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Bass Pro Shops backs out of Columbia County deal

Posted: October 6, 2013 - 12:02am

Columbia County officials said Bass Pro Shops asked for additional incentives, such as $10 million to build the store, to avert its decision to back out of a deal to locate a retail store near Interstate 20.

Word got out Tuesday that the outdoor retail chain had changed its mind about opening a 50,000-square-foot store in metro Augusta.

County Administrator Scott John­son said Bass Pro informed officials of its decision during a Sept. 27 conference call. Johnson said the company wanted more incentives to stick with the plan, including “the cost of their vertical construction up to $10 million.”

Johnson said the demands were unreasonable and not something the county could consider.

The Bass Pro Shops Out­post on Mason McKnight Jr. Park­way, near the intersection of I-20 and Flowing Wells Road, would have created more than 200 jobs. It was announced in late July, a day before competitor Cabela’s Inc. announced that it would open a store in Augusta, in a spot previously considered by Bass Pro in 2008.

Columbia County Com­mis­sion Chairman Ron Cross said company officials said they didn’t think the Augusta market was big enough for both stores, something Bass Pro Shops denied in a statement Wednesday.

As for the last-minute change in demands, developer Mason Mc­Knight III said a similar situation occurred the last time his company was about to close a deal with Bass Pro to build a 100,000-square-foot store off River Watch Parkway in Augusta. That plan – announced in 2008 – never got off the ground.

McKnight said he flew to Las Vegas to finalize the contract with company officials and was met with a set of additional requests for concessions on his part.

“It was a bunch of outrageous demands,” he said. “I thought we had a deal.”

McKnight said he had no choice but to walk away.

He said that in the most recent deal, his company and county officials worked for about eight months to sign a contract with Bass Pro. The deal provided that Bass Pro Shops would purchase eight acres from McKnight and donate six acres to the county. In turn, the county would install and maintain a public parking lot, which was also to be used as a park-and-ride program for I-20 motorists, Johnson said.

McKnight said he sensed something was wrong when the company didn’t file any plans or permits and didn’t send a sign to post on the property advertising the development.

In a statement Wednesday, the company denied it was concerned about competition with Cabela’s.

“Frankly, we face competition in most markets, but we continue to thrive in spite of it because of our exceptional employees and the outstanding products and services we provide,” wrote Tammy Sapp, the director of communications for Bass Pro Shops.

According to Sapp, the statement was issued “to respond to and provide clarification in regard to some grossly inaccurate statements that have been made in the press.”

The statement cited Bass Pro Shops’ concerns about sharing a parking lot.

“In the process of our negotiations for the site, there were several instances where there was a lack of disclosure, the least of which involved the development of a park-and-ride program. We were led to believe this would be a parking lot for Bass Pro Shops’ customers,” the statement said.

Johnson said that statement made no sense to him.

“They knew about the parking lot from the beginning,” he said. “The parking lot was the deal.”

Morris News Service writer Jenna Martin contributed to this report.

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