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Bass Pro Shops deal helps keep Manteca afloat
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Bass Pro Shops was going to locate a store in Northern California.

The question was where.

The 900-pound gorilla of outdoor sports merchandizing that has a retailing twist that would make Walt Disney proud sites stores based on the consumer draw within a 100-mile radius.

That meant the exact location of a store wasn’t as critical as being in the right general vicinity.

It was against that backdrop that Manteca leaders – along with the private sector – started working quietly behind the scenes while Sacramento was making a high profile and much ballyhooed courtship of Bass Pro Shops. Bass Pro had also identified a potential site in Modesto and was looking elsewhere.

How Manteca landed what is turning out to be a platinum retail catch has everything to do with thinking out of the box. Bass Pro was looking for the best deal and best project from developers. That meant the developer had to find a way to keep costs down to be competitive plus encompass an attractive design that met Bass Pro’s expectations.

That was when Poag & McEwen – developers of the Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley that Bass Pro Shops now anchors – struck a deal with the City Council.

At first, the majority of the council was reluctant. The idea of giving up 55 percent of the sales tax the lifestyle center that included Bass Pro Shops would generate capped at $1.1 million annually for 35 years made them uneasy. But as Mayor Willie Weatherford repeatedly pointed out, the city was giving up 55 percent of something it wouldn’t get if Bass Pro Shops and the rest of the lifestyle center did not locate in Manteca.

Critics pan the deal saying Manteca is giving up sales tax that would have supported the general fund. They miss the point that the bulk of it is sales tax Manteca never would have gotten without Bass pro Shops and the 2.7 million visitors it drew to Manteca in 2009.

The deal applies to all receipts from the Poag & McEwen center. But, as Bass Pro sales have demonstrated, the cap will ultimately be virtually covered annually by sales that Bass Pro draws in alone. That means essentally everything else in the center – the coming outlet stores, JC Penney, and Best Buy – will flow into Manteca municipal coffers.

Yes, Manteca is still going to have to write a check to Bass Pro that means its “net” take in sales tax will be down more than the 0.9 percent comparing the first half of the current fiscal year to 2008-09. But in the end, there will be more money paying for municipal services as Bass Pro Shops along with Costco have more than compensated for the 60 percent drop off in Manteca auto sales.

Without Bass Pro Shops Manteca this fiscal year would have been forced to eliminate at least a dozen more municipal positions.

Other cities have done similar deals but many, like Tracy, invested the money up front in infrastructure to the tune of over $30 million to make the West Valley Mall possible.

Tracy ironically is looking to put together a deal of the type that Manteca did to try and get Macy’s to fill up empty space at West Valley Mall.

The impact – financially and psychologically – of Manteca’s Bass Pro Shops deal coupled with the Big League Dreams sports complex – has given Manteca a much more vibrant market. That is how Manteca peeled off a Dress Barn and a JoAnn Fabrics – two stores that closed in Tracy – and are poised to take a number of Tracy’s outlet stores as well.

To understand the new world of retail, all you have to do is look at Dress Barn. Chain retailers have switched from a strategy of blanketing markets to looking for locations that give them the most consumer drawing power.

Manteca has always had the location at the center of 700,000-plus regional consumers within a 15-minute drive to Stockton, Modesto and Tracy. It needed a major draw besides your typical national chain stores to attract consumers.

Bass Pro Shops, Big League Dreams, and the outlet stores – assuming the potential demise of Tracy’s Premium Outlets – will provide Manteca with three aces to lure retail dollars from other communities to support municipal services in Manteca.