Joe Henderson Columns
Henderson: County used the right bait for Bass Pro
It is debatable how far local governments should go to coax big retail businesses into setting up shop. That was the central complaint last March when Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan revealed his pitch to get Bass Pro Shops to drop a line in Brandon. It was a fish tale that got fishier as it went along. Opponents beefed that small businesses could be driven into bankruptcy by a behemoth they subsidized with their tax dollars. While we're on the subject, why give public aid to a big company while sending the bill to the small guys? It's a legitimate argument. Still, Hagan's latest attempt to hook up with Bass Pro seems to have merit this time, especially compared with what we saw the first time this partnership came up. The cost to taxpayers now is $8.25 million for road improvements around the project – about half of what was floated originally.Bass announced the deal Friday, contingent upon the county approving its end. Other than the road work, "Bass isn't receiving a dime," Hagan said. That's what the county is supposed to do with our money, especially with a company that has Bass' reputation for coaxing large amounts of public assistance for its private enterprise. The Public Accountability Initiative studied 25 Bass projects and reported subsides ranging from $5 million in Rossford, Ohio, to $84 million in Mesa, Ariz. In many cases, the return to the public was dubious. Bass makes all sorts of claims about the money it will generate and the tourists it will bring. If this business is so robust, though, why does it need government support in the first place? Just asking … Let's get real about what we're looking at. Bass promises jobs, jobs and more jobs. Hagan said the project, which includes a hotel and entertainment complex, will employ about 1,500 people, with another 1,300 involved in the construction. Adding so many retail jobs doesn't exactly fit the vision by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn to create high-wage, high-tech jobs that will change the area's economic DNA. Let's not be total downers though. In this economy, anything that creates decent jobs is worth considering. Hagan plans to present this to the commission on Tuesday, and if everything is hunky and dory the new Bass Pro could open by May 2014 off Falkenburg Road near Brandon's big mall. Just so we're clear, I'm not buying the projections that this project will cause jobs and money to rain like manna on Brandon and the county. Some of the smaller outdoor and fishing shops in the southern part of the county could be really hurt by this. However, I drive by that area where they want to build this all the time and it can be a traffic nightmare. The roads need upgrading anyway. If the county can get a splashy new business for the cost of doing something it needs to anyway, it's fine by me. It stops there. Hagan said Bass isn't receiving a dime, and that's how it should be. Just make sure to check the fine print in the contract, lest we wind up on the hook.