Bass Pro Shops on way to Augusta

A stalled shopping center project in west Augusta has reeled in one of the most nationally revered sporting store chains, developers announced Wednesday.

Bass Pro Shops is the latest name to join the Village at Riverwatch, an 860,000-square-foot development on River Watch Parkway near Interstate 20.

Projected to be built by fall 2009, it will likely be the first of the development's anchor stores to open.

"We combine retail, entertainment, outdoor education and conservation together in one place," said Martin MacDonald, the director of corporate public relations for Bass Pro Shops. "We don't build a lot of these stores. They are regional draws. People drive an average of 50 miles to one of these stores."

Mr. MacDonald said the company's flagship store in Springfield, Mo., is the state's top tourist attraction, drawing an annual 4 million visitors.

The 100,000-square-foot Augusta store will employ 250 people, Mr. MacDonald told the Development Authority of Richmond County.

The development authority on Wednesday approved a bond inducement resolution, the first step in $25 million in tax-exempt financing for Bass Pro Shops.

The store can qualify for such funding because it also acts as a sports facility, said Walter Sprouse, the development authority's executive director.

The project could have also qualified for bonds as a tourism attraction, he said. The bonds will require the Augusta Commission to designate the shop as a sports facility.

The bond won't finance the rest of the Village at Riverwatch project, which was announced in the summer of 2005.

The developer, Texas-based MGHerring Group, previously announced that Belk, Costco and Starplex Cinema would anchor the 132-acre, $150 million shopping center.

Other unnamed companies are in discussions with the group, under the assistance of Charlotte, N.C.-based Collett & Associates.

"There are a significant number of tenants we're talking to that want to be in a Bass Pro Shop shopping center," said Frank Mullins, Collett's Augusta point man. "This brings men into the center which don't normally come in. They stay most of the day. They travel a distance. That creates the need for hotels in close proximity. It creates the need for food and other retail for family members that might not want to go to the Bass Pro."

Mr. Mullins said other stores would be built simultaneously with the Bass Pro store. He declined to name the prospective tenants.

A major catalog and Internet retailer, Bass Pro Shops has 49 locations in the United States and Canada. The company said it receives 90 million visitors to its stores each year.

Joseph Marinelli, the president of the Savannah Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the city has seen growth in hotels and restaurants near its Bass Pro Shops location, which opened in 2004.

"It is kind of the old McDonald's model," he said. Where McDonald's built, "everyone built around them. Something similar happens with Bass."

Mr. Sprouse said the development authority worked with Bass Pro Shops four years ago to try to place a distribution center in Augusta. That center opened in 2006 in Macon, Ga., because Augusta didn't have a place for a retail store to accompany it.

"Bass Pro was still interested, and the mayor took this up as a major cause," Mr. Sprouse said.

Reach Tim Rausch at (706) 823-3352 or timothy.rausch@augustachronicle.com.

BASS PRO SHOPS INC.

HEADQUARTERS: Springfield, Mo.

OWNERSHIP: Privately held

EMPLOYEES: 13,000

LOCATIONS: 49 in the U.S. and Canada

SALES: $2.6 billion in 2006

COMPETITORS: Academy Sports & Outdoors, L.L. Bean, MarineMax

Source: www.hoovers.com

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