August 17, 2006
By DAN UHLINGER, Courant Staff Writer
EAST HARTFORD -- With dozens of government officials dreaming of thousands of new jobs, executives for Cabela's Inc. said Wednesday they want to start building the retailer's first outdoors merchandise store in New England late next month at Rentschler Field.
"It's a good day, a great day. It's been a long process but the good thing about it is people have worked very hard to make it happen," said Kevin Rhodes, Cabela's director of real estate.
Officials for the Sidney, Neb.-based company said plans for the 200,000-square-foot, $50 million superstore will be filed with the town Sept. 14. An opening is planned for next summer.
About a half-dozen company representatives traveled to Connecticut to meet with Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who announced the commitment of $21.9 million in state funding for the development of Rentschler and construction of the store.
"Today is about job creation," Rell told state and local officials at the University of Connecticut football stadium, which occupies about 75 acres of the 725-acre Rentschler Field tract that its owner, United Technologies Corp., wants to develop.
Construction of the Cabela's store, along with other direct and indirect effects of the project, could create 4,000 to 5,000 jobs, a consultant for the state estimated.
"It's a great boost to the Connecticut economy," Rell said.
East Hartford Mayor Melody A. Currey said the day was one of the most significant in town history. "This is a giant step forward for the economic future of East Hartford and Connecticut as a whole," she said.
Cabela's Inc. bills itself as the nation's largest direct marketer of outdoors merchandise. The company has 15 stores across the country, and Rentschler will be its first in New England. A typical store draws 3 million to 4 million shoppers annually, with many customers traveling from out of state, bringing in valuable tourist dollars.
Michael Callahan, senior vice president of retail and marketing for Cabela's Inc., said the East Hartford store would spur considerable nearby retail development.
"We truly believe that once this store opens it will become also one of the top tourist attractions here in Connecticut," he said.
Rell announced the state's commitment shortly after the Connecticut Development Authority unanimously approved Cabela's' request for a $9.9 million state grant to help build the store. Rell said another $12 million has been committed for infrastructure improvement and new roads at Rentschler.
The store would be the cornerstone of the retail area proposed for the $2 billion mixed-use development of Rentschler Field. The Rentschler project calls for technological research offices, hotels, medical and sports facilities, housing, entertainment and stores.
Robert L. Genuario, Rell's budget director, said the $12 million would be used primarily for the first phase of the project, which includes retail stores, restaurants, offices and housing. About $5 million of the money is dependent upon the developer meeting the state's target of creating about 2,000 jobs.
A UConn study of the Rentschler project said it would create 6,000 to 8,000 jobs and generate $40 million in state revenue and $57 million in local taxes annually.
A consultant hired by the Connecticut Development Authority to study only the Cabela's store said that it would have a total economic impact of about $270 million on state and local economies in 2007.
"Those numbers are huge," said Dan Matos, president of the Matos Group, which was chosen by UTC to develop Rentschler. "This is more than we ever expected."
Global Insights, a private consultant hired by the authority, analyzed government census data, information from private companies and financial results of Cabela's stores supplied by Cabela's Inc.
Fred Carstensen, director of the Center for Economic Analysis at the University of Connecticut, said the Eddystone, Pa.-based consultant is a well-known and respected.
"This is a good solid study," Carstensen said. "They used an appropriate economic model that provides the level of transparency that we expect of this kind of analysis."
Carstensen said the Rentschler project was inspiring.
"It's a very exciting development. We don't need more retail of the generic type. We need destination stuff and that's what this is," Carstensen said. "This is a big plus and a model of the way we should approach development."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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