County officials allege that Bass Pro reneged on its deal to open a 50,000-square-foot retail store because of competition from a future Cabela’s under construction within the Village at Riverwatch development.
They also said Bass Pro asked for additional incentives, including $10 million to construct the building, in exchange for sticking with the original plan.
The company, which backed out of a similar deal in Richmond County in 2011, rebutted accusations by saying the county failed to disclose certain terms of negotiation, such as a park-and-ride program for I-20 motorists.
Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross, who spoke out against Bass Pro last week after the latest developments, answered five questions by e-mail about the situation for The Augusta Chronicle.
Q: What was the first word out of your mouth when you heard Bass Pro Shops wanted an extra $10 million?
A: I did not hear of the 10 million until a day after the other news, but I think I just said, “No crap (substituted word), I guess they would!” This came after I inquired if they named an additional request and was told they would come for ten million.
Q: Bass issued a statement saying it didn’t pull out over fear of competition. Do you have evidence to the contrary?
A: No written evidence, but in their conversation with our administrator they stated that the competition would dilute the market and not make it attractive for them. This was after information they were going to build a larger store to better compete with Cabela’s.
Q: Besides the parking lot issue cited by Bass Pro as an example of nondisclosure in negotiations, what else were they talking about?
A: They claimed that we had knowledge of Cabela’s and withheld it from them. We did (not) have any knowledge and were as surprised as anyone else. We actually had questions if it was really true.
Q: In hindsight, do you think Richmond County’s experience with Bass should’ve served as a warning to Columbia County?
A: More truthfully, our previous experience was a big warning. We had little knowledge of the true situation with Richmond County. They came to us with the story that this was a new crew, apologized to us about the past and promised that they were going to definitely be coming to Columbia County. The land owner was also jilted by them before but believed their story of a new concept and beginning.
Q: Would you have done anything differently in your negotiations with the company?
A: Probably not. They came to us and made very definite promises. Both us and the land owner were skeptical, but with their continued promises to come to Columbia County, we began to believe and went on in to serious planning.