Henderson: If Bass Pro is a home run, why does it need help?
The area in Brandon near where a new Bass Pro Shops may eventually be built is the perfect spot to go nowhere fast. I drive through there frequently, although “driving” is a relative term. Once you turn off Falkenburg Road, where the Bass Pro entrance is planned, onto Causeway Boulevard, you should be prepared to idle, waste gas and wait as hundreds of cars crawl through the next green light. There is a lot of time to think about major county projects when snaking your way through that part of town. I try to avoid the area whenever traffic figures to be especially gnarly, but I haven’t discovered what the right time would be. So, on the surface, it seems reasonable to spend $6.25 million of our dollars to upgrade the roads around there, should county commissioners approve the project at their meeting Wednesday. It surely looks like they plan to do just that, and under normal circumstances I’d just shrug and get ready to dodge more construction barrels.This is not a normal circumstance. For one thing, other parts of Hillsborough have traffic problems, too, and upgrading the roads in this area wasn’t high on the list of county priorities. But then a retail development called The Estuary came along. Bass Pro’s proposed 145,000-square-foot superstore is the centerpiece of that project, which includes other places to buy stuff, commercial and office space, and a hotel. Bass Pro is in a position to demand concessions from the developer, who, in turn, is asking for help from the county. That’s how we got to the point where your elected officials may use public money to help a private enterprise get started. Ummmmm … This deal is a little queasy, and not just because of the sometimes objectionable business practices of Bass Pro. Remember last month when its lawyers dogged a small outdoors apparel store in Valrico in a ridiculous attempt to prove trademark infringement? The real problem is how commissioners choose which projects will receive taxpayer dough and which ones won’t. What will they say the next time someone has a great idea and needs help from the public trough to make it work? Or what happens if this Bass Pro death star runs some of the smaller fish into bankruptcy and they look to the county for help? County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan has worked on this deal for about two years, and the price tag has fallen from $15 million to the current $6.25 million. With the money Bass Pro will generate for county tax rolls, it shouldn’t take too long for the county to recoup its investment. It’s not a huge amount of money, relatively speaking. It’s the principle. It will create a lot of jobs, yes. They won’t be the great, high-tech jobs officials say the area desperately needs, but in this economy you don’t turn your nose up at the chance for employment. Here’s what I can’t get past, though. If this project is going to be such a home run, why does the developer need taxpayer money to make it work? It seems a reasonable question. I just haven’t yet heard a reasonable answer. www.facebook.com/JoeHendersonTrib