The largest beneficiary of Friday's meeting of the State Bond Commission is likely to be Bass Pro Shops, for its new store in Bridgeport. The project is expected to get a total of $31 million in state financing for the $68.5 million project.
Should the state be putting this kind of money into this kind of project?
The Bass Pro project is the first component of what is projected to be a vast 2.8 million-square-foot mixed-use development on more than 50 acres of the coastal Steel Point section of the state's largest city. The long-delayed project has strong support from city officials and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. But it has drawn critics on two fronts.
Some object to the fact that the giant outdoor retailer sells an array of firearms, along with fishing, boating, camping and other hunting equipment. They question whether a state that has worked hard to limit access to guns should be subsidizing their sale, especially in a city fraught with gun violence. Much as we would like to see fewer guns on the streets, it's legal to sell certain guns and magazines to people eligible to buy them.
The other question is whether the state should be making this kind of investment (a $9 million grant and a $22 million tax-increment financing deal) in a retail project. Shouldn't economic development dollars go toward high-tech, manufacturing or export-oriented businesses that pay higher salaries than most retail outlets?
State officials argue that they are not investing in retail, but in a mixed-use tourist destination that includes retail, one that will draw people from out of state and help revitalize a struggling city. Let's hope they're right. The state made the same argument when it subsidized the construction of Cabela's in East Hartford six years ago. That outdoor retailer appears to be flourishing, but it has yet to attract new development (though there are stirrings).
Since the 1990s, the state already has invested, by one account, $44.3 million in the entire Steel Point site, so halting it now is a moot point. With immediate access to I-95, the site has obvious potential. How much it does for the city is an open question.