Bass Pro going for big catch with Sarasota County store

cschelle@bradenton.comJune 19, 2014 

Plans for the new store are for a 80,000-square-foot Outpost, which will be smaller than this Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World in Pearl, Miss. The Sarasota store will serve as "the primary anchor" for the new 260,000-square-foot, planned mixed-use Fruitville Commons development. FILE PHOTO

UNIVERSITY PARK -- Bass Pro Shops will be reeling in a trophy-sized store when it builds a new Outdoor World beside the Mall at University Town Center.

Bass Pro is soliciting bids for construction and specialty construction jobs for a 140,000-square-foot store, bid documents show. The store is planned for vacant land owned by Benderson Development Co., east of the Mall at University Town Center beside Interstate 75.

The size of the store bucks analysts' theories that Bass Pro would build a smaller store here because it has large Bass Pro Shops in Fort Myers's Gulf Coast Town Center and another under construction in Brandon, just 45 miles away.

The Springfield, Mo.-based Bass Pro is picking up its expansion plans in Florida after the recession. In addition to the Brandon store pegged for late 2015, Bass Pro is opening in Daytona Beach and Gainesville in 2016. Those latter two are the smaller prototype Outpost stores -- ranging from 70,000 to 80,000 square feet -- that the company is using in its aggressive expansion.

Construction for Benderson's project next to the Mall at UTC is expected to start in the first quarter of 2015, according to Mark Chait, Benderson's director of leasing for Southeast. That space includes retail, residential and mixed-use office space.

Construction of the University Park store is estimated at more than $10 million and could generate competition for local contractors.

A job like this would likely be dominated by national contractors because bidding for the contract is by invitation only, said John LaCivita, vice president of Lakewood Ranch-based Willis A Smith Construction.

"We're hoping to have at least the opportunity to bid," LaCivita said. Still, the project will be a boon for local subcontractors.

"You could have 50 different subcontractor trades potentially working on the project, and on a peak day have over 100 workers on the construction site itself," he said.

Trident Building Systems in Tallevast has worked with Bass Pro Shops, erecting the steel for its 50,000-square-foot Destin store. The store's steel work was a fast-track project, a company spokeswoman said, and the company hopes to be included on the new bid. Trident, which completed steel work for Dillard's and Saks Fifth Avenue for Mall at University Town Center, also bid on the Brandon Bass Pro work.

According to a source who was not authorized to speak publicly, the Bass Pro will likely be developed in 2015, putting it on track for a likely 2016 opening. Based on the construction timeline for other Bass Pros, the Sarasota store may not be ready until 2017.

The construction timelines for other Bass Pro Shops take a little longer than a year to complete. LaCivita said his company could build that space in a year given the opportunity.

"If they hired us, we could do it in less than a year," he said. "We did LECOM in a year."

The Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine building Willis Construction built in Lakewood Ranch was also a 140,000-square-foot building, he added.

Kent Hayes, construction service coordinator for Tandem Construction in Lakewood Ranch, also believes that the local general contractors would be more than capable of building Bass Pro. But the Missouri-based fishing and hunting company could look past that.

The Bass Pro would be more akin to building a Walmart, with a large warehouse shell and nice finishes on the exterior, he said.

"It's a matter of the owner allowing someone local to have a chance," Hayes said.

A Bass Pro Shops spokeswoman did not return a request for comment by deadline Wednesday.

Potential features

Additional details about Bass Pro, including potential water features and restaurant space, is not yet known because the store is in the conceptual design phase.

The 140,000-square-foot Brandon location off of Adamo Drive will feature an Uncle Buck's Fishbowl and Grill, bowling lanes, a 15,000-gallon saltwater aquarium, a fireplace, murals, artwork and memorabilia. It's shooting for a late 2015 opening and could hire about 250 employees.

The 123,000-square-foot Fort Myers store opened in 2005 and features a 19,000-gallon aquarium with Florida native fish, and an 8,000-square-foot Islamorada Fish Company Restaurant. A 24-acre lake was built next to the store as part of the Gulf Coast Town Center where boats can be taken for a spin before a purchase.

Both the Fort Myers and Brandon stores are branded as the company's Outdoor World flagship stores.

The Sarasota Bass Pro would be conveniently located along part of the expanded Nathan Benderson Park lake on the north end, but high-powered motor boats are prohibited from the park's lake by county ordinance.

Quite the draw

The company touts that the average Bass Pro shopper will travel more than 50 miles. For residents in rural Manatee, Sarasota and even DeSoto and Hardee counties, the drive could be worth it.

Bass Pro typically aligns itself with so-called value centers that have retailers like Ross, T.J. Maxx and Burlington Coat Factory. Some of those retailers are north on Cooper Creek Boulevard, and Old Navy and Target are nearby on Cattlemen Road. And Bass Pro is pegged near the 880,000-square-foot upscale Mall at UTC expected to open Oct. 16.

The Bass Pro could be administratively approved within the development rights for land west of the mall beside Interstate 75. Nothing has been submitted for a 2014 opening or construction start.

Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

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