PORTAGE | When Bass Pro Shops announced it would locate its 130,000-square-foot retail outlet in Portage in late 2005, it was assumed the giant sports retailer would lure other development.
It did for a while.
Quaker Steak and Lube, Longhorn Steakhouse, Country Inn and Suites all followed with construction at AmeriPlex at the Port. Portage 16 Imax, Kohl's, Menard's and Lowe's constructed facilities on the city's south side.
When Bass Pro Shops opened in February 2007, developers of AmeriPlex were working on plans for a lifestyle center, taking advantage of the draw Bass Pro brought to the development at Interstate 94 and Ind. 249.
Then came 2008 and the recession. Retail development in Portage came to a near halt.
It is difficult to determine what Bass Pro Shops' true impact has been on the city and development because of the recession, officials say.
"We were having good progress, making real progress toward more retail in October 2008," said Tim Healy, senior vice president of development for Holladay Properties, owner of AmeriPlex.
For a few companies that did locate at AmeriPlex after 2008, having Bass Pro made a difference, Healy said.
"It gives a certain image of our development," he said.
Bass Pro Shops lived up to every contractual promise it made to the city, said John Shepherd, economic development adviser for Portage.
The outdoor retailer employs an estimated 232 workers who earn about $6.3 million annually, he said.
"Overall, the community is very pleased with it. It is a great asset," said Shepherd, adding the lack of ancillary development has left the city "feeling unfulfilled."
"Everybody says when we come, this will come and they did have a record of attracting other retail. And they did attract some new businesses. But, we had the biggest recession since the Great Depression," said Shepherd, adding that Bass Pro also has been a community-spirited company since it opened its doors.
The deal to bring Bass Pro Shops to the city included a $2.5 million grant from the Indiana Economic Development Commission to the city for development of infrastructure at the city-owned business park across Ind. 249 from AmeriPlex. It also included floating $17.5 million in bonds by the city, which are being repaid through property tax revenue.
Shepherd said the state's investment has been repaid through increased sales taxes collected at the retailer. Some $14 million is still owed on the bonds.
The city used the state's money to construct infrastructure at its business park. To date, there has been no development at that property.
What Bass Pro Shops does from now into the future to help locate business in Portage is still up in the air.
James Fitzer, executive director of the Portage Economic Development Corp., said while his organization primarily looks to bring industry into the city, Bass Pro brings a "quality of life" factor that many companies are looking for when thinking about relocating.
"It is nice to have a good anchor for retail. That's a real plus," Fitzer said.
Healy said only this year Holladay Properties has again begun listing property at AmeriPlex with the National Retail Association.
"We are hopeful that we will have a retail resurgence there. We are hopeful as the economy rebounds, the retail expands," Healy said.