Some towns have used publicly funded subsidies to attract Bass Pro Shops’ sprawling sporting goods stores, which feature archery ranges, waterfalls, and restaurants serving venison-stuffed mushrooms and hand-breaded alligator.
In Atlantic City, the use of public money is also on table in a bid to bring the Springfield, Mo.-based outdoor-themed retailer to a high-profile location on The Walk. A proposed 70,000-square-foot store — the developers’ entire fourth phase — would be on the 58-store chain’s smaller side, since it maintains properties three times larger.
The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority is negotiating with Baltimore-based Cordish Co., which has development rights for the fourth phase of The Walk. Officials are also discussing a tax-abatement plan that would bring $11 million over 11 years to Cordish, as well as potentially providing $12 million in construction costs for the two-story store.
CRDA Deputy Executive Director Susan Ney Thompson wrote in an email Wednesday that economic incentives are essential to attracting developers and tenants, including the creation of The Walk itself.
“The proposed use of sales tax rebates to Cordish have allowed them to attract the interest of the No. 1 outdoor retailer to come to Atlantic City,” she said.
Bass Pro Shops spokesman Larry Whiteley said he would not discuss the terms of the deal between his company and Cordish.
“They’ll be our landlord, and we’ll be their tenant. The terms of that are confidential between us,” he said.
As a private company, Bass Pro Shops does not disclose its finances. But, Whiteley said, “We’re investing a lot of our money in this because we believe in Atlantic City and this specific location. We’re right there coming into Atlantic City.”
Bass’ proposed location in The Walk would put it among what are often referred to as outlet stores. Whiteley said Bass did not plan an outlet store for Atlantic City.
The closest Bass Pro Shops are in central Pennsylvania and Maryland, although the company has focused on New Jersey in the past year. Last year, the company announced plans to open a 200,000-square-foot location in Sayreville, Middlesex County.
Whiteley said that plan is still intact, but he said the two proposed New Jersey stores — separated by about a two-hour drive — would not compete and that one has no bearing on the other.
In terms of store design and layout, Bass Pro Shops is similar to Cabela’s — another fishing, hunting and outdoor gear chain.
This week, Cabela’s, whose closest store is in Hamburg, Pa., announced plans for a 110,000-square foot store in Christiana, Del.
The company says its unique outdoor-themed stores have their own tourism appeal and job-creation benefits.
“They get a lot of incentives to bring their stores to certain cities,” said Dennis Cantalupo, chief operating officer with Creditntell, a retail consulting firm based in Great Neck, N.Y. “It’s more like a destination store that makes it such an attraction.”
Hillsborough County, Fla., offered $15 million in incentives to bring a Bass Pro store there, the Tampa Tribune reported in July. A proposal to bring a store to Kingsport, Tenn., fell through when the city could not come up with $25 million in incentives requested, the Kingsport Times News reported this month.
In some locations, Bass Pro Shops has been criticized for the economic incentives used to bring the company to specific areas.
Kevin Connor, director of the Public Accountability Initiative, a nonprofit watchdog group based in Buffalo, said Bass Pro was involved in a nearly decade long proposal to bring a store to Buffalo that eventually fell through. The proposal would have used millions of state economic development dollars, he said.
“It’s part of their business model to seek tax incentives and subsidies to build their stores,” Connor said. “Even if there’s no stores for hundreds of miles around, it’s still retail and there are going to be times when there are a lot of shoppers in big retail stores. And a big-box retail store like Bass Pro doesn’t provide the kind of consistent daily draw in the way they sort of suggest.”
Whiteley said the company’s track record speaks for itself.
“All our stores are profitable. We’ve never closed a store,” he said. “We’re extremely proud of our record as a company in generating sales tax revenues, and creating jobs and tourism in communities we’re located in.”
Cantalupo said retailers such as Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, which cut back expansion plans in the wake of recession, are finding attractive real estate spaces available after the downturn.
Both have shown signs of aggressive expansion.
Cabela’s, a publicly owned company with 38 stores, plans to open two stores this year and seven in 2013, the company said.
Bass Pro Shops has announced plans for six new stores in the past few months, including the one in Atlantic City, Whiteley said.
Despite being new to New Jersey, Bass Pro Shops has had ties to the region.
The company was a longtime NASCAR sponsor of Stafford Township native Martin Truex Jr., who drove his No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet before he moved from Earnhardt Ganassi Racing to Michael Waltrip Racing.
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