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A 3 1/2 -year odyssey to lure a Bass Pro Shops store to the downtown waterfront was capped off today when officials announced an agreement that they predict will turn the downtown shoreline into a tourism magnet.

Plans officially announced today call for building a 250,000-square-foot megastore in the mothballed Memorial Auditorium, with the store set to open sometime in 2007.

Bass Pro would become the anchor for a development that also would include an Erie Canal heritage museum, a hotel and a themed restaurant.

Gov. George E. Pataki, among the more than 100 political, business and community leaders to attend the announcement, said he is confident the project will attract between 3 million and 5 million visitors to downtown each year.

"I just know that it is going to be one of the most important things to happen in downtown Buffalo in decades, if not in generations," Pataki told the crowd at Shanghai Red's restaurant.

Mayor Anthony M. Masiello said he arrived at the news conference feeling total "elation."

"People realize we have to create a new economy that brings in fresh money and new customers," the mayor said. "I have no doubt this project will do exactly that."

Besides the hotel, restaurant and museum, the $123 million project also includes construction of a 1,000-vehicle parking garage and intermodal transportation center on the current site of the Donovan State Office Building.

Rep. Jack Quinn, D-Hamburg, who has secured $31 million in federal transportation funds for the project, said it will serve as a much-needed catalyst for waterfront development.

"Just over a year ago I traveled to Bass Pro Shops headquarters in Missouri to meet with (Chairman) Johnny Morris, his staff and employees to find out in person about their one-of-a-kind shopping experience," Quinn said. "After talking with employees and customers, and seeing first-hand what makes their stores unique, I knew that Bass Pro Shops would be the jolt that Buffalo's waterfront needed."

In addition, the state will provide $21 million, while Erie County and the city will contribute a total of $14 million. Bass Pro will invest a minimum of $57 million to get the store up and running.

When Bass Pro opens in Buffalo, it will bring to town more than 30 years of retail success and the prowess of the nation's fifth-largest seller of sporting goods.

With 25 stores now open, and 15 more in either the development or construction stage, the privately held company, based in Springfield, Mo., continues to turn heads of consumers and communities seeking a proven retail draw.

The company's 300,000-square-foot headquarters store is Missouri's No. 1 tourist destination, attracting even more annual visitors than the St. Louis Gateway Arch.

The company puts its annual shopper count at 66 million, with stores that attract legions of sports gear buyers who are able to choose from an immense selection of goods -- everything from fishing tackle and guns to boats and birdhouses.

It all started in 1972, when Morris set up a display of fishing poles at his family's liquor store.

Morris, the founder, is the company's chairman. James Hagale serves as president and CEO. In addition to retail stores, the company does a blockbuster catalog and online business, and has branched out into sportsman's resorts, television sports programming and boat manufacturing.

The company does not release sales figures, but according to Hoover's Company Profiles, Bass Pro's 2003 sales topped $1.6 billion, a 14.3 percent jump from 2002.

Its employee count was nearly 11,000, up 6.1 percent from the prior year.

News Staff Reporters Brian Meyer and Gene Warner contributed to this article.


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