by Max Brantley
Memphis is running into unexpected cost runups in the idea of turning the Pyramid into a Bass Pro.
In the course of reporting that the other day, the Commercial Appeal mentioned a new study that should be sent out to every legislator inclined to support Sen. Jake Files' constitutional amendment to allow development districts in which retail stores would get to keep their own sales taxes as corporate welfare payments. He's talked of the Bass Pro model in touting his development amendment. The notion that such giveaways create new prosperity has always been badly flawed.
Now here's further evidence, a study by the Public Accountability Initiative, that blows up the notion that giving away money to Bass Pro is good for anyone but Bass Pro. It's called "Fishing for Taxpayer Cash: Bass Pro's record of big league subsidies, failed promises and the consequences for cities across America."
The report says Bass Pro has received $500 million in subsidies nationwide. It has built stores that have attracted shoppers, but rarely created the tourist attractions that they were envisioned as being. (Remember, transferring fishing lure buyers from one store to another is not added value.) Bass Pro shopping centers in many cities are struggling. Older shopping centers were cannibalized. Bass Pro has gone on a growth spree that has produced stores closer together than originally thought, diminishing the drawing power of each store. The report, done to discourage a $35 million public outlay in Buffalo, concludes:
Rather than leveraging taxpayer dollars, Bass Pro-anchored projects can multiply costs associated with development projects. By failing to attract additional tenants, these projects leave cities dealing with lower-than expected tax revenues, as well as vacancy and blight that may not have existed before. High levels of public debt associated with financing the projects leave towns struggling to deal with negative fiscal situations, as has been the case in Garland, TX. And because Bass Pro tends to offer poor wages, taxpayers are likely forced to reckon with hidden social safety net costs.
Bass Pro itself continues to fare well — in part, no doubt, due to its success in winning subsidies — but taxpayers are sometimes left holding the bag when promised benefits of development, tourism, and increased tax revenue fail to materialize.