Estimates suggest the Bass Pro Shops’ World’s Fishing Fair, running through Sunday, could draw half a million attendees to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the outdoor retailer.
Two groups have worked closely together to coordinate the event, which began Wednesday at the flagship store: the retailer, which set up a lineup of shows and discussions, and the city of Springfield, which planned for the large influx of visitors. Both put safety as a top concern, but representatives say they also are interested in showing off Springfield and the Ozarks to visitors from throughout the world.
The estimate of 500,000 visitors is based on the 250,000 attendees that came to the event 30 years ago, when Bass Pro Shops stores were not as widespread throughout the country and the Wonders of Wildlife attraction did not exist. Actual attendance numbers are not yet available, officials say. Projection estimates are presented to the city with event permit applications.
Cora Scott, the city’s director of public information and civic engagement, acknowledged the challenges to welcoming so many visitors, including public safety and traffic management.
“We see it as more of an opportunity, to be honest,” she said. “Whenever we have people visit our community, there’s the potential that people will come back again and possibly live or work here.”
With the present labor shortage in the Springfield metropolitan statistical area, with its unemployment rate of 3.8% trending downward, it is important for the city to attract people to live and work here, Scott said.
Scott lined up a team of ambassadors – volunteers with a lot of enthusiasm about Springfield – to welcome visitors. Some ride along on shuttles from the seven designated parking areas around the event venue and distribute visitor experience guides with information on other things to see and do in the city.
Scott said one volunteer rode on a shuttle all day from a parking area at the former Corwin Auto on West Sunshine Street, and he asked each load of visitors how many of them were from Springfield, from Missouri or from out of state.
“Eighty percent of those 300 people that he shuttled with were from out of the state,” she said.
SBJ polled readers about whether or not they intended to go to the fair, and 87% of respondents said they did not.
Providing a warm welcome to visitors is a good way to promote the city, according to Scott, and that is what led to the creation of the visitor guide.
“Our goal is to get everybody to move here,” she said. “Let’s relocate here. Let’s build businesses here. We think it’s a good thing.”
Showing off the Ozarks
Janet Glaser, senior public relations manager with Bass Pro, said founder Johnny Morris also wants to showcase the Ozarks.
“We’re very proud to be part of the Springfield community,” she said. “This is where Bass Pro Shops started, with the very first store in the back of a Brown Derby liquor store. To have this in the Springfield area is very important to John.”
Glaser said there are Bass Pro Shops all over the country – 177 stores, including Cabela’s locations – and the World’s Fishing Fair could have happened in a lot of places.
“He wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else,” Glaser said of Morris.
Things are going smoothly, according to Glaser.
“We have seen people from all over the world descend upon the Ozarks to attend the World’s Fishing Fair,” she said.
One event Thursday featured well-known NASCAR figures Richard Childress, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kelley Earnhardt Miller, Martin Truex Jr., Austin Dillon and Noah Gragson in a session called “Talk Fishin’, Huntin’ and Racing with NASCAR Legends.”
Glaser said nothing was planned for the drivers in the morning before the event, so Dillon got in a vehicle and treated the crowd to doughnuts and burnouts in front of the store on a whim.
“It ended up being so fun,” she said. “Everyone had a great time.”
Glaser said the fun and spontaneity of the event is due to the vision of Morris.
“Any planning that he puts together – especially for an event like this one, which is so special for the 50th anniversary – no detail goes unlooked at,” she said.
Glaser said the city has been easy to work with.
“We are beyond thankful for that partnership,” she said. “They trusted the vision of what the World’s Fishing Fair was going to look like, and we are very thankful for them partnering alongside.”
Scott was likewise complimentary of Bass Pro.
“They’re a model business in doing something like this, and they’re very sensitive to their neighbors,” she said.
Scott described some of the communication with people who live and have businesses around the fair. She said firefighters, who’d already planned to go door to door with smoke alarms and educational materials, also talked with neighbors about what would happen during the fair. No-parking signs were erected to keep visitors out of neighborhoods, and residential identification placards were issued.
Campbell Avenue, the north-south artery on the east side of Bass Pro Shops, is closed from Sunshine to Cherokee streets to accommodate crowds safely, and police have been brought on to help with traffic flow.
“There’s been a lot of staff time invested,” Scott said, but noted sales tax alone from the event is anticipated to exceed $6 million, which will benefit the city and Greene County. The event is expected to generate an $80 million economic impact overall.
She also noted the police presence is not a city expense, but rather is paid for by a variety of funding sources, including event sponsors. She would not provide details on the cost.
“The main point is, those officers that you see out there and the barricades, those costs are being covered,” she said.
The city also has crafted a robust safety plan, according to Scott, with worst-case scenarios in mind to handle a surge in case of a need for medical assistance. The Springfield-Greene County Office of Emergency Management is helming that effort, she said.
Scott said prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, special event permit requests had been consistently on the rise for five years running.
“We’re blessed in this community to be attracting more special events,” Scott said.
Other events, like the Birthplace of Route 66 Festival and Artsfest, also draw people to the city, though on a smaller scale.
“They spend the night in our hotels and enjoy our restaurants,” Scott said. “It has a positive economic impact on the community.”
Once a week this time of year, roughly 150 men trade business suits and work attire for baseball uniforms – complete from caps to cleats – for the Grip N Rip Baseball league.