Like a jilted lover, Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross was oozing venom last week after Bass Pro Shops reneged – for a second time – on its commitment to place a store along metro Augusta’s Interstate 20 corridor.
Three months earlier, the affable Cross tucked his hair beneath a Bass Pro cap and smiled giddily during a press conference in which the Missouri mega-retailer laid out plans for a 50,000-square-foot Outpost store in Martinez.
But by last Tuesday, the summer romance had grown cold. Bass Pro bailed.
The breakup was so sudden that the press release about the I-20 store was still on Bass Pro’s Web site.
Depending on who you believe, the deal was either scuttled when the county refused to ante up another $10 million to help build the store; or – as Bass Pro claims – the county never told them the taxpayer-financed parking lot would also be availabe to ride-share commuters.
Cross even raised the possibility Bass Pro was afraid to share the local market with arch-rival Cabela’s, which is building its own store just down I-20 near the Riverwatch exit.
What should the Augusta community learn from all this?
First off, Bass Pro is well known for squeezing taxpayer support from communities eager – even desperate – to land a “destination” store that comes with the promise of tourism, tax revenue and peripheral development.
And they do it effectively.
Just last week, Bass Pro was approved for $31 million in state grants and special financing for new store in Bridgeport, Conn
And this Wednesday, a new store is scheduled to open in North Utica, N.Y., with the usual neon fanfare that will include Bass Pro’s NASCAR racing team, autograph sessions with outdoor television host Jimmy Houston and guests that include Miss New York-USA.
Augusta might wince at being snubbed, but Bass Pro is likely to move on without a second thought.
After all, if Columbia County won’t throw in a few million more dollars to keep the project afloat, some other community out there probably will.
According to a 2010 study by the non-profit Public Accountability Initiative research center in Buffalo, N.Y., Bass Pro-anchored projects had reeled in more than $500 million in taxpayer subsidies across the country during the previous decade.
Despite such high levels of public assistance, however, some projects fail to deliver the promised economic impact, the study found.
“While Bass Pro delivers a desirable shopping and entertainment experience to many consumers, its track record in delivering results to the taxpayers that have supported its growth is decidedly mixed,” the analysis concluded.
The authors also offered advice to government officials courting the company:
“Ask straightforward questions of Bass Pro and project developers, demand transparency and data, secure contractual guarantees that limit cannibalization, and, above all, consider alternatives,” they wrote. “There is no good reason to subsidize development that sells cities short and leaves taxpayers on the hook.”
THURMOND LAKE CAMPING: With the government shutdown and the recent and abrupt cancellation of the Army Corps of Engineers’ venture to allow a non-profit group to manage some of its major campgrounds, don’t think for a minute there are no autumn camping opportunities at the lake.
Kim Hatcher of the Georgia State Parks office called me last week to remind us that the state parks in the area are open and available.
“We wanted to make sure people understood that Mistletoe and Elijah Clark state parks are not closing,” she said. “We’re open and if people can’t come to the corps campgrounds, they can come to those parks.”
BOAT OWNERS FINED: The Associated Press reported last week that boaters will face fines later this month if they fail to renew their boat decals on time.
Georgia Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Melissa Cummings says boaters who don’t renew expired registration decals before Oct. 24 will be charged a $10 late fee.
Director of the Wildlife Resources Division, Dan Forster, says lawmakers passed a regulation in 2013 to encourage timely renewal. He says boaters typically put off renewing their registration until just before the summer holidays.
Forster says the holiday rush creates a backlog for those looking to renew their registration and the law is meant to diminish that.
Boat registration decals are valid for three years and expire on the last day of the owner’s birth month.
POOF BANG: Hunters looking to pursue deer with firearms that harken back to a different time will have their chance, Oct. 12-18, during the week-long primitive weapons deer hunting season. During last year’s primitive weapons season, more than 45,000 hunters took home more than 10,500 deer representing about 3 percent of Georgia’s total deer harvest.
Remember also that being young is a bonus during primitive weapons season. Youth under 16 years of age may hunt deer with any legal deer firearm Oct. 12-18, including during any wildlife management area primitive weapons hunt.