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Cabela’s angling for Utah

Retailer interested in Lehi site — and financial incentives

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A wildly popular hunting and fishing retailer that draws millions of shoppers and tourists to its Midwestern stores has Utah Valley in its sights.

Cabela's is considering building a massive retail outlet just east of I-15 in Lehi near the new Traverse Mountain development. Officials from the Nebraska-based company have visited the location and state, and leaders have toured Cabela's in Kansas City.

The store could bring hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in sales tax revenue to Utah County. It also likely would reel in customers from all over the Intermountain West.

"They're interested in the area," said Utah County Commissioner Jerry Grover. "They're looking at some sites."

Cabela's also apparently is looking for big financial incentives, like it has received in other states. Those numbers took Pleasant Grove out of the running.

The company won't expand west unless it gets "$30 million in freebies," said Pleasant Grove Mayor Jim Danklef. "We're not interested in that steep of a giveaway."

Lehi officials declined comment, and Cabela's officials were unavailable for comment.

State and local economic development advisers have discussed the availability of tax incentives with the company. But state business development director Jeff Gochnour said other than possibly job training, Utah doesn't have much to offer retailers.

Cabela's, which sells hunting, fishing and outdoor gear, also has looked at Brigham City and Perry in northern Utah's Box Elder County and is considering sites outside the state. "We're optimistic Utah is the logical place for them," he said, adding he understands Lehi is the top choice at the moment.

Roughly a quarter of Utahns hunt or fish. The Division of Wildlife Resources estimates there are 200,000 hunters and 450,000 anglers in the state.

Should Cabela's choose to build in Utah Valley, it could be the largest "retailtainment" center catering to outdoorsmen in the state. It typically builds in small towns near interstates and is a magnate for other businesses such as hotels, restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations.

If the store were to be a hit in Utah as it is in other states, increasingly crowded I-15 in Utah Valley would be more jammed. Busy Thanksgiving Point is just a stone's throw away from the Lehi site.

The company boasts that its stores, which may include aquariums, indoor mountains, shooting galleries, restaurants and big-game trophy collections, are among the top tourist attractions in the Midwest. Cabela's has outlets in Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota and Michigan.

The Kansas City store, which has a grill-room featuring a wild game menu, attracted 2 million people in its first five months. The 225,000-square-foot showroom in Dundee, Mich., drew 6 million visitors last year, according to the company. One tourism representative there called it an "amusement park."

"It's been a great story for Michigan," said Dave Lorenz, managing director of Travel Michigan. "We've certainly benefited from the tax revenue."

Michigan landed Cabela's, which sponsors a NASCAR race in that state, with a $27.8 million incentive package, including tax breaks and land, he said.

Pennsylvania put up $28 million, including road and site improvements, job training and deferred school taxes, for the store opening there next week.

People drive long distances or go out of their way to stop at Cabela's.

North Ogden insurance agent Brenda Freeman has shopped at the Sydney, Neb., store several times.

"We have annual business meetings in Greeley, Colo., and we always make a trip to Cabela's," said the passionate hunter and angler. It's about a three-hour drive.

"When they have their sales, people come from all over and camp out in the parking lots."

Freeman said she would "absolutely" make the 70-mile trek to Utah County from North Ogden to shop at the store. "I would dare say people are going to drive down from Idaho and probably Wyoming, Evanston for sure."

E-MAIL: romboy@desnews.com