An $18 million plan to bring an elaborate sporting goods retailer to Atlantic City will officially start construction next month.

On Monday, Bass Pro Shops received final site plan approval and land use variances needed for the project to move forward. The construction, however, means that a new home will be needed for a 55-year-old monument to Christopher Columbus in the city's Italian-American Ducktown neighborhood.

Bass Pro and developer Cordish Co. have a lease agreement in place for the store, and an agreement between the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and Cordish has been signed, officials said Monday

"This is a very important development for Atlantic City," CRDA Executive Director John Palmieri said, adding that the site's prominent location and the dedicated following the store has are expected to be significant for the resort.

Plans to construct an 86,000-square-foot store on Atlantic Avenue across from the city's popular outlet development were announced more than a year ago. The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority has backed the project with $12.3 million and agreed to provide an $11 million tax abatement.

Movement later slowed, however, stirring rumors that the store might not be built. On Monday, however, CRDA spokeswoman Kim Butler said a groundbreaking is expected on Oct. 1.

Meanwhile, it's no secret that the site is ready for development. The location bordered by Missouri, Atlantic, Mississippi and Arctic avenues has been fenced off. A parking lot that was run by the South Jersey Transportation Authority has been shut down as bulldozers prepare the land for future construction.

Several trucks were inside the fence Monday moving around large mounds of dirt in what officials said was early site preparation. A sign stands in front of the construction area announcing that Bass Pro Shops is coming to the resort.

Still, some details have yet to be worked out.

Much of the land being used for the project was either a parking lot or vacant. However, the construction has also meant the end of Columbus Plaza, the landscaped area on Missouri Avenue where a 17-foot marble statue of Christopher Columbus has stood.

The park has been dismantled, but where Columbus will journey to next has not yet been decided, Butler said. For now, the statue stands cordoned off by orange fencing amid the construction site in the city's Ducktown neighborhood.

The statue stood at the corner of Arctic and Missouri avenues from 1958 until 1996 when Columbus made a brief sojourn to the All Wars Memorial Park on Albany Avenue while the CRDA completed road work.

Columbus wasn't well received at his new location at the time, as veterans complained the explorer hadn't been killed in an American conflict. The statue was returned to its current location in 1998 where it has remained.

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