Announcements this week that two big outdoor and sporting goods retailers had selected the Augusta area for new stores is another sign that the region is shrugging off a long economic slump.
“I’ve been telling people for a while that we are on the brink of a renaissance period. I am convinced of it,” said Robert Bennett, executive director of the Columbia County Development Authority.
“I think some of this is a testament to the economic recovery and the market in general. I’m excited for the region.”
Bennett isn’t the only one. Officials from Richmond and Columbia counties were gleeful over announcements that Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Inc. had decided to build new stores in the area, both of which plan to open in 2014.
Augusta City Administrator Fred Russell said it was encouraging news for the region as a whole and the beginning of what he expects will be more development to come.
“I think it’s great. They got Bass Pro Shops, we got Cabela’s,” Russell said.
Officials said negotiations for the Bass Pro Shops site, eight acres on Mason McKnight Jr. Parkway near the intersection of Interstate 20 and Flowing Wells Road, have been in the works for about eight months.
Company officials announced Wednesday that they will build a 50,000-square-foot Bass Pro Shops Outpost store there that will employ between 200 and 250 people. Construction could begin as soon as November, and the store is scheduled to open in late 2014 or spring 2015, said Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson.
Bass Pro Shops’ director of conservation, Rob Keck, said public interest and a strong hunting and fishing base made the location attractive, as did its proximity to the interstate.
“We like to have easy access,” Keck said. “In the retail business, it’s location, location, location.”
John Engler, vice president of McKnight Properties, said access to the area was one their prime concerns when they began developing the property. The area has access from Wheeler Road and Flowing Wells Road on one end and from Frontage Road and and Scott Nixon Memorial Drive on the other end. Both side are close to easy access to I-20 and Bobby Jones Expressway.
The site of the store is close to the Richmond County line. Its neighbor, CarMax, is in Richmond County.
The outdoors store will take up eight acres of a 58-acre undeveloped parcel, said property owner and developer Mason McKnight.
“We waited out the economy, and thank goodness this is where we are,” McKnight said. “It’s a great moment. It’s a domino effect. With this starts the rest of it.”
EFFORTS TO BRING the store to Columbia County were a collaboration among the county commission and staff members, McKnight and the Columbia County Development Authority.
As an incentive, the county will install and maintain the public parking lot, which also could be used as a park-and-ride program for I-20 motorists, Johnson said.
Bass Pro Shops will purchase eight acres from McKnight, but six of those will be donated to Columbia County, Johnson said. He estimated the total dollar amount of incentives provided by the county at about $2 million.
“They won’t have the tax burden on eight acres of property,” he said. “They’ll only have it on two acres where their vertical construction is.”
Another incentive – a payment in lieu of property taxes for a set period – has been offered but likely will not be used, Johnson said. It would require approval by both the county commission and the school board.
The cost of the store was not disclosed.
The store will be one of the retailer’s Outpost concept stores, which can range from 50,000 to 100,000 square feet and are customized to reflect the outdoor tone of the region it serves.
Other Bass Pro concepts include the Sportsman’s Center and the Outdoor World, which can exceed 150,000 square feet.
THE ORIGINAL Bass Pro store for the Villages of Riverwatch was scheduled for 100,000 square feet. That site will now be taken by Bass Pro Shop’s chief rival. Cabela’s Inc. said Thursday that it will construct a 42,000-square-foot store near Costco at the Village at Riverwatch development. Though it came a day after the Bass Pro Shops news, Cabela’s announcement was tied to its corporate earnings and not a response to the other store, said Walter Sprouse, executive director of the Augusta Economic Development Authority.
Bennett said although each company competes for similar customers, each appeals to a slightly different market. Both stores are know to draw customers from other areas. The nearest Bass Pro Shops stores are in Macon, Savannah and Myrtle Beach, S.C. The closest Cabela’s is another new store being built in Greenville, S.C.
Having both stores in the Augusta area could increase the draw for customers seeking outdoor equipment.
“I think we have two stores that are a good size for the market,” Bennett said.