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Bass Pro’s Record of Big-League Subsidies, Failed Promises, and the Consequences for Cities Across America

This report offers an in-depth look at Bass Pro’s record as an economic development anchor in cities across the country. Bass Pro, an outdoor sporting goods store, has won hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies from cities and states by promising retail tourism, development, and economic revitalization. A review of Bass Pro-anchored projects shows that while Bass Pro itself tends to attract shoppers, it frequently fails to deliver on promises of economic benefits.

The Public Accountability Initiative’s initial interest in this subject was prompted by a Bass Pro proposal in Buffalo, NY. The report has a special focus on that proposal, which is typical of Bass Pro projects around the country.

Key findings:

  • Bass Pro-anchored projects throughout the country have won over $500 million dollars in taxpayer subsidies.
  • Bass Pro often fails to deliver on its promises as an economic development anchor and major tourist destination – promises which were used to reel in government subsidies. Its stores successfully attract shoppers, but often do not produce sought-after economic benefits associated with major tourist destinations.
  • A Mesa, AZ development anchored by a Bass Pro has been described as a “ghost town” and “dead” and spurred the state to pass a ban on retail subsidies.
  • A taxpayer-subsidized Harrisburg, PA Bass Pro is struggling to attract tenants to the mall it anchors, leading to lawsuits, stalled renovations, and increasing stigma. Though the Bass Pro was expected to hire 300-400 employees according to initial projections, it had hired only 101 employees three years after opening.
  • A Bass Pro-anchored mall in Cincinnati, OH, is only 35% leased and has been described as “positively post-apocalyptic” and “pretty much on life support” by visitors.
  • Taxpayers in cities across the country have been left with high levels of debt and fiscal stress as a result of Bass Pro projects.
  • The Bakersfield, CA Bass Pro site – still in development – is home to a waterless ditch that was intended to serve as the store’s canal. The site has sat vacant for ten years.
  • Bass Pro has gone on a building spree over the past ten years that significantly undermines its claims that each new store is a major tourist destination. Bass Pro sometimes builds stores in close proximity to each other, despite having promised to maintain a store’s attraction as a retail destination that will draw visitors from hundreds of miles away.

Key findings about the Canal Side Project in Buffalo, NY:

  • A proposed Bass Pro store is the cornerstone of Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) plans for revitalizing Buffalo’s waterfront, and the project includes $35 million in direct public subsidies for Bass Pro.
  • Although the ECHDC has justified subsidies allocated to Bass Pro by arguing that the store would serve as an anchor tenant, the prospect of a Bass Pro at Canal Side has so far failed to attract additional tenants.
  • The ECHDC’s estimates of Bass Pro’s tourist destination potential are significantly inflated. Its geographic market would barely extend beyond the limits of Western New York, due to the presence of stores in Auburn, NY, Toledo, OH, Toronto, and Harrisburg, PA. Bass Pro canceled plans for a store in Akron, OH due to a lack of perceived demand in Northeastern Ohio.

Read the full report »