I guess taxpayers here have been handed worse examples of corporate welfare. You can at least say that much for the Bass Pro Shops deal approved Wednesday by the Hillsborough County Commission.
Faint praise is the best I can offer, though, and here it is:
I’m glad for the jobs, construction and otherwise, this project will provide. The area in question along Falkenburg Road in Brandon is primed for development. Having Bass Pro Shops as the centerpiece of a hotel and retail complex called The Estuary might spur more construction.
The $6.25 million commissioners approved for infrastructure on this project really isn’t a lot of money, relatively speaking. If everything goes as projected, the county will make that back in about four years from increased property tax revenue.
Then again, does anything ever go as projected?
The lone “no” vote in the 6-1 final margin came from Kevin Beckner, who made his counterpoints after fellow commissioners celebrated the jobs the Bass Pro project should generate and the boon it could be to county tax roles. Beckner said out loud what most opponents to the plan had to be feeling.
“I have a real issue with using taxpayer dollars for a multibillion-dollar company to grow its business,” he said.
It would have been interesting if one or more of his fellow commissioners had taken a moment of pause after hearing Beckner grill the representative from Bass Pro Shops. Beckner asked about the projected annual sales for the Brandon store; the guy said Bass Pro Shops is a private company and doesn’t talk about that stuff.
He asked a couple of other questions along those lines but got the same answer. The inference was clear: Bass Pro Shops doesn’t need the help. Now, the developer said the project would collapse without public help, but once again Beckner made a good argument.
“My question is, where does this stop?” he said.
Like I said before, we’ve seen worse — or, in the case of the Bucs lease at Raymond James Stadium, much worse. That is the all-time giveaway in this county, and this deal is nothing like that. Over the years, commissioners have approved many measures using your dollars to benefit private interests. They always have good intentions and solid growth projections. Sometimes they even meet those projections.
That uncertainty probably explains why several members of the board opposed this deal initially. As Commissioner Mark Sharpe wryly noted, “I was actually hoping it would (pass) and I just wouldn’t have to vote for it. Maybe I’ll vote no and it will still pass.”
Well, it passed.
And Sharpe voted for it.
For the final word on this, we give you Kelly Morris. He’s the owner of Simple Life Outfitters in Valrico, a small store sued by Bass Pro Shops in an absurd attempt to prove copyright infringement. Bass Pro cut bait on that one after public ridicule.
Morris left Wednesday’s meeting shaking his head and wondering how to get his share of the public pie.
“I know they were going to come,” he said. “I just wish we didn’t have to pay for it.”