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Bass Pro Shops pulls out of Buffalo

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Following nine years of courting Bass Pro Shops for its Canal Side development in Buffalo, N.Y., project developer Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. let the Springfield sporting goods retailer get away.

In a July 29 letter from Bass Pro Shops officials to Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., the retailer officially pulled out of the Buffalo, N.Y., project, citing major unresolved issues and length of negotiations.

The move means Bass Pro is out $1 million in design costs.

Bass Pro officials declined to comment to the media beyond their statements in the letter, said spokesman Larry Whiteley. The letter from Bass Pro was in response to a July 19 letter from Higgins, who played a key role in helping ECHDC and Bass Pro obtain funding for the estimated $250 million project.

“We agree with you that this process has taken far too long as we have also tried to remain patient and positive toward the project as significant issues were identified that have caused repeated delays,” Bass Pro President Jim Hagale wrote to Higgins. “You stated in your letter that the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. could proceed successfully with the Canal Side project without our involvement. We believe this approach would be in the best interests of all parties.”

Progress on the project was hindered by a report, Fishing for Taxpayer Cash, by Buffalo-based Public Accountability Initiative, and by a lawsuit filed July 28 by six residents in New York State Supreme Court trying to keep Bass Pro Shops from receiving $35 million in public subsidies for the planned Buffalo store.

Kevin Connor, PAI co-director, called Bass Pro’s departure from the project a victory for Buffalo taxpayers.

“Based on our research, it’s really unclear that Bass Pro delivers on the promises it makes to win enormous subsidies,” Connor said. “We have found that really, Bass Pro is inconsistent delivering sales tax revenue, growth and the jobs it promises.”

In Buffalo, Bass Pro had said it would create 400 jobs with a 250,000-square-foot store, a museum/interpretive center, hotel and themed restaurant.

The retailer has promised 300 jobs in East Peoria, Ill., where plans for a 145,000-square-foot store were announced May 13. The company plans to open the store there in third-quarter 2011.

According to the mayor of East Peoria, Bass Pro already has influenced the city’s business landscape.

“We’ve already experienced other businesses in retail who are also interested in coming to East Peoria and have cited Bass Pro as one of the big reasons why they’re coming,” said Dave Mingus, mayor of East Peoria, which agreed to spend $45 million to build a store, road and parking lot for Bass Pro, which would then lease the space for 20 years.

Mingus said the city finalized a deal last week for a 137-room Holiday Inn, and he’s not concerned about Bass Pro relenting in Buffalo.

“We’re still going ahead as planned and looking forward to them being a part of our community,” Mingus said.

Connor and his group caution East Peoria about subsidizing Bass Pro or any private retailer.

Although Buffalo officials haven’t said whether similar incentives would be offered to other retailers, Higgins said steps would be taken to “unlock the economic potential” of the area.[[In-content Ad]]

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