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Pataki urges Bass Pro to do the deal Governor also backs harborfront's $200 million development plan

With the "30-day" clock now ticking on negotiations to bring Bass Pro Shops to Buffalo, the governor is urging the retailer to sign on the dotted line.

"I'm still hopeful . . . that Bass Pro will recognize that they want to be part of that development," said Gov. George E. Pataki Wednesday, during a visit to the Town of Tonawanda.

The governor's comments came two days after members of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. gave the Springfield, Mo., retail chain 30 days to make a final decision about opening a store in the idle Memorial Auditorium.

Pataki also gave a nod to the sweeping plan unveiled by the state-sanctioned development panel on Monday, a blueprint the planners believe is viable even if Bass Pro walks away from the project.

"They now have a $200 million plan that will go forward," he said. "We'd like Bass Pro to be part of it. We will continue to work to make Bass Pro part of it."

Larry Quinn, the development panel's lead negotiator on the Bass Pro deal, said he has been in touch with the company since the deadline was issued.

"I talked to them after and there's no sense of animosity. No hard feelings," Quinn said.

While no firm timetable has been established in the effort to determine if a deal is possible, he said there will be talks.

"We'll get back into it soon. With the holidays and everybody's schedule, I don't want to get more specific than that, but it will happen," Quinn said.

While efforts to hook Bass Pro on the idea of locating an Outdoor World store date back to mid-2001, and the harbor development panel has been leading the charge since August 2005, sources said "hard numbers" on costs to gut the Aud and convert it to retail use weren't finalized until Dec. 12.

Those numbers put the cost of removing asbestos, mold and other hazardous materials, gutting the interior, and installing basic plumbing, electric and heating systems at $45 million. On Bass Pro's side, calculations on store build-out costs were pegged at $20 million.

The Erie Canal Harbor group has said it will spend no more than $35 million to get the Aud ready for Bass Pro. But sources said Bass Pro has balked at that proposed contribution and is looking for more public funding to aid what would be the most expensive store project in its history.

As the parties head into their final weeks of negotiations, one retail analyst is cautioning local planners not to "give away the store." Burt Flickinger III, a Buffalo native who is now a New York-based national retail consultant, said there are many other retail and entertainment options that won't require an excessive subsidy.

"It would be a strategic mistake to pay too much to get Bass Pro at a time when they are reaching market saturation," Flickinger said.

The consultant said Bass Pro's rapid expansion is reducing its cachet as a unique retail destination.

"In 10 years, Bass Pro will be the Wal-Mart of the outdoor/sporting goods category. They'll be commonplace," Flickinger said.

He suggested downtown waterfront planners would be better off putting together a mix of successful retail and entertainment vendors to entice locals and out-of-town visitors.

"With all due respect, losing Bass Pro could be a blessing to the future of the Buffalo waterfront. Now that they have a broader development plan, the opportunities to mix and match tenants is extraordinary," Flickinger said.

News Business Reporter David Robinson contributed to this report.

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