Residents from a 100-mile radius are eagerly anticipating the launch of Bass Pro in central Illinois.
Since its inception, Bass Pro Shops has transformed the retail market for hunting, fishing and recreational needs into a fun-filled, educational experience…and a lucrative one at that. Its Outdoor World retail stores are the No. 1 tourist attraction in three states—Maryland, South Carolina and Missouri—and its stores in nine other states are ranked among their top five attractions. In 2007, it was named the No. 1 outdoor retailer in America by Sporting Goods Business.
City officials in East Peoria believe that the venerable retailer’s new location just north of the Murray Baker Bridge will provide a boost to the local economy when the store opens in September—and bring millions of visitors to the area for years to come.
A Brief History
Bass Pro Shops got its start in 1972 in the Ozark community of Springfield, Missouri, through the efforts of several avid fishermen frustrated by the lack of a store where they could purchase specialized gear for tournament fishing. It began humbly, with a tiny eight-foot display of bass baits in an existing Springfield liquor store. Two years later, its first mail-order catalog appeared, featuring 180 pages of accessories and equipment for anglers. In 1984, the first Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World showroom—and the growing company’s new national headquarters—opened in Springfield, and just over a decade later, it expanded outside of its home state with the opening of the Bass Pro Shops Sportsman’s Warehouse in Atlanta.
The story of the last 15 years has been one of steady growth. In 1996, Bass Pro Shops took the Internet by storm and quickly rose to become one of the top outdoor merchants on the web. The next year it expanded to Islamorada, Florida, with its Worldwide Sportsman store specializing in saltwater fishing. The opening of this location was the turning point for a new concept in outdoor retail stores—when a mere shopping trip was transformed into a regional outdoor experience.
Celebrating a Rich Legacy
With its expansion into central Illinois, Bass Pro Shops has acknowledged what central Illinoisans already know. Larry Whiteley, manager of communications with the company, notes that the region’s “rich history of fishing and hunting legacies and traditions, large number of sporting licenses sold, catalog customer base, and recreational rivers and lakes” were large factors in bringing the venerable retailer to its new site on the Illinois River.
While enthusiasm for bringing Bass Pro to central Illinois has been around for some time, recent developments sparked interest on Bass Pro’s end to consider the area for its 58th location. “I think the first contact was with someone at Cullinan Properties,” says East Peoria City Attorney Dennis Triggs, who worked tirelessly to secure the deal. Cullinan is the developer that is reshaping the city with its massive East Peoria/Downtown project. “From the time of that initial contact until we got very serious about making a deal, [the process took about] a year.”
Along with its ideal location near the river, surrounded by wildlife and a devoted customer base, Bass Pro had other incentives to build in East Peoria. The City will own the building where the retailer will locate, and it is building the road to access the store, along with related infrastructure. “We are putting $30 million into the building,” notes Triggs, which the company will rent from the city. “Most importantly,” he adds, “they gave us a covenant to operate. [Bass Pro Shops] won’t be there for a year—they will be there for 20 years.”
With Bass Pro superstores being significant tourist attractions in other states, the number of visitors to its stores has been projected at nearly three million annually. “I’m much more comfortable talking about two million,” said Triggs cautiously. “I think that’s a reasonable projection of the number of people that will go through the turnstiles each year.”
And based on his due diligence, Triggs should know. “I have talked to at least 15 different municipalities across the country to learn about their experiences…and make sure that there is a basis to the representations we were hearing,” added Triggs. “And I am very comfortable that our draw will extend for 100 miles.”
What’s in Store
The addition of Bass Pro will provide many opportunities for future developments, in addition to boosting the businesses already in the area, such as hotels, restaurants and the Par-a-Dice Hotel Casino. The sales tax and gaming tax will be greatly impacted, and the store is expected to provide about 300 permanent jobs.
The location itself may also provide an advantage. The store is situated between the Bolingbrook location to the north, St. Charles, Missouri, to the south, the Altoona, Iowa location to the west, and two Indiana locations to the east. “If they build a store within a certain radius of East Peoria…they have to pay us money based upon the sales from those other stores,” says Triggs.
As with all Bass Pro Shops, the East Peoria store will be uniquely themed to the region. “From the moment guests arrive on the property,” says Whiteley, “they will be enveloped in an Illinois outdoor paradise, with native Illinois trees, plants and bushes, beckoning from the edges of the drives and walkways, and water features created from native stone.” Imagery specialists, taxidermists and other artists are currently at work on these and other aesthetic features for the new store.
Whiteley adds that the store will pay tribute to the region’s work ethic by integrating elements of Caterpillar and the Illinois Central Railroad into the architectural details and imagery. In an effort to connect people in the new outdoor destination, artists are working on a plan to paint wildlife images on the steel girders of the bridge, visible as you make your way to and from the store.
Like the Altoona, Iowa location, East Peoria will feature an Uncle Buck’s Fishbowl and Grill, a 15,000-square-foot, nautical-themed restaurant with a 12-lane bowling alley that offers guests the chance to bowl “in the ocean.” Underwater scenery will abound, with hand-painted murals lining the walls and fish suspended from the ceiling. Custom-made bowling balls bear the likeness of sea creatures of all kinds, while the ball returns resemble sharks and alligators. An island-themed bar area holds a 750-gallon freshwater aquarium with scores of exotic fish.
The features are myriad and seemingly endless. From an expansive boat showroom and boat service center to a 30,000-gallon indoor aquarium stocked with native fish species and an extensive collection of wildlife exhibits, the store will serve as a living tribute to the outdoor heritage of central Illinois.
A True Destination Experience
With the East Peoria location being customized to the region, it’s interesting to note the unique features of other Outdoor World stores across the country. Visitors to the Bossier City, Louisiana store are greeted by a live alligator exhibit. A memorial to Alabama native Hank Williams, Sr. is a highlight of the Prattville, Alabama store, while the Leeds, Alabama location sits on 110 acres of land set aside as a nature preserve, with a mile-long entrance that weaves across bridges and through a park.
In Denver, Colorado, the Rocky Mountains serve as a natural backdrop. Mammoth boulders with trailing waterfalls feed into a 21,000-gallon aquarium with 200 native fish. The Denver location also boasts the Fine Gun Room, featuring firearms from the 1800s to present. The Manteca, California location includes rockwork and an aquarium that replicates Yosemite’s Half Dome and allows visitors to walk under the waterfall.
In Miami, Florida, the Bass Pro store serves as a living museum of the fishing, boating and marine life that dominates the Sunshine State’s recreational culture. Its interior is constructed like a sunken ship, with exposed trusses and beams covered in rust and barnacles, while hurricane doors and shutters replace conventional doors and windows.
A Leader in Conservation
Through the years, Bass Pro Shops has led the way in wildlife conservation, with conservation messages woven throughout its stores. Since 1972, it has donated over $70 million to promote wildlife conservation and education. Groups like the National Wild Turkey Federation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and many others have recognized the retailer with numerous awards for its efforts.
At the local level, Bass Pro has already made a significant contribution to local conservation efforts with a $10,000 donation to Wildlife Prairie State Park. The retailer has also provided the park’s new Adventure Store with Bass Pro products, including a variety of children’s toys. “The theme of the park matches well with the mission of Bass Pro,” explained Jeanne Williamson, the park’s general manager. “We are looking forward to further developing a collaborative partnership as the store opens in East Peoria.”
When the 150,000-square-foot superstore does open its doors, the store’s team will work on additional local collaborations for conservation and outdoor education. As with other Outdoor World locations, there will be workshops on camping basics, fly fishing, GPS navigation and the like, as well as free activities for kids in and around the store.
Full Steam Ahead
Construction is ahead of schedule, having moved forward at an astonishing clip. The store is slated to open in mid-September, with great anticipation. “There isn’t a day that goes by that Bass Pro isn’t mentioned in a conversation or question,” said Rick Swan, executive director of the East Peoria Chamber of Commerce. And the outdoor retailer is poised to be a driver to bring even more retail, recreation and hospitality opportunities to the area economy.
A powerhouse in recreational retail, Bass Pro Shops has created a new twist on the retail experience with its Outdoor World destinations, never forgetting its core values of conservation and education. And the Peoria area will reap the benefits. “This is not simply another retail store,” concludes Triggs. “This is where grandpas like me are going to take their grandchildren.” iBi