Justine Griffin / Tampa Bay Times – Veteran Realtor Randy Adkins can remember when Brandon was little more than cow pastures.
But over the past few decades, Brandon has accumulated its share of the good and the bad that come with urban sprawl — chain stores and traffic, cookie-cutter neighborhoods and a big mall.
But within the past year, Brandon has added two whoppers — a Top Golf entertainment complex that is attracting everyone and their favorite celebrity; and a Bass Pro Shops, the kind of cult favorite lure that makes people drive here from hundreds of miles away and book a hotel room.
A combination of cheap real estate, access to major thoroughfares and its general proximity to communities from Brooksville to Sarasota have helped make Brandon a landing spot.
St. Petersburg draws visitors from all over for its bustling bar scene and Tampa has its swanky restaurants, but Brandon’s two high-profile draws are major gets.
This makes the southern Hillsborough County bedroom community a destination.
“This is a market with a disposable income,” said Adkins, a Realtor with Brooks Realty Group. “Brandon is a huge pipeline to MacDill Air Force Base and professionals working in downtown Tampa. We’re sitting on the main artery into Tampa. That’s why Bass Pro Shops wants to be here.”
Crowds flocked to Brandon’s Bass Pro on Wednesday as the outdoor retail chain opened its 130,000-square-foot facility at 10501 Palm River Road. The store is more like an amusement park with fishing ponds, taxidermy displays, boat showrooms, sports celebrity appearances and a 7,000-square-foot Islamorada Fish Co. restaurant that serves up seafood and booze.
The Missouri-based company has a loyal following nationwide. About 120 million people visit Bass Pro stores in the United States and Canada every year. The average shopper stays at the store for 2 1/2 hours and drives an average 50 miles to get there. Those are numbers most retailers would kill for.
“Because Bass Pro Shops is a destination, families may start out at the Westfield Brandon mall and then take a short drive across the highway to satisfy those members who adore this type of shopping,” said Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of the Retail Group with Douglas Elliman Real Estate in New York City. “Then they stay for dinner at the Bass Pro restaurant. This formula is a win-win for everyone.”
By all accounts, Top Golf also has been a major hit. Sports stars like Derrick Brooks, Cadillac Williams, Dave Andreychuk, Ronde Barber and Steven Stamkos have been spotted there.
Another reason Bass Pro and Top Golf likely chose Brandon is that the community rebounded more quickly than other parts of Tampa Bay after the Great Recession, said Ben McLeish, director of retail services at Colliers International. The Tampa commercial real estate firm put it on a fast track for commercial growth.
“Brandon had less undeveloped land than other parts of Tampa,” McLeish said. “It was easier for developers and retailers to come into Brandon after the recession to look at empty properties and find ways to improve them.”
Chain stores were initially attracted to Brandon for its cheap real estate and access to the interstate. But a growing suburban community has added to the sprawl — residential real estate is still cheaper than in Tampa and it’s an easy commute to work for families and young professionals.
The Westfield Brandon mall, originally known as the Brandon TownCenter, saw more than 1 million shoppers during its first two weeks of business when it opened in 1995. Now the community shopping center is home to a mix of retailers, including an Apple Store and Cheesecake Factory, which draw families east of the bay who don’t want to drive to International Plaza to get a new iPhone.
Nordstrom Rack, the outlet division of Nordstrom department stores, opened in Brandon in October. Dick’s Sporting Goods joined the anchor lineup at the mall years ago. Brandon is home to just about every expanding chain you can think of — World of Beer, Brass Tap, a Walmart Supercenter, Sam’s Club and Costco Wholesale.
Ford’s Garage, a Fort Myers-based regional restaurant chain, opened a location in Brandon in June.
More is on the way: Financial services giant USAA is building a 420,000-square-foot facility at Brandon’s Crosstown Center. It should open this year. Rumors of a Dave & Buster’s, an adult arcade, are floating around, too.
“The addition of Bass Pro Shops expands the entire Brandon trade area,” said Jeff Green, a retail analyst from Phoenix who is familiar with the Tampa Bay market. “It won’t only be good for Top Golf next door, but for all the retail and restaurant tenants in strip centers leading up to the Westfield mall. They’ll all feel a bump.”