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Taxpayer subsidies for Bass Pro Shops?

Proponents say Bass Pro draws tourists. Opponents say it’s unfair competition! That frames an ongoing debate in Tampa, Fla. over the possible location of a Bass Pro Shops store in the area.

According to reports in the Tampa Tribune, Hillsborough County is entertaining a proposal to give $15 million worth of incentives to attract a Bass Pro retail store to the Brandon area east of Tampa. But, as one might expect, not everyone thinks the idea is a good one! Indeed, there’s a vocal group of other outdoor and boating store owners who are blasting what the county is proposing, labeling it nothing more than creating an unfair and uneven playing field, and using taxpayer money to do it.

This is not your run-of-the mill controversy. For one thing, economic development money is traditionally used as an inducement to major industries, notably manufacturing, medical or research, which can boast of bringing in large numbers of good-paying jobs. Bass Pro doesn’t meet such criteria, opponents point out.

But Tribune writer Mike Salinero reported Bass Pro has impressed the county with its claim that it actually helps other retailers. Bass Pro says its new stores bring new shoppers into an area from up to 100 miles away. When Bass Pro doesn’t have a particular product, these visitors will shop other stores.

“The county didn’t help us when, a few years ago, we fought to reopen a defunct Boaters World as a Boaters Choice store,” says Charlie Wynperle. He managed Boaters World stores for 13 years. When the chain tanked, he struggled to raise capital to rebrand and reopen the store. But he did it successfully, without any taxpayer money, he emphatically pointed out. His Boaters Choice store, however, will be only minutes from the proposed Bass Pro – thus setting the stage for cannibalizing Wynperle’s customer base.

The big carrot for the county is the promise the nearly 150,000 square-foot Bass Pro Shop will anchor a 21-acre development said to include about one-half million square feet more retail space, a hotel, office space and generate more than 1,500 temporary construction jobs. That’s a tough scenario for comparatively small retailers like Wynperle to go up against. Or is it?

Salinero uncovered a report done last year by Andrew Stecker and Kevin Connor of the Public Accounting Initiative in Buffalo, N.Y., titled, “Fishing for Taxpayer Cash.” In it, they question whether the economic impact touted by Bass Pro is more spin than fact.

Stecker and Connor cite, for example, a taxpayer-subsidized Bass Pro in Harrisburg, Penn., that’s still struggling to attract tenants to the mall it anchors, resulting in lawsuits, stalled renovations and increasing stigma. Moreover, Bass Pro initially claimed the store would hire 300 to 400 employees but the authors found only 101 had materialized three years after opening. Similarly, in Mesa, Ariz., another development anchored by a Bass Pro has been described as a “ghost town.” It even spurred the state legislature there to pass a ban on retail subsidies. And, a Bass Pro-anchored mall in Cincinnati remains 65 percent empty, the report continued.

Finally, Wynperle’s concern about taxpayer-funded inequities isn’t just blowing smoke, according to Stecker and Connor. In the Mesa development, for example, the promise of drawing in new business hasn’t happened. In fact, most tenants who moved in were just local relocations, thus the promised increase in tax revenue for the community hasn’t materialized.

There are many positives to Bass Pro Shops, of course. The stores are startling with attractions like fishing lakes, seminar programs and the like. And the range of products carried is clearly beyond the capability of smaller retailers like Wynperle. So a Bass Pro Shop in any area could be considered a plus in a market.

The real question, then, is not whether a Bass Pro Shop is desirable. It is. Rather, is it right to favor it with multi-million dollar taxpayer subsidies, or should it, like nearly all other businesses, put up its own capital and compete in the market like everyone else?


10 comments on “Taxpayer subsidies for Bass Pro Shops?

  1. Doug Reimel

    Hello! is anybody listening.
    Here in Michigan our esteamed previous leadership gave away all the infrustructure to Bass Pro Shop’s as well as Cabela’s. The roughly $70,000,000 per location in infrustructure and Tax incentives was an indirect GIFT from you and I who Pay taxes. Just think we get to subsidize our own competition and we are never even given a THANK YOU. So if the State can Subsidize them, the State should give gifts to each and every Marine Dealer to compete. Then the Manufacturers would fall all over you and I in our stores and the manufacturers would pay for shelf space in our stores just like they do in B. P. S. & Cabela’s.
    Government Wisdom???!!!

  2. Larry Thornhill

    I love the idea of a Bass Pro Shop coming to the Brandon area. I live in Valrico and it would be a lot more convenient then driving to Orlando. What I am opposed to is using my tax dollars to making Johnny Morris richer. I see no way this will help my tax burden. Why should the working class help pay for making the rich richer, we did that with the Glazier’s and the Buc’s and you see what that got us!

  3. john ennis

    Private business should stand on its own financial feet and not be given taxpayer dollars. Bass Pro will do little but kill the mom and pop operations catering to the Tampa Bay area and do so in part by using the gift of local tax dollars some of which were collected from the mom and pops.

  4. Dale

    Bass Pro has been the recipient of a huge amount of money from Missouri taxpayers to build the World of Wildlife next to Bass Pro Shop in Springfield, MO It amount to nothing more than a taxpayer funded draw to pull in even more business to BPS.

    Please, no more corporate welfare. A business should stand or fall on its own, there is no need to fund the demise of existing business by subsidizing an already successful business.

  5. Bill Martz

    What, Bass Pro doesn’t want to build without the subsidies? I don’t think so, if the market can support the store, they will build one. Can’t blame for Bass Pro for working the weak leadership.

  6. Bill, Sr

    Broken promises here in Hanvoer County, Va. should demonstrate that promises will be broken in Fl. B.P.S are not beneficial to a local marine area. They suck away sales of accessories and parts from existing corporate taxpayers. And the service departments are perceived to be better but, in reality, they are glorified “rigging shops”(we have had to go behind the local B.P.S service dept. more than once) Johnny Morris stated in a Tracker Meeting that he would sell his boats without the benefit of a dealer network. This policy should prove to the gullible politicians that he intends to shrink the choices in whatever area in which he is allowed. The to local, gullibe politicians who fund his dream at the expense of current marine commerce.
    There is only one reason for B.P.S and that is if a man wants to have his boxer shorts color coordinated with his wike’s bra and panties

  7. C. Moore

    The answer of course is NO!!
    It is not right or fair, to provide an incentive to any company large or small, that will be competing with local businesses in the same fields if those same incentives are not provided to the locals no matter what size they are.
    It is the local residents who are going to pay these incentives or be denied the benifits from lost tax dollars.
    Any representative that goes agianst the local constituants should resign or at least run out of office for stabing the local businesses & residences in the back.
    Though we see this in Fl. all the time.

  8. Arch

    NO! I really have nothing to add that hasn’t been said. This is a NO BRAINER. If the local gov’t gives them the money, the entire industry should rally together to have them fired. We need to stop with all the subsidies, incentives, etc.

  9. Wally

    Here is another example of discrimination against small retailers. We can’t even come close to securing local government funds to expand, let alone a federal SBA loan. I would guess BPS horsepower starts in Washington with lobbyist’s and trickles down to their local area cronies. It’s time to come together and do whatever it takes to slay Goliath.

  10. TC

    This is a joke and I agree with every response that everyone has put up here , this is a joke and I don’t see what the gov’t is going for … they gave the bass pro near me 36 Mil to get rolling … Our business has had quite a few family members live and die at our shop to make it what it is … then the gov’t gives a donation that large for a “tourist site” …. I’d love to see a gov’t worker come work with me for a week…. his tears would be worth his weight in gold

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