by Paul Bowers
Outdoor specialty store Gander Mountain announced this week that it would open a new store in North Charleston this fall, beating the city's long-awaited Bass Pro Shops to the punch by several months.
There is one important distinction between the two stores: Whereas the city lured Bass Pro Shops with a sweetheart tax break, Gander Mountain came to town without any such enticements.
Under an allowance in South Carolina's tax code, municipalities can offer special tax discounts to attract "extraordinary retail establishments." In the case of Bass Pro Shops, the City of North Charleston promised the company it would only have to pay half of the sales taxes the store owes over its first 15 years of operation.
Gander Mountain will build its 40,000-square-foot store in the Promenade at Northwoods, a shopping center across Rivers Avenue from Northwoods Mall, filling a space previously occupied by a Marshalls. According to a press release from the company, the store will feature gear and accessories for hunting, fishing, camping, boating, and archery, along with "one of the largest selections of new and used firearms in South Carolina." The store will carry brands including the North Face, Columbia, Carhartt, Keen, Patagonia, and Salomon.
Bass Pro Shops plans to open its new superstore in 2015 in the Ingleside Plantation development between I-26 and Palmetto Commerce Parkway. At an estimated 130,000 to 150,000 square feet, it will include a bowling alley called Uncle Buck's Fishbowl and Grill. A new I-26 interchange will be built for the site, and Charleston County and North Charleston are building and widening roads to improve access to the store.
The state's extraordinary retail establishment law allows up to four companies to reap the benefits of a major tax break, provided they meet a set of qualifications including:
• Being located in a county with at least 3.5 million visitors a year or being located within two miles of an Interstate highway
• Attracting 2 million visitors a year, with at least 35 percent traveling 50 miles or more to the store
• Having a capital investment of at least $25 million
• Collecting at least $2 million a year in sales tax
Local outdoor retailers, Lowcountry Local First, and U.S. Sen. Mark Sanford opposed the tax incentive for Bass Pro Shops, saying it gave an unfair advantage to the big-box retailer. Sanford, the former governor of South Carolina, vetoed the bill that created the extraordinary retail allowance while he was in office. Among the retailers who opposed the incentive was Scott Hammond, general manager of Haddrell's Point Tackle in West Ashley.
"It's just that we're taking our tax money and giving it to them to come compete against us locals," Hammond said. "That's the biggest thing."
The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity reports that Bass Pro has received more than $1.3 billion worth of incentives from state and municipal governments since 1997.