GARY PERILLOUX: A Bass Pro mecca in Tupelo? It could happen

Fishing, anyone?

How about bass fishing, fly fishing, water skiing, snow skiing, duck hunting, turkey hunting, deer hunting, skeet shooting, rifle ranges, laser games, archery, log cabins, golf, tennis, men's, women's and kids outdoor apparel, conservation skills classes and a seafood restaurant all wrapped up in one indoor retail destination.

Now we're talking Bass Pro Shops.

We're talking Bass Pro's Outdoor World.

And we're talking about something that may be – maybe – coming to Tupelo.

It's important to emphasize that Tupelo's negotiations are in the embryonic stage with Bass Pro Shops Inc., a more than billion-dollar-a-year business based in Springfield, Mo.

Whether talks will hatch an honest-to-goodness development in the Barnes Crossing area remain to be seen. But interest is high, talk is hitting the street and Bass Pro's acknowledging talks with Tupelo leaders.

“We've talked to them but we've talked to a lot of different locations,” said Larry Whiteley, Bass Pro's manager of corporate public relations.

Bass Pro operates 15 megaoutlets with Adirondack lodge facades and a fanfare of outdoor shops and activities inside. They range from Sportsmen's Warehouses of 70,000 to 80,000 square feet to Outdoor Worlds of more than 100,000 square feet up to the mothership mall in Springfield.

“We're the No. 1 tourist attraction in the state of Missouri,” Whiteley said (as in four million visitors a year). “All our customers in Springfield call it The Mecca.' It's over 300,000 square feet, over seven football fields.”

If successful, Tupelo could hope for one of the smaller Outdoor Worlds. But small is a relative term. A new 106,000-square-foot Outdoor World opening soon in Bossier City, La., will feature a 14,000-square-foot showroom of Tracker and Nitro boats, a 15,000-gallon aquarium of native fish species, state record fish and wildlife mounts, and a huge selection of fishing, hunting, camping, clothing and marine items.

At this juncture, Vicksburg and Jackson are competing for Bass Pro Shops, too, and Memphis and Nashville already have Outdoor Worlds. But Whiteley insists that proximity doesn't exclude Tupelo. Bass Pro operates 15 retail malls now and will open seven more this year. Company founder Johnny Morris, who also owns boat manufacturer Tracker Marine, has Bass Pro Shops in a definite growth mode.

“A lot of articles have been written on us and they call us shopper-tainment,'” Whiteley said. “It's a place the whole family can come. We're a lot more than hunting and fishing, with all the different departments and the fun things for kids to do.”

Tupelo officials are cautious, with early negotiations off the record or below the radar screen. But what's known is a local delegation visited Springfield in mid-March and came back emboldened.

“It would just be a super attraction for Tupelo, because people go hundreds of miles to go to a Bass Pro,” said one of the delegates, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It's kind of like a resort destination.”

Not only would Bass Pro be a significant boost to the retail economy, it could pack a wallop as the third leg of a tourism triangle with the Tupelo Buffalo Park and the Tupelo Automobile Museum.

Tie a fishing line to your fingers and keep them crossed. Tupelo's fishing expedition may hit a run of good luck in the coming months.

Gary Perilloux is business editor of the Daily Journal.