The skepticism being voiced over the arrival of Bass Pro is perfectly understandable. Typically Buffalo, for sure. But perfectly understandable.
I would have been mystified, too, 10 years ago, if an outdoorsmen's emporium had been hailed as a catalyst for the revival of our ghostly downtown. But that was before I picked up a fishing rod, traveled to Pike and Gainesville, Dunkirk and Lewiston, and realized that sportsmen from states and provinces near and far are intensely envious of Western New York's natural resources.
"People are blown away when I tell them we have the best freshwater fishing in America here," said Jim Hanley, Erie County's sports fishing coordinator and host of the television show "Northeast Outdoors."
"They don't want to believe it."
Frank Campbell, a 13-year charter captain based in Lewiston, said the community as a whole "is really under-educated as far as our natural resources and who uses them."
It's true. There's not another part of the country that can match the diversity of Western New York fishing and its never-ending season.
Last January, while researching a Lake Erie ice-fishing column, I interviewed three people who, it turned out, had journeyed here from Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Two weeks ago, while wading the Cattaraugus in East Otto, a fellow fisherman asked if there are any good inland trout streams in the area.
"There's probably 10 quality streams within 45 minutes of my house," I said, "including a spring-fed stream I can fish on the hottest days of August."
"You're lucky. We don't have anything like that around us," he said.
"Where you from?"
A month ago the pull-off at the Aldrich Street bridge in Gowanda, an immensely popular steelhead locale, looked like the parking lot at Disney World. There was a vehicle with Tennessee plates, with North Carolina plates, the usual glut from Pennsylvania and Ontario.
The best steelhead tip I've received came from a Torontonian I met on Hamburg's Eighteen Mile Creek.
I've seen cars and trucks from Maryland and Michigan, from Massachusetts and Ohio. Campbell said 85 percent of his more than 200 annual charters are booked from outside Western New York.
The arrival of Bass Pro will help further spread the word, luring more people to the area, spawning ancillary businesses, serving as a springboard for economic recovery. Hanley envisions the number of charter fishing businesses will quadruple to more than 300 within the next three years. He thinks we'll see the re-emergence of the party-fishing boat, allowing neophytes to experience lake fishing in larger groups at minimal expense.
To determine whether Bass Pro is a good fit for Buffalo, just ask yourself this question: What does Western New York have going for it, what's here to be tapped? Start with two Great Lakes and the Niagara River and then fill in the incidentals, whatever they might be.
But there's no making everyone happy. Detractors like attorney James Ostrowski said that the $66 million in public funding committed to the Bass Pro project amounts to corporate welfare, and called it a poor deal for taxpayers. I guess he'd rather wait until a business with comparable potential comes along and takes a flier on economically depressed, obscenely taxed Western New York. Let's do that. And when you're the last person out of town, Jim, please turn off the lights.
Bass Pro is a solid investment for the area, one steeped in common sense. Think of it as $66 million spent on advertising if it eases your taxpayer pain. All I know is it's about time we landed a big one.