Focused On Cabela's

June 25, 2007
| By Pete Daly |
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WALKER — Walker city officials looked briefly at revised plans for the proposed Orchard Park development and were assured by the developers last week that Cabela's will be there, and that the project's residential section would be built, too — even though the developer has moved that activity back to “Phase 2.”

The only action taken by the city was to schedule a public hearing by the Walker Planning Commission on July 18 to go over the revised plans put forth by developer Jim Bossenbroek of Northgate Holdings.

A 240-acre parcel on the north side of I-96 was rezoned last year for the project, which will have two adjoining sections. One will contain a "town center" with pedestrian-friendly retail stores and 180 units of condos and town houses. The other section to the south and east is adjacent to I-96 between Walker Avenue and Bristol Avenue, and would have a Cabela's sporting goods store as a popular recreational/shopping destination.

City officials were told by the developers that a Cabela's would draw up to 3 million visitors a year to Orchard Park — 1 million of them from out-of-state.

City officials also learned that Northgate Holdings has a 60-acre parcel on the east side of Bristol that is of interest to a waterpark/hotel chain that sometimes locates near Cabela stores. That land would still have to be rezoned and is not part of the Orchard Park development at this point.

Gary Smith of Bird-Houk, a landscape architecture firm working with Northgate Holdings, said the developers had to move back the town center/residential area on their construction timeline because securing retailer agreements to locate there is "taking longer than anticipated." In the other section, however, they have retailers clamoring to locate near the proposed Cabela's, so it behooves them to nail down the Cabela's deal first.

Smith also noted the infrastructure plan for streets and utilities in the Cabela's section had to be revised because Cabela's said it would only locate in Orchard Park if the store is closer to the expressway. He compared Cabela's demands to that of "an 800-pound gorilla."

Cabela's has signed a letter of intent to locate in Orchard Park, said Bossenbroek, but he told the city officials he could not show them the letter because of "confidentiality" issues. However, he said he would seek permission from Cabela's to share the letter later with city officials.

City officials have repeatedly said they will not approve a commercial development that would in essence turn out to be another mall filled with "big box" stores. They have limited the retail development and insisted on the residential component.

Walker Mayor Rob VerHeulen said Orchard Park is a "single, integrated development" that must have both retail and residential, and that city officials will not change their decision about that.

"We don't want to hear the argument two years from now that there is no longer a market for (the) residential" part of the project, said VerHeulen.

Jim Hickey of the Walker Planning Commission added that he did not want to see the city of Walker "bamboozled" in the Orchard Park development. If the town center with its residential units are not part of the project, he said he will vote against it when the time comes for final city approval.

A Cabela's megastore for hunters and outdoor enthusiasts is being proposed for Greenwood, Ind., in the center of that state. According to the Indianapolis Star, "if what happens here parallels the experience in Reading, Pa., where Cabela's opened in 2004, a retail explosion awaits Greenwood."

The paper reported that Cabela's has 19 stores throughout the United States and is opening seven others this year. The company, which began in Dick Cabela's home in Nebraska in 1961, went public in 2004 and reportedly sells $2 billion in sporting goods annually.

"Throughout the nation, wherever Cabela's has put a store, economic developers rave. The typical Cabela's store draws people from as far as 100 miles away," stated the Indianapolis Star.

Walker officials were told by Bossenbroek that Cabela's corporate headquarters is inundated with calls from developers and city officials throughout the United States, asking the company to build stores in their communities. He said it is "very difficult" to land a Cabela's store, among all the competition.

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