Justine Griffin / Herald Tribune – Rumored for years, sources confirmed Tuesday that Southwest Florida has reeled in another big retail fish: Bass Pro Shops will open a store in this market.
The likely site for the megastore — which would sell fishing, camping, hunting, boating and other gear — would be at University Parkway and Interstate 75, near the under-construction Mall at University Town Center, sources said.
The Springfield, Missouri-based chain — with a store in Fort Myers and another under construction in Brandon — has been aggressively expanding into Florida.
It is unclear when the local store will open or construction will begin.
Representatives of the chain did not return a call on Tuesday for comment.
Bass Pro Shops stores are varied in size, but the company’s traditional models, called “Outdoor World,” can be up to 300,000 square feet and are usually situated on major thoroughfares and near other strong retail plazas or malls.
In recent years, Bass Pro Shops has opened smaller format stores — around 60,000 square feet — to “in fill” areas in between their larger stores.
The Sarasota-Bradenton store will likely be one of those smaller store formats, common among expanding companies these days, said Phoenix-based retail analyst Jeff Green, who is familiar with the Southwest Florida market.
Other retail chains, like Walmart, which fills in urban areas between its supercenters with neighborhood market grocery stores, and The Cheesecake Factory, with large and small restaurant models, have scaled back to smaller store formats in recent years.
“It does surprise me some that they want to open a store in Sarasota when they have others close by, like Brandon,” Green said. “This will likely be a smaller store to in-fill the space between their larger stores in neighboring markets.”
Bass Pro Shops broke ground on a 150,000-square-foot Outdoor World store last month, near the Westfield Group’s Brandon Town Center.
Inside will eventually be fishing ponds with indigenous fish from this region that employees catch with artificial bait and other equipment sold in the store.
The large stores usually have taxidermy displays of local animals.
The new Brandon store also will feature a 7,000-square-foot Islamorada Fish Co. restaurant, which serves seafood, cocktails and other entrees.
The fish tanks and restaurant features make Bass Pro Shops less of a store and more of an experience, analysts say, a huge part of the chain’s mass appeal.
“Bass Pro Shops is destination-oriented. They won’t draw the super affluent customer like the new Taubman Centers mall will bring,” Green said. “That means the Bass Pro shopper won’t do a lot of cross-shopping at the mall, but they will shop at the retailers in the plazas around the mall.”
The massive $315 million mall being developed by Manatee County’s Benderson Development Co. and Michigan’s Taubman Centers Inc. will feature luxury tenants that include Saks Fifth Avenue, an Omega watch boutique, an Apple Store and lululemon.
“That’s definitely not the same kind of customer,” Green said. “But there is enough retail and restaurants in the area to attract them, and it’s close to the highway.”
Across the street is a plaza with Best Buy and Bass Pro competitor, Sports Authority.
Across University Parkway, Benderson’s tenants include BJ Wholesale Club, Nordstrom Rack and restaurants like Bonefish Grill and Carmel Café.
Earlier this month, Bass Pro Shops announced plans to open an 80,000-square-foot store in Gainesville, its 13th in Florida.
Two other stores in Jacksonville and Daytona also are expected to open soon.
“Having the opportunity to build a super outdoor store directly fronting Interstate 75 will allow us to bring Bass Pro Shops low prices and famous friendly, expert service to serve the many sportsmen, women as well as the visitors to this area each year,” said Bass Pro Shops’ founder Johnny Morris in a statement about the Gainesville opening.
The Gainesville store will anchor the Celebration Pointe retail center, a million-square-foot, mixed-use project that includes retail, restaurants, entertainment, a hotel and apartments.
The center is not that dissimilar to what the University Parkway district will likely look like once Benderson opens its two hotels behind the mall and after proposed residential plans in the area begin to take shape.