April 22, 2005
The Bass Pro Shops supporters include the City Council, the chamber of commerce, tourism commission and the local newspaper.
The opponent is a resident who doesn’t believe taxpayer money should be used to subsidize a private business. Smaller outdoor retailers are helping fund the opposition. And a court had to decide whether the election would take place at all.
This is not Mesa, but Livingston Parish, La., where voters will decide Saturday whether to issue a $50 million bond for a Bass Pro Shopsanchored retail center in Denham Springs, about 12 miles east of Baton Rouge and 75 miles west of New Orleans.
There will be seven propositions on the ballot, although not everyone in the parish (Louisiana’s equivalent of a county) will vote on all seven. Five
government entities — the Denham Springs City Council, Livingston Parish Council, Livingston Parish School Board, the sheriff’s office and the drainage district — would all dedicate future sales tax revenue from the 75-acre site along Interstate 12 to pay off the bond, which would be used to build the Bass Pro Shops store and for infrastructure improvements.
Denham Springs Mayor Jimmy Durbin said about 70 percent of the parish’s sales tax would be used to pay back the bond, which he expects to take 22 years. Durbin said the outdoor retailer is projected to generate $60 million in annual sales and attract 6,000 visitors a day, and would help keep sales tax revenue in his city and parish rather than in neighboring Baton Rouge.
"We want to become more competitive," Durbin said.
But 90-year-old Ponder Jones said public money, especially from the school district, should not be used for private businesses.
"Most of the businesses I’ve talked to are infuriated by it," Jones said. "They say, ‘No one helped me start my business.’ "
Jones, who is retired from East Baton Rouge Parish School System and Louisiana School Boards Association, took this bond proposal to court to force a public vote. He lost the case, and was then unsuccessful in his appeal. But in February, the Louisiana Supreme Court decided the tax-increment financing project required voter approval.
The May 17 Mesa election will decide the fate of the 250-acre Riverview at Dobson project and its Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World. Mesa’s incentive package is estimated at $80 million, but unlike in Louisiana, the city is not fronting the money with a bond but instead offering tax rebates.