North Charleston, fishing for bass, catches a whale - and a little controversy
North Charleston was dangling some pretty irresistible bait out there, so you knew they'd eventually get a big bite.
No, not the Bass Pro Shops - Mark Sanford.
On today's op-ed page, our former governor and current 1st District congressman is carping on the incentives the state and city have offered Bass Pro Shops to open a 200,000-square-foot store here in 2015.
This is not the new live-and-let-live Sanford; this is old-school, ideologue Sanford. Like the Terminator, you knew he'd be back. (Good to see you again, Guv.)
Sanford fought the city's efforts to make a similar deal with Cabela's, a similar outfit, when he was governor. He argued that these incentives gave outside businesses the upper hand to come in and compete with existing business.
He won, and scared off North Charleston's fish.
Well, now the city has an even bigger one on the line - and Mayor Keith Summey has the upper hand. He politely disagrees that it's a bad deal.
"I respect Congressman Sanford, but he's been wrong before and there's no reason to think he'd change his mind," Summey says. "We just disagree on this issue."
At least Sanford graciously sent the mayor an advance copy of his remarks. As lawmakers will tell you, No-Surprise Sanford is a big change.
And here's another difference: This won't be another story about the one that got away.
Bass Pro Shops is a lunker of a sporting goods and apparel store.
It reels in almost $4 billion in revenue annually and employs nearly 20,000 people in its more than 70 stores. Its location just outside of Charlotte anchors the biggest tourist attraction in North Carolina.
The store they are building here will be twice that size. It will have a restaurant, a wildlife museum, a bowling alley and, yes, even a hotel. And it will bring in a lot of new folks, even though we are the greatest tourist locale in the known universe.
And that's why Summey says this is a good deal. Those people will come in, stay in hotels, spend money and visit other stores and attractions.
This isn't the NFL or Major League Baseball, either - no money is coming out of our pockets to subsidize the business. The deal is this: Bass Pro Shops has to invest $25 million in the community; it must do a certain amount of sales every year; and it has to draw at least 35 percent of its customers from more than 50 miles away.
If it can do all that, the store will be allowed to keep half the sales tax revenue it generates for 15 years.
As Summey points out, if the store wasn't there, the state wouldn't get any of that money.
He's absolutely right.
A rising tide
This incentive deal was passed by the Legislature, vetoed by Sanford and then overridden by the Legislature - twice.
But since Sanford's administration had the ultimate responsibility to approve the applications for the program (which, make no mistake, was written for Bass Pro Shops and Cabela's), nothing ever happened.
This time, North Charleston has already smoothed the waters with Gov. Nikki Haley.
Summey argues that a place like Bass Pro Shops is not even as big a competitor to local businesses as Walmart. Folks will continue to shop at local sporting goods stores for their greater knowledge of the area, their more personal service.
Some of those business owners would probably disagree, as would Sanford's tea party fans (even if they are the Bass Pro Shops' target audience).
But the fact is, these stores are proven magnets. To even qualify for the incentives, the Bass Pro Shops would have to be such a success the state will get a handsome windfall.
And there's no reason everyone can't drop a line in the water.
North Charleston is already the Lowcountry's - and the state's - No. 1 shopping mecca. Has been for years. Bass Pro Shops will anchor a new exit off of Interstate 26, but it will not sit alone for long.
Perhaps the state could bait some local businesses into the Bass Pro waters. Let the lunker lure them into friendly waters, and maybe everyone else can snag a few fish.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org