When officials with Cabela’s recently made their first presentation to the Oklahoma City Economic Development Trust, they were treated to a round of compliments capped with a playful debate between City Council members Pat Ryan and Larry McAttee over the location of the store.
Hostile questions and accusations of extortion voiced just a week earlier by Ed Shadid in response to a $3.5 million incentives deal for the outdoor goods retailer were not to be heard, though Shadid quietly sat in on the presentation.
John Castillo, corporate affairs manager at Cabela’s, spent 25 minutes telling the economic development trust members about the retailer’s history and bragged about the stores’ products, staff and customer amenities.
Not once did he explain why the retailer is asking for the $3.5 million, which will be paid from the city’s general fund as the store begins to pay sales taxes.
The company, however, rarely misses an opportunity to collect incentives for new stores, which it is on track to open at a rate of 15 a year over the next several years. The deal is up for a final vote by the Oklahoma City Council on Tuesday.
“It’s a situation where we are working with the program the city offers,” Castillo said. “It’s something the city is out there offering not just to Cabela’s but also to any retailer that is interested. Cabela’s has a wonderful relationship with the city, and this is something that will be mutually beneficial for both parties.”
A 2012 study by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity calculated incentives to Cabela’s over the past two decades from 20 cities totaling more than $550 million. At least another half dozen such deals have concluded since, though at least one city, Greenville, S.C., was able to land a store without any incentives for the company.
Oklahoma City’s first modern retail incentives deal was a dozen years ago when it agreed to build a $20 million store for a Bass Pro Shops in Lower Bricktown. At that time, city officials secured a deal from the retailer that it would not open another store within 70 miles of Oklahoma City. Officials at the time discounted the chance of Bass Pro rival Cabela’s entering the market.
Two existing locally owned outdoor sporting goods retailers unsuccessfully protested – a smaller Bass Pro franchisee and Outdoor Outfitters. Both retailers went out of business after Bass Pro Shops opened to large crowds.
Miles Hall, owner of H&H Gun Range, 400 S Vermont, bought some of the remains of the Outdoor Outfitters store and is questioning whether this latest deal is really necessary. Hall has grown his business from a 4,800-square-foot shooting range in 1981 to a 90,000-square-foot, 129-employee retail operation featuring its own restaurant.
A recent analysis of sales proceeds, Hall said, showed the store draws from every ZIP code in the state. H&H draws customers from states throughout the country and is a frequent stop for international visitors to Oklahoma City.
“We had to do our range rules into nine other languages because we have so many international visitors,” Hall said. “They’re not just coming to see us, but while they’re here, they want to do something that is unique to Oklahoma and America – and that is shooting.”
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