The rumors have been around for years. They're back again.
Could Missouri-based Bass Pro Shops be eying a mega-store in the Augusta area?
The answer: maybe. But so far, nobody's talking.
At least, not much.
Larry Whitely, manager of corporate relations at Bass Pro headquarters, said the chain continues to expand and is always evaluating new store sites.
"Right now we have 47 stores, and next week we'll have 48 -- and 49 after that," he said, referring to new stores opening in Louisiana, Missouri and then Ohio.
Bass Pro has stores in Atlanta and Savannah -- and in Macon near the company's 600,000-square-foot regional distribution center first announced by Gov. Sonny Perdue in 2005.
Where will Bass Pro's next move in Georgia be?
"It's nothing we can talk about yet," Whitely replied.
Could something be in the works near Augusta?
"Could be," he said.
Of course, the same answer could apply to any other town.
Bass Pro stores are typically a blend of museum, art gallery and entertainment. Each store has a unique theme so that no two are alike. In past years, rumored locations included the intersection at Interstate 20 and Riverwatch Parkway; and later at I-20's Belvedere, S.C., exit. Neither proved to be true.
Augusta Planning Commission Director George Patty, whose office is placed in the "loop" early on when a major development is pitched, puts little credence in the latest round of Bass Pro prattle.
"It's almost become an urban myth," he said. "We get calls about it, sometimes almost weekly."
The newest rumored site is in Columbia County, where officials have acknowledged inquiries from Wal-Mart about a new superstore at I-20 and Lewiston Road.
Nearby, county officials are marketing an industrial park and two private groups are marketing major development sites.
One of those groups, Ramp G Partners, paid $4.2 million for 55 acres in 2006. The group's registered agent is Blanchard & Calhoun developer Vic Mills.
The other site, with 80 acres, is owned by Lewiston Road Investment Group. Its registered agent is Dwight Bagwell, a Martinez insurance executive who worked behind the scenes to establish a natural history museum with a collection of mounted animals owned by Soudy Golabchi of Grovetown.
Golabchi devoted much of his life -- and millions of dollars -- assembling more than 400 mounted animals that include 225 species from six continents. In 2004, he offered to donate the collection to the county for a museum or educational facility.
The county has since marketed the collection as a drawing card for a public-private partnership, and it and made a pitch to house the collection at another retailer, Academy Sports & Outdoors, before it opened its new Evans store.
Bass Pro solicits such collections to lure visitors to its huge retail stores, which are only located along busy interstate highways.
Bagwell said efforts remain under way to keep the Golabchi collection in Columbia County, but there are no formal agreements. Regarding rumors of a Bass Pro coming to the Lewiston Road area, Bagwell said, "we don't have anything like that for our site."
Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross said there is little he can discuss about the matter.
"We are working with several major retailers for what we call our 'Gateway Project' at Lewiston," he said.
No final resting place has been found for the Golabchi collection, but Cross is trying to keep it in Columbia County.
"It remains in the mix as part of our overall master plan," he said.
Zack Daffin, executive director of the county's Development Authority -- which helps bring new businesses to the area -- said he could not discuss prospects at Lewiston Road.
Whitely said site selection criteria includes hunting and fishing opportunities and participation in the region; and the number of fishing and hunting licenses sold in the area. Augusta has always been a hunting and fishing town, and retailers catering to outdoorsmen have grown proportionately faster than our population.
The area already has several large local outdoor stores such as Walden's Outdoor World, American Sportsman and Sportsman's Link. Recent corporate arrivals have included Dick's Sporting Goods at Augusta Mall and Academy Sports & Outdoors in Evans.
Is there room for one more? Time will tell.
Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119 or email@example.com.