass Pro coming here and drawing other retailers to the area, he believes they need to invest in their own infrastructure.

"It creates an unlevel playing field," Beckner said. "There are no policies; there are no procedures in place. What we have opened the door for is in essence creating an unfair business practice. It really puts at risk some of these small business owners who have invested their hard earned capital."

Commissioner Al Higginbotham, noting that TopGolf is "something that may or may not happen" and the company is "not limited to this particular location," said that if the company does open in the area, he doesn't think it will be competition for driving ranges like Place's because they target "totally different markets."

Place and Higginbotham both called Ace Golf more "family oriented." It offers a driving range, miniature golf and batting cages, but doesn't have a bar or restaurant.

The Ace Golf driving ranges offer buckets from $4 for 34 balls to $14.25 for 170 balls, with $1 club rentals. TopGolf pricing differs by location, and offers some cheaper options, but several locations also have a $150 per month family membership option and $250 per month corporate membership option.

"It's a very different type of facility," Higginbotham said. "That's a very expensive clientele."

Browne said TopGolf is a "unique community entertainment center" that "appeals to all ages."

"The TopGolf concept is so unique that we don't see a lot of competition," she said. "It's not really that we're taking away from anything in the community."

TopGolf has an economic impact of $50 million over 10 years, Browne said, and creates about 300 jobs at each new facility, 100 of which are full time. It's a tourist attraction that brings more people not just to TopGolf but then to other businesses in the area, as well, she said. She also said that the company is "committed to being a good neighborhood partner," and often supports community groups and organizations like local schools.

That's another concern Place has about the large retailers Bass Pro is expected to attract. He said his business gives out about 150,000 passes each year to community groups like schools, churches and charities for fundraisers. He said he approached other businesses in the area about opposing the board vote, but none of the store owners wanted to get involved.

"The more we get marginalized by all these national chains, you get less of the local businesses and I think as a result the community suffers a little bit," Place said. "They are not going to get as involved in the local community."

Keeley Sheehan can be reached at ksheehan@tampabay.com.

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