BRISTOL, TN – Legendary outdoorsman Bill Dance, NASCAR team owner Richard Childress and Sprint Cup driver Jamie McMurray were among the dignitaries when Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris and Bristol businessman Steve Johnson celebrated the start of the construction of the retailer’s newest store – at Exit 74 off Interstate 81.
The fanfare at the Friday ceremony capped a hectic period that saw Johnson and Bass Pro Sports reach agreement on the deal a mere two weeks before the digging began in the planned retail development that will be called The Pinnacle.
“I can’t think of a better place I’d want to be than Bristol, Tenn.,” said Morris, who currently operates 58 Bass Pro Shops across the U.S. and Canada – making the Missouri-based chain the nation’s largest outdoors retailer.
Added Morris: “It’s so exciting for us to have a store in Thunder Valley.”
Johnson, who landed Bass Pro Sports as an anchor tenant for The Pinnacle, called the groundbreaking “a great day” for the city.
“We’re not only the home of the world’s fastest half-mile [race] track,” Johnson said, “we’re also now the home of the world’s fastest Bass Pro Shops deal in history.”
Upon opening, sometime in late 2013 or early 2014, the 100,000-square-foot store is expected to employ 250 to 300 people, according to Bass Pro Shop officials. Developers expect it to be a key draw for the 400-acre retail development project Johnson is developing at that exit.
Also among the estimated 200 people gathered for the event were a slew of local, state and regional elected, community and business figures.
Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a state senator from Blountville who attended the event, said The Pinnacle offers good prospects for the area.
“This is [going to be] the first of many groundbreakings,” he said.
The event included the delivery of ceremonial shovels by a race car and a lavish post-ceremony fish fry.
It also occurred just days after neighboring Bristol, Va., announced that the city had reached agreement with national outdoors retailer Cabela’s to build an 80,000-square-foot store in The Falls – an estimated $200 million, three-phrase, retail-development project off Interstate 81’s Exit 5 – just five miles down the road from The Pinnacle.
Cabela’s, which has 38 stores across the United States and Canada, is expected to break ground on its Bristol site during the summer of 2013 and open by October 2014. The Exit 5 store is expected to employ some 170 people, according to Bristol, Va., city estimates.
East Tennessee State University economics professor Steb Hipple, who has won national acclaim for his work analyzing the Tri-Cities economy, said Friday that while Bass Pro Shops should enjoy an advantage by opening its Bristol, Tenn., store sooner than Cabela’s Bristol, Va., site – and by already having a larger share of the national outdoors market – there are real questions about how either could truly thrive with a competitor so close.
“It’s very unusual to have two major [outdoors] stores in such close proximity,” Hipple said. “It will be interesting to see if there’s actually enough new business to sustain both stores – or both property developments [The Pinnacle and The Falls], for that matter. I’m skeptical, frankly.”
But during Friday’s ceremony, Johnson – who briefly fought back tears while recalling how he intensely lobbied Morris to locate a Bass Pro Shops store in Bristol – said that Bass is a perfect first tenant for The Pinnacle because of the retailer’s proven ability to consistently draw massive numbers of shoppers.
Noting that a Bass Pro Shops store averages 2 million visitors a year, Johnson likened the store’s potential local economic impact to that provided by Bristol Motor Speedway, which seats 160,000 spectators.
“It would be like having a packed Bristol Motor Speedway [in Bristol] once a month each year,” year after year, Johnson said of Bass’ traditional store traffic.
Morris was equally upbeat about his company’s potential to draw huge numbers of future customers to the Exit 74 location. Pointing to figures that rank the Tri-Cities region as the 70th largest retail market in America, Morris said, “When you look at the concentration of people [in the Tri-Cities market] who like to hunt and fish, it’s a very significant amount. So everyone in our company is grateful to be here.”