Residents and small business owners ask Hillsborough County not to dole out subsidies to lure Bass Pro
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02/06/13 Janelle Irwin
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Hillsborough County Commissioners weighed whether to spend more than $6 million dollars to Bass Pro Shops. During public comment today at the commission’s meeting, 14 community residents and small business owners opposed the measure. William Place owns Ace Golf. He called the county’s proposal corporate welfare.

“Currently we employ, in five businesses, 170 people. In twenty years we paid millions of dollars in sales [and] property taxes. Should the county give me a public tax gift for this? I would say no.”

The addition of Bass Pro is something supporters claim will draw tourists to the area and create thousands of jobs for local residents. It’s the brain child of Hillsborough County Commission chair, Ken Hagan who has called it the best deal to come around in ten years.

Part of the reason he has stars in his eyes over the Bass Pro prospect is that he expects it to also attract other revenue-breeding businesses. One of those could be TopGolf, a premiere driving range facility that caters to high end clientele. According to Ace Golf co-owners Place and his wife Sue Lee, that would directly impact their business.

“It’s not a manufacturing plant, it’s not a call center, it’s not a research or biotech facility that does not compete with local businesses, it’s retail and huge amounts of it.”

And they aren’t alone. Eleven people spoke against the proposal this morning, with several more waiting to speak at the end of the meeting. Tom Mahoney, owner of a tackle and boat repair shop near the proposed Bass Pro site in Brandon has been a vocal opponent of the measure.

“I understand the developer is getting the money, not Bass Pro Shop, but the developer should be able to sell or lease the property he is developing in order to cover costs and make a profit. If he can’t do that, why has he agreed to do the job? Should we reimburse or subsidize every developer in the county that can’t make a profit?"

The plan would extend Palm River Road to provide better access to the retail center once it’s built. Commissioners have reminded opponents of the measure that the expenditure would not go directly to Bass Pro, but instead to developers. That argument has done little to quell their discomfort though. During public comment, former Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena said the county should be focusing on improving roads that would improve traffic congestion.

“You know that the list of long range plans is from here to eternity and the price tag associated with all of the transportation improvements needed to bring our transportation system up to snuff is in the billions. The proposed Bass Pro Shops development will be on a road that isn’t even identified – is not even listed on the long range plan.”

Commissioners Ken Hagan, Al Higginbotham and Mark Sharpe all said they would support the proposal with the others being less committal. Still, the matter seems likely to be approved by commissioners. Sharpe said he was concerned about public input that criticized the effort as being unfair to local businesses.

Other opponents argue that it’s a risky investment for the county. A study done by a private firm last year estimated the entire project would create some 3,000 jobs and eventually yield more than $3 million in annual revenue for the county. But several critics, including Elizabeth Garcia don’t think that’s likely to pan out.

“The state of Florida and Tampa Bay economics were crushed over the past five years due to reliance on real estate. Did we learn nothing?”

No action was taken today. Commissioners will look at the issue again at their meeting on February 20. The $6.5 million price tag is down $2 million from previous proposals and commissioners are still looking at ways to drive that cost down even further.



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