Company officials announced Wednesday that it will build a 50,000-square-foot Bass Pro Shops Outpost on Mason McKnight Jr. Parkway near the intersection of Interstate 20 and Flowing Wells Road.
The store will employ between 200 and 250 people. Construction could begin as soon as November, and the store is scheduled to open in late 2014 or spring 2015, said Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson.
Columbia County officials held the news conference Wednesday to announce the store will be built there. Bass Pro’s original location was in Richmond County along River Watch Parkway. Those plans, voiced in 2008, never got off the ground. In 2011, the sporting goods chain placed its Augusta plans, and other potential stores across the nation, on hold because of the economy.
The project has been in the works for longer than eight months, Johnson said.
Bass Pro Shops’ director of conservation, Rob Keck, said he couldn’t speculate on why the Columbia County land was chosen ahead of the Richmond County site.
Public interest and a strong hunting and fishing base made the location attractive, as did its proximity to the interstate, he said.
“We like to have easy access,” Keck said. “In the retail business, it’s location, location, location.”
The site of the store is close to the Richmond County line. Its neighbor, CarMax, is in Richmond County.
The outdoors store will take up eight acres of a 58-acre undeveloped parcel, said property owner and developer Mason McKnight.
“We waited out the economy, and thank goodness this is where we are,” McKnight said. “It’s a great moment. It’s a domino effect. With this starts the rest of it.”
Efforts to bring the store to Columbia County was a collaboration among the county commission and staff members, McKnight and the Columbia County Development Authority. As an incentive, the county will install and maintain the public parking lot, which also will be used as a park-and-ride program for I-20 motorists, Johnson said.
Bass Pro Shops will purchase eight acres from McKnight, but six of those will be donated to Columbia County, Johnson said.
“They won’t have the tax burden on eight acres of property,” he said. “They’ll only have it on two acres where their vertical construction is.”
Another incentive – a payment in lieu of property taxes for a set period – has been offered but likely will not be used, Johnson said. It would require approval by both the county commission and the school board.
The cost of the store was not disclosed. The store will be one of the retailer’s Outpost concept stores, which can range from 50,000 to 100,000 square feet and are customized to reflect the outdoor tone of the region it serves. Other Bass Pro concepts include the Sportsman’s Center and the Outdoor World, which can be 150,000 square feet and larger.
The original Bass Pro store for the Villages of Riverwatch was scheduled for 100,000 square feet.
Augusta City Administrator Fred Russell said that he’d rather the outdoors retailer had decided to build in Richmond County but is excited to have the business “in the neighborhood.”
“Since we weren’t able to make that work for us, I’m glad Columbia County was able to,” he said. “It’s always a win for everyone.”
Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross said the county did not compete with Richmond County to land the deal. The addition of Bass Pro Shops, he said, will provide boosts in sales tax revenue for both counties. The store also will attract other retail business to the area, he said.
“The big thing is that so many other companies want to be around a Bass Pro Shop,” said Cross, calling the project a “regional” one.
Local outdoorsmen say the popular chain’s commitment to the region will increase its appeal to out-of-town visitors.
Dan Eaton, a professional trapper, said the retailer will be a good fit for an area that already has an abundance of outdoor activities, including the lakes and the Augusta Canal.
“There are a lot of sportsmen in Augusta, and I believe support will be fantastic,” he said. “I shop at Bass Pro and can’t wait to just go down the road – instead of Atlanta.”
Bobby Wright, of Augusta, who has visited three Bass Pro stores in other areas, said it will be a successful venture in Augusta and could stimulate interest in fishing and hunting.
“I think this will be a huge thing for the area,” Wright said. The Savannah River, he said, is gaining popularity among anglers and paddlers, and experiments are underway to determine whether the canal could support a recreational trout fishery.
Former Augusta Mayor Bob Young, who is now the president and CEO of Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy, said the store’s arrival is long overdue.
“It’s great they are coming,” he said, adding that discussions about getting Bass Pro to the area go back almost a decade.
Regardless of which side of the county line the store occupies, its presence – and visibility from an interstate highway – can only enhance awareness of the outdoors and the environment.
Young’s organization operates the popular Phinizy Swamp Nature Park, in addition to numerous environmental education and research programs. Bass Pro, he said, will be one more thing in the Augusta area that serves to bolster interest in the outdoors and ecotourism.
Staff Writer Rob Pavey contributed to this article.