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Wis. governor tries to lure back Bass Pro

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Potential plans for a Bass Pro Shops near Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., cleared an environmental hurdle Feb. 4, but the Springfield-based outdoor retailer says it will not pursue formerly reported talks to be part of Green Bay Packers’ Titletown Sports District.

Bass Pro Shops spokesman Larry Whiteley has said concerns about wetland damage had stopped talks that could have made an Outdoor World the anchor of a multimillion-dollar sports retail district near the home of the Super Bowl Champion Packers.

“We were unaware of any wetland issue and have not and will not be in favor of doing anything to harm wetlands, wherever they might be,” Whiteley said in a statement found on the Green Bay Press Gazette Web site.

On Feb. 10, however, just days after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill that allows less than three acres of wetlands near Lambeau to be developed without a permit, Whiteley told the Springfield Business Journal that store officials were not looking to build a retail outlet in Green Bay.

“There are no plans,” Whiteley said, declining to comment further.

Packers executive and Neenah, Wis.-based car dealer John Bergstrom applied for a permit on the 20-acre site, which includes more than nine acres of wetlands, according to Bruce Baker, administrator for the division of water with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Baker said Bergstrom negotiated with the DNR for nearly five months before reaching an agreement on July 15 to develop 1.6 acres of wetlands on the property. As part of the deal, Bergstrom agreed to restore four acres of wetlands on a separate property to be selected by the DNR, a process known as mitigation.

A challenge to the conditional permit came in August from Wisconsin Wetlands Association, and a hearing was pending when Walker introduced the bill Jan. 27 to bypass the need for a permit at the site.

Baker said Bergstrom contacted the legislature because the appeal process could set back the development of the site by six months to a year and cost more than $200,000 in attorney fees and delays. Bergstrom did not return calls for comment.

“The concern the applicant had is that (he) might not be able to do the project because of the lengthy appeal process,” Baker said.

Becky Abel, executive director for the wetlands association, said she was upset that the governor circumvented the permit process.

She said the wetlands at that site were unusually pristine for an urban area, and the heart of the issue was that there was never a reason given for why development needed to occur at that site.

“While we were extremely supportive of the Titletown development plans and would love it if Bass Pro came to Green Bay, our organization contested it because we believe there were alternatives to that particular site,” Abel said, adding that the 300 acres planned for the district could support a Bass Pro Shops location.

According to Packers spokesman Aaron Popkey, no companies, including Bass Pro Shops, have been named to fill the site. He declined to comment on whether the Packers had been, or were currently, talking to Bass Pro Shops or any other retailer regarding the development.

He said Bergstrom was acting on behalf of the Packers, and confirmed that the organization has spent roughly $21 million on property near Lambeau Field for the retail district, which he said is still in its conceptual stage.

If the Springfield-based outdoor retailer were to work with the Packers, it wouldn’t be the first time it has been an anchor for a sports’ district for a National Football League franchise. Bass Pro Shops is an anchor tenant at Patriot Place adjacent to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., home of the New England Patriots. The 140,000-square-foot store is part of 1.3 million square feet of shopping, dining and entertainment offerings.

“We have taken a look at Patriot Place, and our executives have visited Foxborough,” Popkey said, adding that the Packers’ talks with the Patriots have influenced the concept of the Titletown Sports District.

Bass Pro Shops is developing stores in Harlingen, Texas; East Peoria, Ill.; and its third Canadian location, among others.

One location that has seen its share of hurdles during the last several years is a planned store in the Memphis Pyramid. In July, Bass Pro signed a 55-year lease for the store site that was expected to be open in November of this year. But, according to the Memphis Business Journal, a city official sent Bass Pro founder Johnny Morris and President Jim Hagale a letter Jan. 31 stating that before redevelopment begins the parties must complete a 12-week seismic study of the land surrounding the Pyramid. Memphis officials speculated that the study and resulting retrofitting could be cost-prohibitive to the project’s completion.

Since it’s start in 1972, Bass Pro Shops has grown from an 8-foot display in a Brown Derby liquor store to competing on a national level with outdoor-gear retailers Cabela’s and Gander Mountain. According to Springfield Business Journal archives, Bass Pro produced 22 stores in its first three decades and has more than doubled that number since 2005.


Map legend: Blue dots represent existing stores, yellow dots represent planned stores and red dots represent cities where there have been reports of talks with Bass Pro.

55 and Counting
Bass Pro Shops has 55 retail locations, six stores in development and one catalog outlet (located in Springfield) in the United States and Canada, according to www.basspro.com.

Planned stores:
• Decatur, Ala.
• Augusta, Ga.
• East Peoria, Ill.
• Lac Mirabel, Quebec, Canada
• Memphis, Tenn.
• Harlingen, Texas
 
Cities where there have been reports of talks with Bass Pro:
• New Orleans, La.
• Tampa, Fla.
• Green Bay, Wis.
• Buffalo, N.Y.

Sources: Springfield Business Journal research[[In-content Ad]]

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