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Bass Pro discussions to continue past today 'Momentum' trumps established deadline

Talks aimed at landing a Bass Pro Shops outdoor store on the Buffalo waterfront will continue beyond today's deadline.

Mayor Byron W. Brown, who proposed the 30-day ultimatum adopted by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. on Dec. 18, said negotiations with the retailer show enough promise to warrant a deadline extension.

"The talks are going very well now, and while we still want to adhere to the deadline as closely as possible, we don't want to interfere with the momentum we've got going," Brown said Monday.

Larry Quinn, the Erie Canal Harbor panel's lead negotiator on the Bass Pro deal, also noted that the hefty weekend ice storm that hit the Midwest also temporarily froze talks about a Buffalo store. Springfield, Mo., where Bass Pro Shops is headquartered, suffered significant weather damage and widespread power outages.

"They've been dealing with power outages, trees down and problems like we had here in October. They weren't in a position to be very constructive for the past few days, and we respect that," Quinn said.

Negotiations between local waterfront planners and Bass Pro executives have taken a dramatic turn since the 30-day edict was issued. The parties are now focused on a potential store site at the city's historic Central Wharf, directly on the Buffalo River.

"The deadline has served as the catalyst we all hoped it would be. The pace of the discussion has accelerated, and everyone involved is being as creative and flexible as possible," Brown said.

Quinn also said the parties are all "putting in a good-faith effort."

"These are serious, detailed discussions. Bass Pro is very engaged in what is a collaborative effort," he said.

For years, discussions have been centered on the idle Memorial Auditorium and the feasibility of converting it to retail use. Consideration has also been given to demolishing the Aud, creating a blank slate for Bass Pro and other commercial ventures.

The Central Wharf site is in front of the Aud on city-owned land that is part of the $49 million Erie Canal Harbor restoration effort. It is said to have captured the imagination of Bass Pro founder Johnny Morris because of its proximity to the water.

The proposal under discussion involves an approximately 125,000-square-foot store built to resemble a wharf building that would have been found on the site in the mid-1800s.

While much smaller than the 250,000-square-foot store Bass Pro announced for the Aud in 2004, the proposed Central Wharf store would still be a major attraction, according to the mayor.

"The plan is for it to be special and unique, a true attraction, regardless of the size," he said. "The way it would be incorporated with the water would make it a one-of-a-kind Bass Pro."

At 125,000 square feet, it would be larger than the Bass Pro Sportsman's Center in Auburn, which drew more than 2 million visitors in 2006, but smaller than the company's 140,000-square-foot Outdoor World in suburban Toronto.

The scaled-back Bass Pro might also be a better fit for Buffalo's inner harbor and the goal of creating a thriving district that brings together retail, entertainment, office and residential development.

Buffalo businessman Howard Zemsky, who served on an economic development committee established by Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer's transition team, said he suggested a smaller Bass Pro as part of his report regarding Buffalo waterfront efforts.

"The original big-box store plans were a case of the tail wagging the dog. They had to go as big as possible to justify converting the Aud," Zemsky said. "With the Aud out of the equation, they can rationalize a smaller store that's a better fit for the neighborhood."


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