Bass Pro Figures Flat

Oklahoma Gazette | December 15, 2005
Bass Pro Shops sales in the outdoor retail giant’s Oklahoma City store are entering the Christmas season performing under expectation, even as Bass Pro opens a new store in Broken Arrow that a consultant insists will pull business away from the metro.

Bass Pro’s sales are about at the same rate as last year, according to figures released this month from the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority. According to the figures, Bass Pro netted $26,919,067 by the end of October this year, which is $11,443 more than last year. However, last year’s sales, $33,562,947, are down from the $38.5 million projected for the first full calendar year by a study when the city built the privately owned retailer a building for locating here.

In other words, Bass Pro enters the Christmas season with flat sales.

“That’s how it would appear to me,” said Urban Renewal Authority Executive Director JoeVan Bullard.

The monthly sales figures are provided by Bass Pro to the authority as public record under the deal made with the company when the city council voted to subsidize building the private business’ $20-million facility.

Bullard defended Bass Pro concerning the projected estimates, saying the numbers came from the St. Louis architectural firm Peckham Guyton Albers & Viets Inc., or PGAV, which estimated the store would gross $39.4 million by its second full year and that sales would grow 2.5 percent every year.

“Those figures did not come from Bass Pro. They were from a consulting firm hired by the city. They were from PGAV,” Bullard said.

Bass Pro spokesman Larry Whiteley also attempted to distance the company from the rosy outlook originally provided by the PGAV study in 2002.

“Those figures that were turned in to Oklahoma City, those figures came in from a private consultant who didn’t consult anybody,” Whiteley said.

However, PGAV’s vice president and director of urban consulting, John Brancaglione, said the firm often works closely with Bass Pro in many proposals around the country.

“That would be very odd because in fact we did talk to them. We have talked to them in more than one instance,” Brancaglione said. “(Oklahoma City) is not the only place on earth where a municipal client has asked us to look at one of their deals.”

Brancaglione said PGAV’s figures for what Bass Pro might make in Oklahoma City were directly drawn from projections shared by Bass Pro and collected from similar Bass Pro stores around the country.

“It was based on historic data, data that was represented from their other locations,” Brancaglione said. “If the numbers are flat, that may reflect the nature of retail in general. Unless you are Wal-Mart, and even their numbers are down, retailing in general hasn’t had a lot of growth. The numbers are either flat or down.”

However, Brancaglione said, the building of the new Bass Pro store in Broken Arrow may drive the Oklahoma City sales down even further.

“One of the things that happened and concerned us after the fact … that was the fact that they were going to build in Tulsa,” Brancaglione said. “One of the concerns we had was that it would capture some of the market that would have otherwise gone to the Oklahoma City store,” adding, “Bass Pro, when they do these sorts of things, they sometimes cannibalize their own stores.”

‘Clients as collaborators’

PGAV’s Web site shows numerous instances in which it was hired by Bass Pro. According to PGAV, in 1987 it designed Bass Pro’s 120,000-square-foot Tracker Marine boat manufacturing facility in Clinton, Mo.; Bass Pro’s Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Mo., completed also in 1987 with 71 rooms and a boathouse; a 28,050-square-foot expansion to Bass Pro’s Springfield, Mo., headquarters in 1997; and another 71,600-square-foot expansion in 1999 at the same facility.

A Kansas City, Mo., business-boosting organization, the Kansas City Area Development Council, described PGAV thusly: “PGAV views all its clients as collaborators. It seeks to work with them regarding the best ways to achieve client objectives. Some of its work include: The Stowers Institute for Medical Research, the St. Louis Cardinal Hall of Fame, Discovery Cove in Orlando Florida and the Bass Pro Shop renovation and expansion.”

“They have done numerous financial projections for Bass Pro,” said Irwin Steinhorn, an attorney who represented Citizens Against Taxpayer Abuse, which included other metro-area retailers and businesses who filed a lawsuit against the city’s Bass Pro deal. “They are really a Bass Pro entity that has done work for Bass Pro. I don’t think they are truly independent of Bass Pro,” Steinhorn said.

The PGAV study, which was approved by the city council unanimously in November 2001, promised the city up to 920 new jobs, but the city would have to fork over money to entice Bass Pro.

“(W)ithout the assistance provided by the City, the Project will likely not occur at this location,” according to the PGAV study. “The result would likely be that the proposed tenant would locate to another site within the greater OKC metropolitan area and greatly diminish the economic impacts derived from the site.”

The council approved the payout to Bass Pro. The company has now carried this approach to other locations, with recent company projections predicting up to 50 new stores throughout the United States, many built with some form of tax subsidy obtained by promises of an economic boon to follow the construction and opening.

Bass Pro’s opening in Broken Arrow was predicated on the city spending over $24 million for its building, according to a story by The Associated Press. In fact, around the country, Bass Pro repeatedly approaches city and state governments to get them to subsidize the privately held company’s endeavors to build in their location.

According to an Oct. 10 story in Time magazine, Jackson, Miss., offered $8 million for one of the stores. Garland, Texas, offered $23.7 million. Council Bluffs, Iowa, offered $20 million; Buffalo, N.Y., $66 million.

Family ties

One aspect of locating in Oklahoma City that made this location different from others was the added factor provided by one of the overall owners in Bass Pro — a barrage of positive news articles in The Oklahoman.

When contacted by Oklahoma Gazette for this story, Bass Pro’s Whiteley referred to articles previously published in Oklahoma.

“You’re late on this, first. There was a reporter already covered this about a month ago, I think,” Whiteley said. “As I explained to him, those figures did not come from us.”

The Columbia Journalism

Review published in 2002 a “Darts & Laurels” column written by Gloria Cooper titled “Dart — How to Hook the Public,” about The Oklahoman’s interest in Bass Pro.

“(W)hile casting the proposal in sunny light, the paper’s fifty-odd articles, features, cartoons, and editorials — including a front-page story and a supportive editorial urging the city council to approve it on the day before the vote (which on May 21 it did) — the paper, with only a single, parenthetical reference buried in a column last October, kept readers in the dark about one fishy fact: 19.9 percent of Bass Pro Shops belongs to Gaylord Entertainment, whose chairman emeritus, Edward Gaylord, is the chairman of the company that owns the Oklahoman,” Cooper wrote.

Mike Collison, the chief financial officer of the privately held Oklahoma Publishing Co., which publishes The Oklahoman, said OPUBCO divested itself of financial interest in Gaylord Entertainment, through which came the ownership of Bass Pro. He said the current OPUBCO lineup, including chairman and CEO Christy Gaylord Everest, does not own any “reportable interest.” Gaylord Everest left the board of directors of Gaylord Entertainment in April 2004, according to that company’s Web site. That month the Gaylord family and the E.L. and Thelma Gaylord Foundation reportedly planned to sell 5,872,113 shares of Gaylord Entertainment common stock.

According to Elliot Sloane, Gaylord Entertainment spokesman, the sale went through. “They sold it a year and a half ago,” Sloane said. “They sold their shares.”

“One of the things we do not

own any of is Bass Pro,” said OPUBCO’s Collison.

Gaylord Entertainment does, however. The publicly held company includes E.K. Gaylord II, son of the late publisher, on its board of directors. In 2004, Gaylord Entertainment announced that through changes in accounting practices its holdings in Bass Pro increased from 19 percent to 26.6 percent.

‘And so it goes … ’

Family influenced or not, the laudatory cavalcade of positive stories about Bass Pro continues at The Oklahoman. After initial reports in the paper indicated Broken Arrow paid little to no incentives to bring the outdoor giant to the Tulsa suburb, a May 19, 2004, report pointed out that the city paid for $4 million in improvements to the construction spot, and agreed to repay a $20.3 million loan to build the structure. An Oklahoman editorial May 22, 2004, patted Broken Arrow on the back:

“Actually, Broken Arrow residents are footing the bill for $4 million in infrastructure improvements to attract the Missouri based company,” the editorial states. “This is well short of Oklahoma City’s outlay to get a Bass Pro store for Bricktown. Yet we can’t imagine that any suburb in this area would spend $4 million for a store. Bringing retail back to the central city was a wise, if controversial, move.”

But the editorial left out the part about the $20 million.

“And so it goes for Oklahoma’s second Bass Pro Shops store,” states “Big boys’ toy store,” the Nov. 20 article in The Oklahoman announcing the Broken Arrow Bass Pro opening. “Broken Arrow boosters are hoping the store will be the same sort of spark for development that turned Oklahoma City’s Lower Bricktown into an entertainment mecca.”

Oklahoma Gazette

In its inaugural issue of Oct. 15, 1979, Oklahoma Gazette, at that time an upstart, bimonthly publication with a mere 2,000 circulation, featured a page-one story about the Oklahoma City Council’s recent passage of an urban conservation district. Hardly sexy...
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