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Published: Tuesday, 5/9/2006

Likely Bass Pro in Rossford raises issue of incentives

BY MARY-BETH McLAUGHLIN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Buffalo attorney James Ostrowski insists that he would welcome a Bass Pro Shops location that has been announced for his city.

He just doesn't like that the Springfield, Mo., company will be the beneficiary of financial aid at the federal, state, and local level because it has agreed to be an anchor for a multimillion-dollar renovation project of the city's vacant Memorial Auditorium.

"I'm against corporate welfare," said the Buffalo author, who has written extensively on the proposed Bass Pro deal. "I have a major problem with the government getting involved in the marketplace on behalf of some people, therefore hurting everybody else."

With 33 stores open in the nation and plans for 20 more under way - and the growing certainty that one of the stores will be built in Rossford - the debate continues over what type of incentives communities should grant the outdoor-store chain.

A typical deal involving a Bass Pro store involves some type of public money, especially for construction and for road, sewer, and water improvements. In some cases, the store anchors a large commercial development; a combination of Bass Pro rent and portions of a city's sales taxes from that development pays down the city's debt.

New York state and city of Buffalo officials proudly announced in late 2004 that a Bass Pro would be the anchor for the planned redevelopment, with an incentive package of $66 million.

But a city official said yesterday nothing has been finalized, those numbers are fluctuating, and a final deal between the city and Bass Pro is at least a month away.

"If it was simply serving a local clientele at a retail location, we all would have more questions about it," said Richard Tobe, commissioner of economic development, permit, and inspection services for the city of Buffalo.

He would give no specifics on the financial package offered to the company, but defended the reason for one.

"They've reported 4.5 million visitors a year at their headquarters store in Springfield, Mo., which is more than the American side of Niagara Falls gets," Mr. Tobe said.

"Because of the nature of their draw, we're pretty excited about this."

Construction of a 130,000-square-foot Bass Pro store started last month in the city of Portage in northwest Indiana after an incentive package was worked out that included $17.5 million from the city and $2.5 million in state incentives.

Weston Sedgwick, spokesman for the Indiana Economic Development Corp., said the state does not offer direct incentives to retailers because the return on the investment is not there, but agreed to give money to Portage to build the roads, sewers, and water systems to accommodate hotels and restaurants that want to locate near the store.

An Ohio law will go into effect June 30 that permits counties to use part of their local sales-tax collections to underwrite development costs for a major retailer-tourist destination. The tax break was requested by Wood County as part of its effort to lure Bass Pro. The law expires Dec. 1.

It is a key piece needed to attract the chain, said State Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green).

Under the law, a qualifying developer could get back 75 cents on every $1 collected in county "piggyback" sales tax from the site for either 10 years or until it recoups its investment for the site, whichever occurs first.

"Rebating 75 percent of the sales tax is pretty monumental," said Wood County Commissioner Tim Brown.

Bass Pro officials could not be reached for comment, but spokesman Larry Whiteley has said that the company rarely gets direct tax breaks. Instead, the developer receives them, he said.

James Hartung, chairman of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, said Bass Pro executives have been made aware of what type of aid can be expected if a store is located in northwest Ohio.

"A Bass Pro is a signature development," he said.

Blade staff writer Jennifer Feehan contributed to this report.

Contact Mary-Beth McLaughlin at

mmclaughlin@theblade.com

or 419-724-6199.



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