City provides letter after breaking several scheduled interviews
By Scott Robertson and Tammy Childress
Note: Shortly after this story went to press, Bristol ,Va. officials sent the Business Journal a letter from Cabela’s Steven Krajewski, Cabela’s real estate director, dated Nov. 10. The letter states that Cabela’s plans to build an 82,003-square-foot store in Bristol. That is smaller than the size repeatedly stated by Bristol representatives, and larger than the size noted in plans referenced in this article. To view the letter, click here: Bristol, VA Cabela’s Store
At least two sets of architect’s drawings for the proposed Bristol, Va., Cabela’s are now circulating among area businesses, and the set dated 2014 shows a significantly smaller store than the set dated 2013. The Business Journal of Tri-Cities, TN/VA acquired copies of the plans from a business whose owner said his company had been given the original plans last year in order to begin work on Cabela’s, but then had been, “told to hold off,” while the city determined whether it would be able to move ahead with construction. Once the city announced Cabela’s had agreed to drop the city’s financial obligation to Cabela’s from $20 million to $17.5 million, our source company received the new, smaller set of plans and, according to its owner, was told to re-price everything for the smaller store.
Back on Aug. 22, 2012, when Cabela’s announced it would build a store in Bristol, Va., the company issued a press release stating, “The 85,000-square-foot store, to be located in The Falls development area close to Interstate 81’s Exit 5 along Lee Highway, will be built in Cabela’s trademark style…” The plans for the Bristol Cabela’s dated Sept. 26, 2014, however, show a store topping out at 77,500 square feet. Those plans are credited to Holland Basham Architects.
When rumors that Cabela’s would drop the size of the store began to circulate, The Business Journal asked Bristol officials if it were true.
On Oct. 10, The Business Journal asked Doug Weberling, chair of the Industrial Development Authority, “With the reduction of the funds to $17.5 million, is the size of the building going to decrease?” Weberling replied, “Not to my knowledge. The reduction of the funds (happened) just because they knew we were spending a lot of money on attorneys. There was a lot of expense and delay and we had to pay for this work and we didn’t have the bonds to pay the people that were taking down the hill. Now, we are looking at everything being like it’s supposed to be. The entire Phase I is sold out and we’re excited about that. We project a large revenue from it, possibly even greater than the whole Pinnacle project together, in just our Phase I.”
After the Bristol, Va., city council meeting Oct. 14, The Business Journal asked Tabitha Crowder, city manager whether Cabela’s would remain 85,000 square feet. Crowder replied, “We’ve gotten that question a lot and yes, it is going to remain the same size.”
Those interviews happened before The Business Journal saw the plans dated Sept. 26, 2014.
The Business Journal made four separate appointments to discuss those plans with Bristol, Va., Assistant City Manager Drew Trivette, but Trivette broke all four appointments. Trivette also claimed at one point that The Business Journal had missed an appointment to speak with him, but no such appointment had been made, because Trivette’s secretary had told The Business Journal that Trivette would be unavailable that entire week. Finally, The Business Journal held publication of this issue beyond our deadline in order to give Trivette one more opportunity to meet. He broke that appointment as well.
In a phone conversation, Trivette would not state whether the size of the store remains 85,000 square feet or not. He said only, “the size of the pad has not changed from what the city approved.”
The difference in square footage from 85,000 and 77,500 is only nine percent. Yet when Bristol issues its revenue bond to help fund The Falls, the effect of the drop could be significant.
Cabela’s figures show that stores generate $460 per square foot in sales. So an 85,000-square-foot store will generate more than $39 million in sales per year. A 77,500-square-foot store, however, will generate only $35.65 million.
Retail sales at The Falls must generate enough revenue to pay Cabela’s up to $17.5 million in incentives, plus an additional up-to-$350,000-annually to be paid by the city to Washington County, Va., for the first seven years. The city will be able to recoup three percent of each store’s revenues to pay off the revenue bond.
Ed. Note: The owner of the business who provided the plans in question – and who initially told us he had been made to price the store at one size last year and a smaller size this year – declined to be named in this story. The Business Journal did confirm the facts he related to us with a second source before going to press. The Business Journal generally does not use unattributed information. The existence of a second business willing to confirm the facts provided by the first – coupled with the reticence of public employees to release substantive information (such as showing their own copies of the plans) provided, we felt, adequate justification to move ahead with the story.
The 2014 drawings are copyrighted to Holland Basham Architects (http://www.hba1.com/projects/retail/cabelas_retail.html) and bear the Commonwealth of Virginia seal No. 0401009257.