The Public Accountability Initiative in Buffalo has just released an excellent national investigation of big-box retailer Bass Pro. It finds that the privately-held company has been given more than half a billion dollars in economic development subsidies, yet in many cases, the arrival of a Bass Pro store has not resulted in the revitalization, tax revenues or job creation that the company touts. For example:
“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.”
“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.”
The study, “Fishing for Taxpayer Cash,” figures into a hot debate in Buffalo, where Bass Pro has been offered $35 million, as part of a $154 million overall project package, to build a store. The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation hopes the Bass Pro shop will anchor a comeback of an area in the noisy shadow of elevated Interstate 190 close to the shore of Lake Erie.
The deal has been long-delayed and hotly contested, as a coalition of more than 40 community groups, the Canal Side Community Alliance, has come together to demand a Community Benefits Agreement, including living wages for permanent employees, green building standards, and space for local merchants. The City owns much of the land in the project footprint, and the Buffalo Common Council, in response to the Community Alliance, has passed a resolution essentially saying “no Community Benefits Agreement, no land transfer.”
Followers of Good Jobs know that we have long been critical of big-box subsidies like those to Wal-Mart and to mall giants like General Growth Properties, and we strongly recommend Stacy Mitchell’s seminal book Big-Box Swindle. And we have written articles in both progressive and conservative journals about the unusual subsidy dispute among top three outdoor sporting goods chains (Gander Mountain versus Bass Pro and Cabela’s).