Could North Charleston be trying to lure big outdoor retailer?

  • Posted: Thursday, December 19, 2013 10:28 p.m., Updated: Thursday, December 19, 2013 10:37 p.m.
Bass Pro Shop booth at the trade show during the 2007 Bass Master's Classic.

Seven years after North Charleston tried to attract a Cabela's store with tax incentives, sparking a high-profile dispute with then-Gov. Mark Sanford, the city is preparing similar incentives for a different major retailer.

The company has not been named, but Cabela's and its rival Bass Pro Shops are the companies for which state lawmakers designed the tax incentives, and North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said it's not Cabela's.

"Hopefully, the project will be ready to announce after January 1," said Summey, who referred to the incentive deal by its code name, Project Blue.

Like Cabela's, Bass Pro Shops operates "destination" outdoor recreation stores that sell gear, clothing and even furniture in locations that may include aquariums, restaurants, taxidermied animals and museum elements.

For stores able to attract large number of visitors from at least 50 miles away, South Carolina offers a deal that can allow them to keep half the sales tax they generate for 15 years.

North Charleston in 2006 sought to attract Cabela's to the planned Ingleside Plantation development using that incentive, and Summey confirmed Thursday night that Ingleside Plantation is the intended store location this time as well.

Ingleside is a roughly 1,500-acre tract in the Blue House Swamp area between Palmetto Commerce Parkway and Interstate 26. The mayor's son, Elliott Summey, the vice chairman of Charleston County Council, is a vice president of Weber USA, which owns the Ingleside property. Both the city and county have been involved in building roads to the property, and North Charleston sees the development as a massive economic booster.

"What this is going to do is bring in a lot of outside retail that we were not getting," Keith Summey said, referring to the tax incentive deal. "It will help kick off a retail cluster."

State law allows up to four "extraordinary retail establishments" to receive the tax incentive, but so far, none have. An "extraordinary" retailer must meet benchmarks including:

At least 2 million visitors yearly, 35 percent of whom travel at least 50 miles to get there.

Cost at least $25 million.

Generate at least $2 million in yearly sales tax.

Support a hotel.

A company must also be designated as an "extraordinary retail establishment" by the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. North Charleston and the "Project Blue" company together sought conditional certification around the end of 2012, and Summey said that status has been approved.

"If there are applications in the pipeline, I cannot confirm or deny that," SCPRT Communications Director Marion Edmonds said Thursday.

A business that completes the approval process and meets the benchmarks gets to use the sales tax incentive money for infrastructure and even in-store attractions. For example, if a big-box sporting goods retailer were to build a store with an aquarium, the rebated sales tax money could be used toward the cost of the aquarium.

In the past, Summey has compared that incentive to other forms of public financing that were used to develop the Charleston Place hotel in downtown Charleston, North Charleston's Tanger Outlet Mall, and Towne Center shopping center in Mount Pleasant.

Both Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops have received tax incentives in a number of states, based on the idea that the mega-stores are attractions that draw tourists and fill hotel rooms. Opponents of the incentives, such as Sanford - whose veto of the incentives was twice overridden - argue that it's unfair when the government supports a retailer that will compete with unsubsidized retailers.

"To me it's government at its lowest form," said Mike Able, owner of Haddrell's Point Tackle and Supply, with stores in Mount Pleasant and West Ashley. "I've been in business for 31 years and I've never asked for a handout."

"When you have manufacturing companies like Boeing, I get that, but a retailer, against all other retailers?" he said.

Cabela's backed away from North Charleston during the dispute with Sanford, at a time when the economy was beginning to sour. "The governor will be gone in two years," Summey said in 2008. "I might come up with a Cabela's after all."

During Thursday night's City Council meeting, Summey was authorized to complete the "Project Blue" agreement, allowing the city to serve as a pass-through for the tax money. The vote was unanimous, with no public discussion. Councilman Sam Hart was absent. Attempts to reach public information officers at Bass Pro Shops were not immediately successful Thursday afternoon.

Bass Pro Shops' only South Carolina location is in Myrtle Beach, and no tax incentives were involved. The company also has locations in Savannah, and near Charlotte. Cabela's has no stores in South Carolina but the company's website shows planned locations in Greenville and in Fort Mill.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552

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