Bass Pro Shops coming to Washington County?
Just read in the Observer-Reporter that Bass Pro Shops may still be coming to Washington County. It is still up in the air because a town in West Virginia is trying to pull them in. Would be great for PA and will bring much needed jobs to the area.
Bass Pro being discussed here and in W.Va.
Washington County hasn’t landed the big one, but its line remains in the water.
A Bass Pro Shops megastore still may be built in South Strabane Township, nine years after the possibility became public. Hopes among outdoors enthusiasts have been reeling, but state Sen. Tim Solobay insists that the prospect is alive.
Solobay, D-Canonsburg, said recently that Falconi Enterprises of Washington has been working with a Pittsburgh engineering firm and a land development company on ways it could develop land Falconi owns adjacent to the Tanger Outlets property.
Anthony Marinelli, director of finance for Falconi Enterprises, could not be reached for comment. Solobay, however, said Falconi continues to have “very strong conversations with Bass Pro” about the site.
So locals who are into fishing, hunting, camping and boating should take heart. Bass Pro hasn’t gone belly up here.
But in some ways, drawing the massive retailer to the county is akin to swimming upstream. The building of sufficient infrastructure is a major endeavor, for a company and local region, that requires careful planning, spending and attention to legal details.
A retailer also may be reluctant to locate near a corporate competitor. Cabela’s, another outdoors giant, is a mere 25 miles west of Washington, outside Wheeling, W.Va.
There is municipal competition, as well. Bridgeport, W.Va., a little more than an hour south of Washington, is angling vigorously for Bass Pro to be an anchor in its Charles Pointe mixed-use community.
“This would be a tremendous economic boost to our area,” said Bridgeport Mayor James R. Christie.
Bass Pro continues to get a lot of Washington County love. But will it reciprocate?
In expansion mode
Billionaire John L. Morris owns Bass Pro, a privately held company based in Springfield, Mo., whose estimated worth is at least $2.6 billion. It has 55 stores in 26 states and two in Canada, and plans to open eight in the U.S. this year and 10 more over the following two years.
“We are on a very aggressive expansion,” said Katie Mitchell, communications specialist for Bass Pro.
The firm’s stores are mostly large, typically 150,000 to 180,000 square feet, although Mitchell said the company is building some smaller “outpost stores” that are 50,000 to 80,000 square feet.
Stores range from 30,000 square feet in the Florida Keys to 333,000 square feet in Springfield, including the headquarters.
Despite being a large state renowned for its outdoors opportunities, Pennsylvania has one Bass Pro store – in Harrisburg. That’s more than West Virginia, which truly is wild and wonderful for outdoors aficionados.
None of the 18 stores targeted for the U.S. through 2015 is planned in these two states. “This is the office where announcements go out, and nothing has come across my desk (about Pennsylvania),” Mitchell said.
She said that could change, though. “Because this is an aggressive expansion, we’re not going to rule out any site.”
That means South Strabane still could end up on the firm’s map at some point. Where it once was.
“I know we tried to locate in Pittsburgh several years back,” Mitchell said. “I’m not sure what happened with that deal, but I’ve gotten no indication of anything happening there.”
Then a state representative, Solobay announced in July 2004 that Gov. Ed Rendell had a “handshake agreement” with Bass Pro that it would build three megastores in the state, including one near Tanger, then called Victory Center.
Then-state Sen. Barry Stout said at that time that Rendell had offered $25 million to Bass Pro to build three stores in the commonwealth.
The plans didn’t work. Only the Harrisburg site was developed.
Bass Pro made a presentation in Washington County in 2005, requesting tax-increment financing for infrastructure improvements. The request was part of a TIF request for Victory Center that also included Tanger Outlets, which eventually broke ground in July 2007 and opened Labor Day weekend 2008.
The TIF was opposed by a group of citizens who filed a succession of lawsuits over a three-year period, only to be denied by the state Supreme Court.
In the aftermath of the court decision, a Neighborhood Improvement District Management Association was formed, requiring Bass Pro and Tanger to levy an assessment on themselves to pay for the infrastructure improvements, which were completed under the TIF plan.
While Tanger paid its assessment, the NID’s management association never received a response from Bass Pro about its plans to build in the township.
In 2010, despite a depressed national economy, a Bass Pro spokesman told the Observer-Reporter it was still planning to open a store in Washington County.
In the interim, construction began on a cloverleaf interchange for the Meadow Lands exit of Interstate 79. The interchange is partly open and will be completed this summer.
A part of PennDOT’s long-term plans for some time, it was built to alleviate congestion in the busy Racetrack Road area. The exit also would benefit commuters to the proposed Bass Pro site.
For all of its appeal, Bass Pro does have critics. Seth Lubove, a journalist formerly based in Pittsburgh, wrote a profile of Morris in last week’s edition of Bloomberg Business Week titled “Bass Pro billionaire building megastores with boats, guns.”
In it, he said people have complained “about the company’s practice of accepting municipal subsidies to build megastores in their communities, often with the understanding they would create jobs or increase tax revenue.”
A W.Va. site?
James Christie is more than the mayor and an attorney in Bridgeport, W.Va.
“My job is to be a cheerleader for the town. … and it’s easy,” he said.
Bridgeport is a city in Harrison County, southwest of Morgantown, adjacent to Clarksburg and bisected by Interstate 79. It is a small city, estimated 2011 population of 8,200 – about 5,000 fewer than Washington. But it is a place with large potential, according to the cheerleading mayor/attorney.
The Bridgeport-Clarksburg area is gaining population and building up. The FBI has an enormous fingerprinting center it opened in Clarksburg in 1995, and the aerospace industry has a significant presence. A regional hospital associated with West Virginia University was built there, and a minor-league baseball park is planned.
“Over the last eight years of my term, we’ve had over $1 billion in construction,” Christie said. “Towns like Pittsburgh would have a hard time meeting that.”
The jewel, which is in development, is expected to be Charles Pointe, a $1.4 billion, 1,700-acre mixed-use commercial-residential-recreational expanse that is under way in Bridgeport.
Genesis Partners, of Bridgeport, is the developer. Mark Dellana, director of development, did not return phone calls to the Observer-Reporter.
Bass Pro, the mayor said, would make a fabulous commercial focal point in an area where he estimated that 400,000 people pass through on Saturdays.
“You talk about fishing and hunting and boating, and if you look for a poster child, it has to be West Virginia,” Christie said. “Bass Pro would be a tremendous catch, pardon the play on words.”
Through his travels and being a Wild Things fan, Christie is familiar with Washington and vicinity. He believes it, too, is a viable place for a Bass Pro.
“I think you guys have done a wonderful job up there,” the mayor said. “You drive up and you see that. The area has been revitalized.”
That said, if Bass Pro’s selection would come down to Washington or Bridgeport, Christie believes his town may have an edge: geography. There is no large outdoors store near Bridgeport.
“The only thing I can see is Cabela’s is not far from Washington,” he said.
Washington County, however, has one large advantage: a much-larger population base.
A bad day in the woods is better than a good day at work!