Cabela’s setting up shop near Carowinds

dworthington@heraldonline.comDecember 18, 2013 

— Plans by Cabela’s to build an outdoor and sports mega-store in York County near Carowinds could generate more economic development near the state line, say York County officials and retail analysts.

Cabela’s stores often draw outdoor enthusiasts from miles away, which could lead to more restaurants and hotels at the Carowinds interchange, analysts say.

The potential for future economic development was a reason the York County Economic Development Board assisted with the deal, arranging meetings and discussing possible incentives over an eight-month period. The company plans to demolish the Plaza Fiesta shopping center and construct a 97,500-square-foot store, creating 225 full-time, part-time and seasonal jobs. The 20-acre site would also include a number of smaller parcels for other retail development.

“Normally we do not do retail projects,” said Mark Farris, York County’s director of economic development. “But because of the numbers of jobs and the possible impacts, we were involved.”

Cabela’s officials announced plans on Wednesday. The company recently completed purchase of the shopping center, Farris said.

The store, scheduled to open in spring 2015, would join Carowinds as a major travel destination at the I-77/Carowinds Boulevard interchange. Carowinds is the No. 1 gated attraction in South Carolina, hosting thousands of visitors annually. The amusement park recently announced a $50 million, multi-year investment in upgrades and new rides.

The site is near I-485, which means shoppers from both Carolinas would have easy interstate access.

“We love the location,” Cabela’s spokeman Wes Remmer said. “There is a lot going on there, and we want to add to the draw.”

An accessible location was key as Cabela’s shoppers will drive for hours to get to a store, spend hours shopping and then likely eat locally before returning home, company officials and analysts said.

“They are the rock stars,” said Marianne Bickle, director of the Center for Retailing at the University of South Carolina.

Cabela’s shoppers “see the merchandise in action, not in a box,” she said. Part of the store’s retail strategy is to get shoppers to try things.

As planned, the York County store will have a replica of a mountain, an aquarium, wildlife displays, an indoor archery range, a deli and a fudge bar. A full-service boat shop is also planned, focusing on bass fishing, said Remmer.

Cabela’s, Bickle said, gets “people out of their comfort zone into a new comfort zone in a safe way.”

She predicted that for the sport enthusiast, “if there’s not a ball game, they are going to be there and make it a day.”

When shoppers walk into a store, Remmer said, “we want their jaw to drop.”

Remmer said, “We want them to be blown away by the look and feel and encourage them to come back.”

The Fort Mill store will be the second in South Carolina for the Sidney, Neb.,-based company. A Greenville store is slated to open in 2014. The company also has plans for stores in Augusta and Acworth, Ga.; Garner, N.C., and Bristol, Va. Currently, Cabela’s has 50 locations. Its only store in the South now is in Gonzales, La.

The company plans to open 20 stores in the next two years.

Calls to Plaza Fiesta management concerning remaining stores and restaurants in the center were not returned. Management recently informed tenants it had the right to end their leases, and larger stores such as Hamrick’s were told to leave, Hamrick officials have said.

Plaza Fiesta has had several owners since it opened as CrossRoads Mall/Outlet Marketplace in the mid-1990s. In 2007, Capital City Development of Atlanta purchased the property, planning to create a shopping center with a Hispanic theme.

Houston-based Boxer Property managed Plaza Fiesta for more than a year, after the shopping center went into foreclosure. The lender, BB&T, hired Boxer to run it after taking control of the property.

In 2011, Miami-based Rialto Capital Management LLC purchased the property for $6.35 million, according to public records.

Cabela’s officials declined to release information on the land purchase or total investment for the project.

Bickle, of the USC retail center, said the planned outparcels would likely be for restaurants, with the possibility that one or two locations would offer sit-down dining.

Remmer said Cabela’s chose the location based on its proximity to the Charlotte market and sales data from its Internet and catalog sales.

Chuck Ceronkosky, an analyst with Northcoast Research of Cleveland, said Cabela’s competes against operations such as Bass Pro Shops and can “take from smaller operations.”

One of the company’s strengths, he said, is its own Visa card, where shoppers earn points redeemable for Cabela’s merchandise. “That strengthens their customer loyalty,” he said.

Darren Nichols, owner of Nichols Store outside Rock Hill, said the competition is already here with three Gander Mountain locations in North Carolina within an hour’s drive of his store, Bass Pro Shops in Concord, N.C., and Dick’s Sporting Goods and Academy Sports + Outdoors locally. Gander Mountain’s North Carolina stores are in Gastonia, Monroe and Mooresville.

“They are a destination and people are going to go and see them; the wow factor is always involved,” he said. But, “we are prepared for the competition,” he said. Nichols Store will compete on prices, selection and customer service, he said.

York County is evaluating the announcement to see what incentives Cabela’s might quality for. Likely assistance includes money to improve the roads and access to the property, Farris said. The area already has high traffic volumes because of Carowinds and other nearby business parks.

The Charlotte Observer contributed

Don Worthington 803-329-4066

dworthington@heraldonline.com

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