Cabela’s closure could set back The Falls, impact city budget


BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – A Bristol, Virginia development suffered a major blow after one of its biggest tenants announced it’s leaving.

Now, local leaders are trying to figure out what it means for the future of The Falls and the city’s budget.

On Sunday, Cabela’s Outdoor Retailer announced on its website that the store would be combining with Bass Pro Shops at the Pinnacle in Bristol, Tennessee. This comes after the companies merged in September 2017.

Cabela’s closing location at The Falls in Bristol, moving merchandise to The Pinnacle

The change was effective after the close of business on January 12th. While the news came as a surprise to some customers on Monday, Bass Pro Shops-Cabela’s Communications Director Jack Wlezien said the idea to merge these stores and two others in Chattanooga is not new.

“To have two large-format destination stores, not only in the same market but in such close proximity to each other, is something we had our eye on,” Wlezien said.

He said employees learned about the change on Sunday night and all 110 were given the chance to transfer to Bass Pro Shops. He said they’ll be working the same shifts and even wear the same uniforms.

“If you shopped in the Bristol, Virginia store not only will you recognize the products, you’ll recognize the people,” Wlezien said. “We’re now carrying 25 hundred assorted products that we didn’t carry and we’ll be phasing that in in the coming weeks into the existing location. So we’re expecting a big increase in traffic and customers and we’re absolutely making sure that we’re staffing accordingly to take care of them.”

The closure is the latest hit to The Falls in Bristol, Virginia. In 2013, the city spent nearly $40 million to buy the property and prep the land for development. The city found itself more than $50 million in debt after several businesses backed out, making it difficult to meet tax revenue projections.

Bristol, Va. Mayor Neal Osborne said he heard the news on Sunday.

“It’s disappointing but not completely unexpected,” he said. “I think anytime you lose an anchor store you have to be concerned, especially with our bond debt coming you do have to worry about it.”

City Manager Randall Eads said they’re still assessing how the closure will impact the city’s budget as they prepare to face peak debt payments in 2023.

“We feel confident in saying we do not think it will have an impact on the current budget, which ends on June 30th, 2020. We do not have enough of the numbers to determine how it will impact fiscal year 2021,” Eads said. “I wouldn’t say it’s going to be negative, it’s not positive by any stretch of the imagination. As I said before, its an obstacle that we’ll just have to overcome as we progress developing The Falls.”

Eads said the city initially paid $17 million to incentivize Cabela’s to locate at The Falls on the condition that they stay open for at least three years.

According to Eads, the store exceeded that commitment and, since Cabela’s owns the building, the city has no direct control over what will go there next.

News Channel 11 asked Wlezien if the companies have any plans for the building.

“Even just from the news today we had some exciting and encouraging inquiries from other developers,” he said. “We think that there’s going to be some positive outcomes in the future but obviously don’t have anything concrete to share at this point.”

Customers can still return Cabela’s merchandise and redeem gift cards at the Bass Pro Shops at the Pinnacle.

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