Wednesday, February 25, 2004
Gart Sports is close to being the first tenant in the new Wildhorse Marketplace.
Developer Whitney Ward said this week he is in the final stages of negotiating a deal that would bring the nation's largest sporting goods chain to his commercial center on Mount Werner Road.
Ward said a few details remain before he signs a lease with Gart Sports (The Sports Authority Inc.), but he decided to release the news to the community.
"While we have not finalized the details -- there are some construction timeframes to be worked out -- I didn't want to surprise the community," Ward said. "I've always said we were trying to find a good national tenant. It remains important to us to achieve a good mix of local, regional and national stores."
Brett Lee of Straightline Outdoor Sports in downtown Steamboat wasn't pleased to learn of Gart's tentative arrival.
"Obviously, I'm not thrilled," Lee said. "I don't see how a community of this size can support them. They'll have to deal with the dead times, like mud season, just like we do. Obviously, it will hurt our business in some ways."
Wildhorse Marketplace has not been built. The first phase of the project is expected to come out of the ground this summer. It will include five of a total of eight buildings in the roughly 88,000-square-foot center.
Sports Authority Vice President of Real Estate Development Lucey Kelton could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Gart Sports merged with The Sports Authority in August 2003, giving the combined companies 385 stores in 45 states. The company headquarters remained in Englewood after the merger. The company is in the process of converting stores with the Gart Sports name to Sports Authority.
Ward said he was under the impression the new store would be called Gart Sports.
Gart has been looking for a location in Steamboat since at least 2001 and was talking to Ward in 2002 when he initially proposed Wildhorse to the city of Steamboat Springs. However, the city discouraged Ward's plans for a 36,000-square-foot "big box" store in the center. Ward said that when he downsized his anchor space to 20,000 square feet to appease the city, Gart lost interest.
"They were gone. They just said 'no thanks,'" Ward said. "They said it was not economically feasible without a big box."
Sports Authority plans to open as many as 20 locations nationally in 2004 and has a track record of opening 43,000-square-foot stores. Ward said he was aware that the company continued to look in Steamboat. Ultimately, Gart Sports came back to him.
"They said, 'How about if we squeeze into that smaller two-story space?'" Ward said.
Ward said he is aware that local ski and snowboard retailers are wary of Gart Sports. He hopes Gart's depth in traditional sports such as softball, hunting and fishing and fitness equipment, for example, will capture purchases currently leaking out of the local economy.
"I think this will be a good addition to the community," Ward said. "Some may view it as a threat, but only 25 percent of their business is related to ski equipment. The nonskiing portion of what Gart Sports offers should represent incremental tax revenue to the city."
Gart's corporate Web site suggests it would compete hard in areas such as camping equipment and athletic footwear.
When Sports Authority merged with Gart, the deal represented a union between the largest and second-largest sporting goods retail chains in the country.
Sports Authority is not the nation's single largest athletic-equipment retailer, however. The trade publication "Sporting Goods Business" reported in 2002 that Wal-Mart, with $5.9 billion in sales attributable to sporting goods, topped its list. Sports Authority was fourth on the list behind Kmart with $1.4 billion in sales. Gart Sports was tied for eighth with Famous Footwear and L.L. Bean, with $1.1 billion in sales.
Combined, Gart and Sports Authority accounted for $552.5 million in sales during the 13-week period that ended Nov. 1.
Lee said he would try to compete with Gart by employing a knowledgeable sales staff that provides personalized service.
"When we have to compete against the big boys with the low prices, that's all we can do," Lee said.