Bass Pro President Talks Up City Council

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Three years after taking a first look at Memphis and The Pyramid, Bass Pro Shops is ready to move ahead, but it will be at least another three years before a new store opens for business.

Jim Hagale, president of the company, met with a handful of members of the Memphis City Council Monday morning. His presentation was part sales pitch and part apology. He thanked Robert Lipscomb, the city's point man on the project, "who took most of the arrows for me." He also apologized for delays in moving the project forward, but said "there has never been a point where Bass Pro became disinterested in the Pyramid project."

The company, which competes with such retailers as Cabela's, L.L. Bean, and Gander Mountain, is wary of over-expansion, Hagale said, naming Krispy Kreme Donuts as an example of dilution of product name.

The "development agreement" outlined Monday calls for a year of further study during which Bass Pro would pay the city and county $35,000 a month. If the company walks away at the end of the year, it pays an additional $500,000 unless it finds structural problems in the Pyramid that make its plan undoable.

If Bass Pro decides to go ahead, construction of a store, aquarium, hotel, and restaurants would take two more years.

The cost to the city and county: $30 million, plus the remaining $9.9 million of debt on the Pyramid. Various experts explained that the $30 million would not come out of property taxes or general fund revenues but would instead be financed by new market tax credits and Tourism Development Zone funds and other creative financing tools. Ultimately, the project depends on tourism dollars to produce a tax "increment" or surplus beyond the current tax take, which is essentially zero since the Pyramid closed.

Hagale showed a video promotion for Bass Pro that touted its economic benefits and broad appeal to nature lovers as well as its core market of hunters and fishermen. He said nearly half of the visitors to the company's superstore the Missouri Ozarks stay overnight and spend three or four hours in the store.

"It's a planned destination trip," he said, adding that the company is "very disappointed when we are designated as a big-box retailer."

That would be one of the kinder depictions. Local bloggers and their commenters who oppose the project generally employ the term "bait shop."

Hagale's cheering section included Mayor Willie Herenton, fishing legend Bill Dance, former city councilman Tom Marshall, and businessman Scott Ledbetter among others. Former President Jimmy Carter endorsed Bass Pro in the video. Only five council members attended; some are at the Democratic National Convention in Denver this week. At any rate, the meeting was for information only, and no action is required by elected officials at this point. There was a second presentation before the Shelby County Commission Monday afternoon.

Bass Pro has 47 stores and $2.7 billion in sales last year.

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