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What, me worry?
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Bass Pro ties museum to store plan

Facility would feature Great Lakes theme

By SHARON LINSTEDT
Buffalo News Staff Reporter
1/1/2004


Bass Pro officials have presented plans to state economic development officials that call not only for a huge retailing outlet in the old Memorial Auditorium, but also a privately run Great Lakes museum on the site.
For the first time in the 18-month courtship of Bass Pro, the company has put on paper its vision of what the Aud could become. The preliminary plans are viewed as a milestone in efforts to make the sought-after retailer the anchor of Buffalo's Erie Canal Harbor revitalization.

The schematics depict a 150,000-square-foot, multilevel sporting goods store - about the size of a Wal-Mart Super Center - and the companion museum, according to sources close to the negotiations.

Bass Pro, which is known for incorporating local outdoor themes and regional history into its stores, views a Great Lakes-themed museum as a way to bolster the Buffalo site as a tourist destination, sources said.

The company's plans, which were conveyed to state development executives this week, are viewed as further evidence of Bass Pro's growing interest in establishing a Buffalo store.

Mayor Anthony M. Masiello declined to comment on specifics of talks with the retailer but said he's "more convinced than ever" that there's a Bass Pro in Buffalo's future. "Our discussions have reached a whole new level, and I'm nothing but encouraged. Significant progress is being made," Masiello said.

State sources said discussions with Bass Pro are progressing to the point where Gov. George E. Pataki is expected to talk about the project in his Jan. 7 State of the State address. The state, which originally had put $21 million in low-interest loans on the table to attract the retail project, has now upped the ante to $32 million in cash from a fund set aside for the never-built Adelphia Communications operations center, sources said.

If the recent momentum that has marked the on-and-off courtship between Bass Pro and Buffalo continues, the store could debut in late 2005.

In addition to the "Adelphia funds," Bass Pro is being offered state tax forgiveness benefits that could total millions and infrastructure assistance from Erie County and the City of Buffalo.


Cost put at $80 million

Sources close to the talks put the cost of converting the Aud to a megasporting goods store and museum at around $80 million, but emphasized that to date, Bass Pro has not asked for a specific amount of public dollars.

"It looks like we'll end up paying to build them a store," said a local elected official who requested anonymity. "It's not something I'd normally support, but this is an extraordinary opportunity that will bring tens of millions of dollars in new sales tax and tourist dollars to the region."

But Assembly Majority Leader Paul A. Tokasz, D-Cheektowaga, cautioned that neither the governor's office nor state economic development representatives have discussed using the "Adelphia money" for Bass Pro. Tokasz joked that that money has been "spent 10 times over" in the minds of developers planning various local projects.

"To make an investment of $32 million, the Bass Pro project will have to have future economic impact beyond the store," Tokasz said. "We're going to have to be convinced that it fits into a broader, long-term plan. At the end of the day, this might be money well spent, but we need a lot more information before we make that decision."

Founded in 1972, the 20-store Bass Pro chain is the country's fifth-largest retailer of sports and outdoors goods. The company's Outdoor World stores, which range in size from 106,000 square feet to 300,000 square feet, have become regional attractions.

The highly interactive stores, which carry a wide variety of fishing, hunting, camping and other outdoor products, are highlighted with in-store fishing tanks, archery ranges, waterfalls and hands-on features that make them tourist attractions. The company's flagship store in Springfield, Mo., attracts more than four million shoppers per year.

The first hint that Bass Pro is looking to develop both a store and museum came earlier this month when Rep. Jack F. Quinn, R-Hamburg, unveiled a revised strategy for incorporating parking and an intermodal transportation center into the Aud neighborhood.


Pataki asked to assist

Quinn, who traveled to Springfield to meet with Bass Pro owner John L. Morris, is calling for demolition of the Donovan State Office Building, located across Main Street from the Aud, to make room for a 1,000-vehicle parking structure with direct access to Amtrak and Metro Rail.

He's made a direct request to Pataki to support razing the 40-year-old office building to make the site available.

By combining what were originally proposed as two separate projects - a $16 million parking ramp and a $14 million intermodal hub - the price tag could be trimmed nearly in half from $30 million to around $18 million, the congressman emphasized. Quinn noted the unused federal transportation funds would be available for an interpretive center that would tell the story of Lake Erie and the Erie Canal.


Museum's impact unclear

It's premature to know how the proposed Bass Pro-run museum will fit with plans for interpretive elements on the soon-to-be reconstructed Erie Canal Harbor shoreline detailing the canal's place in local history.

That $46.3 million waterfront effort, which is part of the 12-acre Erie Canal Harbor Entertainment District, currently includes money for rewatering the original Commercial Slip and unearthing other historic remnants of the canal area.

However, preservationists and planners have yet to identify money for related waterfront projects, such as a festival plaza, original streetscapes, re-creation of a canal-era truss bridge and on-site interpretation. Consultants have recommended a wide range of imaginative displays, such as a cutaway vessel built into the side of a wharf to reveal the ship's payload.

Bass Pro has experienced the synergy an adjacent museum can bring to a store site in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where its Sportsman's Park store is situated alongside the International Game Fishing Association Hall of Fame & Museum.
 

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Wishin' I Was Fishin'
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I like the country life, but.......

........I may have to consider moving to the city.:D If that store opens, I'm sure I'll be doing a lot of commuting.:D

C'ya on the water,
Ted
:letusfish
 

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I find it very difficult to get excited about talks about building anything in Buffalo. It's pretty sad that it has gotten to that point, but you just get dissappoint the other way. That being said, it looks like BPS and Buffalo are serious about getting this done. We'll see . . . After the Auburn store and a new one opening in Toronto I thought Buffalo would have been out by proxy, but they still seem interested in putting one up around here. (keeping my fingers crossed)

I'm sure the ball will be rolling soon to get one in New England soon, to cator to NYC and Boston.
 
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