published Friday, February 14th, 2014

Outdoors giant Cabela's coming to Fort Oglethorpe

CABELA'S VS. COSTCO

Dirt moved

* Costco: 1 million cubic yards

* Cabela's: 250,000 cubic yards

Square feet

* Costco: 100,000 square feet

* Cabela's: 70,000 square feet

Taxpayer support

* Costco: $4.5 million

* Cabela's: $1.5 million

Employees

* Costco: 150 workers

* Cabela's: 140 workers

Source: News reports, Cabela's, Catoosa County records

HOW THE DEAL WORKS

Developer Larry Armour, who owns the nine-acre Cabela's site, told the county that in exchange for $1.5 million of assistance with site preparation, he would bring a tenant that would spend between $5 million and $8 million on construction. The county agreed to spend the money, provided it is repaid by estimated tax revenues of $750,000 per year within seven years. If not, the county is to be repaid by an irrevocable letter of credit secured by Armour.

Source: Catoosa County Development Authority

National fishing and hunting powerhouse Cabela's has set its sights on Fort Oglethorpe, where a new 70,000-square-foot superstore planned for the Cloud Springs Road exit off I-75 could begin to rise from the earth as early as this summer.

In addition to guns, boats, fishing poles, camping gear and everything else needed to outfit today's avid outdoorsman, such stores often include archery or shooting ranges, live bait, cafeterias and even dog kennels.

When it opens in fall 2015, the Fort Oglethorpe Cabela's will feature over-the-top mountain replicas, wildlife displays and aquariums. It's part of a venture that the Catoosa County Development Authority projects could cost as much as $8 million to build after the nine-acre Cloud Springs Road site is handed over by developer Larry Armour.

Armour says Cabela's agreed to build here and hire 140 local workers thanks to $1.5 million in funding from Catoosa County taxpayers to help prepare the site for construction.

"There's no way this deal would have happened without Catoosa County Development Authority," said Armour, who has worked for more than three years to acquire the permits to build on the site.

Cabela's is the latest outdoor-focused big-box retailer to target the Chattanooga area in recent years. Gander Mountain in January announced plans for a 50,000-square-foot store in Hixson. Academy Sports & Outdoors opened locations at Hamilton Place mall and on Highway 153 in 2010 and Sportsman's Warehouse opened a Chattanooga store on Highway 153 in 2006. Not to mention a handful of smaller retailers such as The Shooter's Depot, which opened stores in Chattanooga and Fort Oglethorpe starting in 2010.

The amount of taxpayer support Cabela's will receive is less than half of the $4.5 million that Catoosa County spent to attract the Costco next door. Those savings come in part from the infrastructure and utilities that workers already have built nearby, as well as the hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of dirt that were dumped during the Costco project to level the lot.

"The plan is to have the site ready for Cabela's by July," said Randall Peters, chairman of the Catoosa County Development Authority.

While planning is still in the early stages, county taxpayers are counting on an additional $750,000 a year in tax revenue once Cabela's opens its doors, officials said. That will go toward paying back the taxpayers over seven years for the $1.5 million in site work.

"We will get our investment back from the additional sales tax, which is the same kind of deal we did with Costco," Peters said. "It's worked out great with Costco, which has been a real plus for the county. And we know that Cabela's will be too."

The building will feature Cabela's "next generation" store plan, which will be much smaller than its largest 250,000-square-feet store in Hamburg, Pa. The 70,000-square-foot store will also be smaller than the 100,000-square-foot Costco next door.

But the next-generation concept overcomes the smaller size by rotating seasonal items in and out, rather than using the store as a warehouse for all its goods all the time, company officials say.

"We love that size because we're able to preserve all the unique features customers have come to expect from Cabela's, while operating efficiently and getting as much gear as we can inside the stores," said Wes Remmer, communications specialist for Cabela's.

The new construction is part of a big push by the big-box retailer to add 25 stores to its nationwide footprint of 50 locations, Remmer said. The company is on track to open new stores in Augusta, Ga., and Acworth, Ga., this year as part of a plan to expand in the Southeast.

While part of the company's expansion depends on incentives, the company also determines where to build its stores based on where its online and catalog customers live. With so many customers in Georgia and Tennessee, it made sense to start building stores here, he said.

"Over those first 25 years, we built the business through catalog sales, and developed a good idea of where our customers live and where they buy," he said. "When we set out to look for new locations, we look at that data and bring the stores to the customers. When we looked at Fort Oglethorpe and Chattanooga, we saw a loyal customer base and opportunity to expand that customer base."

Contact staff writer Ellis Smith at esmith@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6315.

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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