Bass Pro: Tacoma's newest tourist attraction taking shape

Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World to draw anglers, outdoors enthusiasts from the region; set to open in fall

john.gllie@thenewstribune.comMarch 30, 2014 

The city of Tacoma has spent years and millions of dollars helping create a cluster of fine museums, public event venues and waterfront attractions to draw tourists, conventioneers and visitors to the “City of Destiny.”

But a new development being constructed in a former home improvement store east of Interstate 5 in South Tacoma might equal or surpass those other civic attractions in its regional drawing power and sales tax generation. And, this particular tourist magnet is one that fell into Tacoma’s lap without much courting or competition with other cities.

That attraction is the Northwest’s first Bass Pro Shop. That outdoors goods mega-merchandiser is hurriedly demolishing the exterior facade and interior of a former Lowe’s home improvement center on the east side of I-5 south of South 72nd Street.

When the 142,000-square-foot Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World store opens in late September or early October, it is expected to draw visitors from throughout the region.

While neither the city nor Bass Pro has any specific predictions for the Tacoma store, the chain has experienced strong demand in many cities.

Bass Pro’s own survey claims that the average visitor to one of its stores — and 120 million will visit its stores this year — drives more than 50 miles and stays 21/2 hours at the store.

A company spokeswoman said the Tacoma store, being the first in the Northwest, could draw customers from an even wider radius. The nearest Bass Pro Shop to Tacoma is in the San Francisco Bay area. The chain has announced it will build another Bass Pro in the Northwest, but that one is sited in Canada near Vancouver, B.C. Bass Pro also has announced a store in Anchorage.

The chain is following its nearest competitor, Cabela’s, into the Northwest. Cabela’s now has three Washington stores, the state’s first in Lacey, one in Tulalip and one in Union Gap.

The Bass Pro Tacoma store is part of an ambitious expansion the privately held company has embarked upon in the past several years.

The Springfield, Mo.-based chain already has opened two new stores in 2014 and has plans to open five more including Tacoma before the year is done, Bass Pro spokeswoman Katie Mitchell said. The company plans to open nine stores next year and six more in 2016.

Already, Bass Pro has advance plans for one opening in 2017 with more likely to be added to that total, she said.

TACOMA 2ND TO MEMPHIS IN 2014 NEW-STORE SIZE

The Tacoma store will be the second largest the chain opens in 2014. The largest will be a store in Memphis where Bass Pro has taken a 55-year lease on the former Pyramid Arena. The retailer is converting that 20,000-seat arena into its second largest store, a 300,000-square-foot retail destination equipped with restaurants, archery and shooting ranges, as well as an observation deck at the peak of the 32-story-tall glass pyramid.

Before cutting the deal with Bass Pro, the city of Memphis studied other possible uses for the iconic pyramid-shaped building, which served as a sports venue for only 13 years before it was displaced by the FedEx Forum in 2004.

A consultant and a civic committee considered converting the downtown waterfront arena into an aquarium, a sports museum, a branch of the Smithsonian and other uses before concluding that Bass Pro’s entertainment-enhanced retail would produce the most visitors and most revenue for the mid-South city.

The city agreed to spend $30 million retrofitting the arena to contemporary earthquake standards as part of the Bass Pro deal. That $30 million is to be paid back through increased sales tax in the arena district. A 2010 study showed that the average Bass Pro store received $29 million in incentives to locate in a particular city. The city of Tacoma provided no direct incentives to Bass Pro.

The Pyramid is scheduled to begin its life as a Bass Pro shop in December.

The Pyramid store, despite its high profile and huge square footage, will only be the runner-up in the Bass Pro network. The Bass Pro store in Springfield, Mo., the company’s headquarters, now covers 400,000 square feet. Mitchell said the outdoor retailer has plans to expand that to 700,000 square feet.

That’s more than five times the floor area of the Tacoma Dome.

SEMINARS, ART GALLERIES, AQUARIUMS AND MORE

Not all that space in Springfield, Memphis or even Tacoma is filled with rods and guns, sleeping bags, camouflage outwear, or even Bass Pro’s own line of boats.

Bass Pro founder Johnny Morris is one of the pioneers in entertainment retail. The stores have a history of carrying customer service beyond the boundaries of normal retail with seminars and tutorials about how to use their products. In recent years, the stores have expanded to related attractions.

“Bass Pro Shops are often considered to be part museum, art gallery, antique store and aquarium,” Mitchell said.

The Tacoma store, for instance, will feature lodge-style decor tied to Northwest history and landmarks, Mitchell said. The Tacoma site will reflect the company’s efforts to match the store to the needs of outdoors sports customers in the region. The Tacoma store, for instance, likely will stock steelhead fishing gear and offer advice on salmon fishing.

The store interior typically includes extensive aquariums stocked with native fish, and such features as waterfalls and dioramas of trophy game.

The Tacoma store will include one of Bass Pro’s signature restaurants, Uncle Buck’s Fishbowl and Grill. The casual dining establishment will include a bowling alley built to appear as if it were underwater with sea creatures prowling the walls and ceilings. The balls will be decorated with nautical motifs, and the ball returns will be lifelike mouths of sharks and alligators.

The chain plans a grand opening weekend during which part of the sales will be donated to Northwest conservation organizations, Mitchell said.

The Tacoma store is expected to hire 250 to 300 full-time and part-time workers, the company said, with a job fair being held at a date to be announced this summer.

John Gillie: 253-597-8663
john.gllie@thenewstribune.com

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