Outdoor retailer eyes Lacey
Cabela’s could bring 400 jobs; jurisdictions would bear costs
BY CHRISTIAN HILL
LACEY — Cabela’s, which describes itself as the world’s foremost outfitter of fishing and hunting gear, is considering a store site in Lacey, but the city, state and property owner would have to spend up to $30 million to land its 400 jobs.
The Nebraska-based company has expressed a strong interest in property in Hawks Prairie for a $40 million store.
Negotiations have just begun on the property off Marvin Road just north of its Interstate 5 interchange.
The economic effect of the store could be tremendous for the community. Cabela’s is known as much for being a tourist attraction as a retailer, and its stores are top draws in many of the states where it operates. The stores feature two-story replica mountains with waterfalls and beaver ponds, 50,000-gallon aquariums with live fish, outdoor walking trails and taxidermy displays that, a spokesman said, can rival what visitors can find at the Smithsonian.
The store is projected to be 225,000 square feet. To compare, the Hawks Prairie Wal-Mart is expanding to become a 216,076-square-foot “supercenter.”
According to one estimate, Cabela’s would attract millions of visitors each year and create hundreds, possibly thousands, of direct and indirect jobs. Of greater interest to South Sound, the store is projected to generate millions annually in new spending from tourists and area residents. The store also could finally realize Lacey’s longtime dream of having a vibrant commercial center in Hawks Prairie.
“You probably couldn’t ask for a better anchor or better draw,” City Manager Greg Cuoio said.
But those benefits wouldn’t come cheaply.
Landing Cabela’s will require a hefty incentive package. The city has applied for nearly $10 million in state grants to help pay for the estimated $29.7 million in road and utility improvements needed for the store. Without the financial assistance, the project can’t move forward, according to documents obtained by The Olympian.
In addition to the grant, the city will kick in $5 million toward the rest of the cost of the infrastructure, estimated at $19.8 million; the property owner has committed to pick up the remainder. The city has left open the possibility that Cabela’s might pick up some of that cost.
The company also must negotiate an agreement for the property. Landowner Tri Vo and his partner have offered about 38 acres at no cost to Cabela’s, according to a letter Tim Holland, the company’s director of new store development, wrote to Lacey Community Development Director Jerry Litt.
The acreage is part of a larger property that Vo and his partner acquired late last year.
“Based on the foregoing assumptions, Cabela’s has a strong interest in moving forward with discussions and investigation of the location and learning more about the potential incentive package,” Holland wrote in the letter, obtained by The Olympian through a public-records request.
Reached Monday, Vo said he was doing research about Cabela’s but declined to comment further.
Company spokesman James Powell advised against reading too much into the inquiry.
“It’s not uncommon for us to be in entry-level discussions without that meaning we’re going to be coming to that location,” he said. “That might be the case there.”
Powell said the company is in an aggressive expansion mode. Cabela’s is one of the largest catalog retailers — mailing 150 million catalogs a year — and it wants its retail division to match that success, he said.
The company operates 14 retail stores — none on the West Coast — and plans to open six more this year.
“It’s very likely we’ll be doing more than that in ’07,” he said.
Powell said it’s likely the company is looking at other properties around the state, but declined to name specific locations.
Asked about the importance of an incentive package to secure a store, Powell responded: “For a large store, it’s very important to crucial, I would say.”
The incentives are sizable, but both the developer and city realize that Cabela’s has the ability to draw hotels and other retailers around its stores.
It’s the type of activity the city has been seeking since it zoned the property as a business district to pull visitors into Hawks Prairie.
A family trust held the property for decades, and it wasn’t until Vo and his partner bought the 374-acre property in October for $25 million that the city’s vision was revived. The property Cabela’s is eyeing is only a tiny portion of what Vo and his partner purchased.
Michael Cade, executive director of the Economic Development Council of Thurston County, said he would expect Cabela’s shoppers to come here from as far as Seattle and Portland.
“They are a retailer that brings dollars into the area, and not just from local people,” he said. “It’s destination retail.”
Cade said he tried to woo Cabela’s when he was in a similar position in Snohomish County. Cuoio said the city staff made its first contact with Cabela’s six years ago.
Cabela’s is looking to open the proposed store in early 2008, according to Cuoio.
Cuoio said he has heard that company representatives are impressed with the property’s wooded terrain, easy access to I-5 and view of Mount Rainier.
But he said a lot of pieces have to fall together for a proposal of this scale to become reality.
“While we’re enthused, we’re measured in our outlook,” he said.
ADDING UP THE COSTS
The effort to draw Cabela’s to Lacey won’t come cheaply for the property owner or city.
The city estimates it will cost $29.7 million to make the needed road and utility improvements to serve a proposed 225,000-square-foot store.
The city and developer tentatively have committed $19.8 million for the projects. The city has applied for state grant money to cover the rest.
The improvement projects and costs are:
• Ten thousand linear feet of new roadway to connect to the store, $9.4 million
• The right of way for the roadway, $8.8 million
• Widening Britton Parkway, $720,000
• Adding a lane to the southbound offramp from I-5 at Marvin Road, $500,000
• A regional facility to collect stormwater from the store site and new roadway, $4.3 million
• A lift system and pipes to collect wastewater and move it for treatment from the store and surrounding properties, $3.5 million
• An acceleration lane for the I-5 interchange, $100,000
• Development fees and other off-site improvements, $2.4 million.
The city filed a pre-application for the grant money earlier this month. State officials will review and comment on the application by Friday. The city must submit a final, more formal, application by April 3.
The Legislature is expected to earmark up to $49.5 milion in 2007 for projects that will compete for the money.