Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fish story

This one is funny for Western New Yorkers, mostly. So I'll give them the joke first, and then tell the backstory to the rest.

I was in Florida last week and picked up a newspaper. The headline on top of the local section made me burst out laughing.

It read "Bass Pro payout put off." And when I brought the section back here and showed it to a friend, he burst out laughing too.

Bass Pro and Buffalo go way back in terms of comedy. When Memorial Auditorium came down some years ago, the original idea was to put some sort of big attraction in terms of a store in that area. Bass Pro was considered by some at the time to be a good choice, since it was known as a huge recreation outlet that was only available in selected markets and thus could be a huge draw for the outdoor set. A deal, contingent on tax breaks, was announced.

And then Western New York waited, and waited, and waited some more. It became a running joke. "What are you doing tonight?" "Oh, thought I'd go down to Bass Pro and look for ... oh, right, never mind."

When I was in Geneva, I visited a Bass Pro there just to see what it was like. It was a nice, big fishing store -- not some place that would be on my list of shopping destinations, although I'm not part of the target audience.

Finally, after five years of negotiations -- I'll repeat that, five years -- local politicians finally said "enough" and walked away. Bass Pro's only comment was that it hadn't had enough time to put together a final deal. Glaciers move faster, and not just because of global warming.

The city turned to other plans, and developed the area at the foot of Main Street as a park. Turns out people like to gather by the waterfront on nice days, because it turned into a popular spot in about, oh, an hour. And construction on a project on the Aud site is underway.

By the way, some of the credit for this burst of action goes to Congressman Brian Higgins, who moved the project along. You know those surveys in which people say they hate Congress but think their Congressman is doing a fine job? That's the story here.

As for the Florida Bass Pro, the plan was to put in a story just off an Interstate in Brandon. The company first asked for $40 million in subsidies, much of that in direct tax break. The burden on the county has been negotiated down to $8.25 million in local funds. It was difficult to say by reading the story if there are other tax breaks involved.

County Commissioners voted to postpone making a decision on the transaction until February. Based on what we've seen up here, I wouldn't plan on purchasing that new fishing pole there anytime soon.