Posted on: January 27 2011
Could be the largest retail establishment in New Orleans...
Thursday, January 27, 2011
By Rebecca Mowbray
Outdoor mega-retailer Bass Pro Shops apparently will anchor the redevelopment of the 110-year-old Market Street power plant along the Mississippi River.
If the $70 million to $100 million project moves forward, it would be the biggest retail development in New Orleans in years and could attract other retailers to the industrial section of the Lower Garden District. The 500,000 square-foot Market Street power plant, which has two giant smokestacks, is located just upriver from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
Developers say they do not anticipate seeking a tax-increment financing district, or TIF, that allows taxes generated at the site to help pay for the project, but such financial incentives have frequently been dicussed in plans for redeveloping the Market Street plant.
In late December, NOLA Development Partners LLC, an investor group that is leading the redevelopment, told a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge that "a national, billion-dollar anchor tenant" has signed a letter of intent on the property and will sign a lease this spring.
"I can neither confirm nor deny that Bass Pro Shops is our tenant," project development manager Michael Ullian said while standing next to NOLA Development chief executive Adam Swickle, who was wearing a Bass Pro Shops insignia shirt. "However, they would be a wonderful addition to this city as they are currently the No. 1 tourist attraction in the state of Missouri drawing four million visitors a year. If New Orleans attracts eight million visitors a year, Bass Pro would be a great addition in such close proximity to the Convention Center, cruise ships, the Central Business District, the hotels and the entire hospitality industry that drives this city. It is rumored that a Bass Pro customer spends an average of four hours for every shopping trip and they draw customers from up to 250 miles away."
Despite Ullian's full-throated pitch, Bass Pro spokesman Larry Whiteley said he's in charge of announcing stores and hasn't been told to announce anything in New Orleans. "It doesn't mean that we're not looking. But if they are, we're not at the point of announcing it," Whiteley said.
But elected officials and Convention Center executives have been told about the Bass Pro project, while local business groups such as the Magazine Street Merchants Association and Downtown Development District say they've been invited to briefings for plans at the site.
Councilwoman Stacy Head, whose district includes the power plant site, said the Bass Pro project could be a breakthrough in the city's long-running challenges in attracting retail. "Bass Pro Shop tends to be a destination. If this concept comes to fruition, it would be a great thing for the city of New Orleans and that area," Head said, adding that she remains perplexed why retailers have been slow to come to New Orleans when population and income statistics demonstrate that the city can support more stores.
Head was unaware that the development plans include tax increment financing, and she said she looks forward to hearing more about financing plans for the development. "I tend to be concerned -- not wholly opposed to -- developer-driven TIFs," Head said.