A consultant to Gander Mountain will bring a nationwide campaign to Buffalo on Tuesday that takes aim at public subsidies given to projects such as the Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World planned for the waterfront.
David Ewald, who advises the nation's third-largest outdoor store chain, will testify before the Common Council and then meet with community leaders and residents in a public forum.
For nearly two years, Gander Mountain has waged a high-profile campaign against government subsidies in the sporting goods industry. The Minnesota-based company contends that the practices divert tax dollars from more beneficial causes, create an unlevel playing field in the retail arena and often hurt existing businesses.
Bass Pro Shops is a "fine" retailer that operates "great" stores, Ewald told The Buffalo News on Thursday, "but they should pay their own way."
Gander Mountain operates a local hunting, fishing and camping store on Young Street in the City of Tonawanda.
Supporters of the Bass Pro Shops project have insisted that the $25 million state subsidy earmarked for the endeavor will pay for itself many times over in the coming years.
Ewald, president of St. Paul, Minn.-based Ewald Consulting, will highlight data during his Buffalo visit that challenges assertions that such public subsidies create long-term economic growth. Gander Mountain executives have long argued that some retailers play one community against another to capture millions of dollars in incentives.
Retailers build stores where they feel confident they'll attract a large customer base, Ewald said, and that wouldn't change if the government stopped providing handouts. "If there was a truce declared and there weren't these subsidies going on," he said, ". . . they would come, anyway."
Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr., chairman of the Economic Development Committee, invited Ewald to Buffalo. Golombek, who represents the North District, has long been one of the most vocal critics of a plan to heavily subsidize the Bass Pro project.
Ewald is scheduled to meet with Council members at 1 p.m. Tuesday, then appear in a 7 p.m. forum at The Church, Delaware Avenue and West Tupper Street. The latter is also being coordinated by Free Buffalo, a taxpayer-advocacy group, and the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture.
Has Gander Mountain ever taken public subsidies?
Ewald said that there were only two such instances, both many years ago, when the chain was in its infancy. He said that subsidies given to a developer were tiny by today's standards and that Gander Mountain has long had a policy of "not asking for and not accepting" subsidies.