Bass Pro Shops enticement dwindles, but is still on the table
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02/04/13 Janelle Irwin
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On Wednesday Hillsborough County Commissioners will continue their debate over whether or not to use taxpayer dollars to help entice Bass Pro Shops to Brandon. An amended proposal by the county would set aside more than $6 million for road improvements and expansion around the proposed site.

That number is down $2 million from December, but Tom Mahoney, owner of Mahoney’s boat repair and tackle shop said local sporting goods businesses are still wary of subsidizing a large corporation.

“The whole deal of giving a competitor money to come to the area to put a financial strain on existing businesses that are already there is totally preposterous.”

The $6.25 million on the table wouldn’t go directly to Bass Pro Shops though. Instead land developers would be reimbursed for road improvements around the proposed retail site. That would include adding lanes to Falkenburg Road, extending Palm River Road and putting in more traffic signals. All this because a study estimated the county could make as much as $3 million a year.

“That piece of land where we want to develop currently generates $750 of annual property tax revenue – less than $1,000.”

That’s Hillsborough County Commission chair Ken Hagan. He said this is the best economic development opportunity he’s seen in ten years.

“If we’re unable to reach an agreement with the developer that allows Bass to come here, they’ll still come to the community but they’ll be in the Wiregrass mall area up in Pasco County.”

Part of the revenue estimates stem from expectations that Bass Pro Shops are destination stores that boost tourism. But Mahoney, a self-proclaimed bass finishing fanatic, said the fishing mega store no longer draws that kind of clientele.

“Well that held up for ten, 15, even 20 stores throughout this country and then the pilgrimage pretty much started to taper off. Now with – I think they’ve got 88 locations – that pilgrimage is done.”

Commissioner Kevin Beckner said he wouldn’t mind Bass Pro setting up shop in the community.

“However my concern is providing taxpayer subsidies to pay for their presence.”

Even though there won’t be a vote until later in the month, Beckner said he would not support the proposal as-is.

“Without a policy in place that would give other businesses an opportunity to compete for tax dollars, I would not be in favor of that. And again, I have not seen any proposals put forward that would establish a policy on how and when the county would give subsidies for private enterprises.”

That’s been the complaint among local business who will be affected by a Bass Pro Shop opening. Vince Scanio owns Southeastern Fishing Tackle Liquidators in Tampa. He said he was told during a meeting last month with representatives from Bass Pro Shops that the company would actually help local businesses. Scanio doesn’t see how that’s possible.

“There’s only so many dollars that are going to be spent in this area on fishing tackle. They come in, they’re going to get their share and probably more because they’re so large and people are going to go in awe just to see their place. So, that’s dollars that won’t be spent in my place and other places like ours.”

According to an analysis by Urban Development and Mobility Solutions for Hillsborough County, the entire project, including Bass Pro, a hotel and construction, will create more than 3,000 jobs. The local store owner Mahoney is leading a charge with other business owners in the area to oppose the county’s plan. He said he doesn’t buy those numbers.

“And then if you look at the quality of jobs, if you look at retail trade and I’m in the retail trade – I have ten full time employees and I pay pretty decent wages too – but the big, mass merchandisers – the vast majority of their wages are low and their benefits are non-existent because these are part time employees.”

There’s also speculation that a high-end golf facility will open in the development. London-based TopGolf has a handful of large driving ranges across the country and in England that are heated and cooled and let golfers compete against one another with micro-chipped golf balls. A spokesperson for TopGolf wouldn’t confirm those plans until a deal was signed with the county, but hinted that Florida is being considered. That interest is being used as an example of the kind of business that can be attracted by Bass Pro Shops, but commissioner Hagan said the county is still not going to give them a direct subsidy.

“In some communities Bass has received upwards of $80 million. Here, we’ve held the line. We’ve refused to give them any incentives, any subsidies, any upfront money – again, they’re not getting a dime.”

Hagan has also worked out a plan to have Bass Pro Shops contribute to the county’s Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program, or ELAPP.

“I’ve got an agreement with them that I believe they’ve signed by now committing them to $100,000 annually into our ELAPP program which will allow us to either purchase more environmentally sensitive lands and/or provide access to our – to many of our 60,000 acres of land that we do not have the funding to restore or allow access.”

Hillsborough County Commissioners meet on Wednesday at 2 p.m. to discuss the issue. The public can speak on the matter at the beginning of the meeting at 9 a.m. or during the afternoon discussion. According to Hagan they’ll go into more depth on the plan at their meeting on February 20.

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