Bill for tax to fund Bass Pro Shop expected to pass Senate, Chaney says

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 14, 2003

[3/14/03]The development may still be a longshot, but Sen. Mike Chaney said a law to let Vicksburg finance a Bass Pro Shop-centered shopping complex will pass the Senate.

As envisioned, the state would allow Vicksburg to impose a 2 percent extra tax on all sales at the sporting goods store, and money collected from the tax would pay costs of providing the retailer a place to do business.

“It’s going to pass the Senate, but I can’t say what’s going to happen over in the House,” Chaney, R-Vicksburg, said Thursday.

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State Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, said this morning that he wasn’t opposed to the idea, but that the legislation would be drafted to make sure it could not become a general sales tax increase.

In Mississippi, the Legislature sets taxation rules and no community can impose a levy without state permission. A local and private bill for the Bass Pro Shop concept was filed this week after city officials passed a resolution to seek the tax.

Officials also said they plan to meet with representatives of Bass Pro Shop next week to pitch their plan to bring the company here. The firm, which draws about a million visitors per year to each of its super-size stores, is looking at another location in Mississippi and has plans for one in Bossier City, La., about 180 miles west of Vicksburg. Otherwise, the nearest Bass Pro Shops are in Dallas, Memphis and Atlanta.

Chaney said the bill could be voted on in the Senate next week. The session ends in about two weeks. Local and private bills don’t face any deadlines other than adjournment of the session.

Mayor Laurence Leyens, who first pitched Vicksburg to Bass Pro Shop representatives last month in New Orleans, still terms it a “long shot,” but said he now has new hopes for the project.

South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman said this morning that there is a 25 percent chance of getting the deal; Leyens said he will meet Wednesday with the developers who are locating Bass Pro Shop in Bossier City to show them the city’s plans.

“They invited us to make them an offer,” he said.

The Bass Pro Shop proposed for Mississippi would be at Pearl, but Leyens said the deal there has not been completed. He said Vicksburg can offer the retailer and tourists better opportunities with the Vicksburg National Park, casinos and the Mississippi River.

He said that in addition to raising funds for the development through the special sales tax, the city has two other strategies for bringing Bass Pro Shop to Vicksburg, but would not discuss the details of the other plans.

Overall, city officials are being tight-lipped about the plans in an effort to keep other cities from trying to steal the deal from Vicksburg.

“There are two sites that have been identified for the project, and they are both on the river, but we can’t say where they are yet,” Leyens said.

Bass Pro Shop, with headquarters in Springfield, Mo., operates 15 stores across the country. Unlike other retailers, the franchises are actively sought because the stores are destination-type attractions.

The bill before the Senate would authorize the City of Vicksburg to borrow up to $16 million for the project and pay off the debt with up to a 2 percent sales tax on purchases at Bass Pro Shop.

That would be in addition to the state’s 7 percent general sales tax. Leyens said the project is almost a guaranteed win for the community because it would draw people from Monroe and Jackson, as well as the rest of the country.

“This creates a whole new tourism market for us,” Leyens said.