How Bass Pro Shops landed the Sunset Hills site eyed by Amazon Fresh
January 27, 2022…

By Gloria Lloyd – Reporter, St. Louis Business Journal Aug 12, 2021, 1:52pm EDT

Real estate and city officials worked for two years to get a new-to-market grocer believed to be Amazon to sign a lease to fill a vacant Toys R Us space in Sunset Hills.

But when the prospective tenant’s interest apparently stalled, the shopping center’s owners, commercial real estate firm Sansone Group, landed a replacement tenant they contend is even better, both because it will occupy more vacant space and will become a regional draw for Sunset Hills.

Bass Pro Shops on Tuesday announced it would open its third St. Louis store in the former former Toys R Us at 3600 S. Lindbergh Blvd. in Sunset Hills. The Springfield, Missouri-based retailer of outdoor goods said it will redevelop 75,000 square feet in the Shoppes at Sunset Hills, with an expected open date in the second half of 2022.

It was a deal that came together quickly and, to some, unexpectedly following the courtship of what many expected would be the St. Louis region’s first Amazon Fresh grocery store.

The Business Journal reported in March that the e-commerce giant was looking to open in the 9.5-acre shopping center. But getting the company — which Sansone will only refer to as a “new-to-the-market grocer” — to sign the lease proved challenging.

“We have tried desperately for two years to get them,” said Mark Kornfeld, Sansone’s managing director of retail services.

To convince the company, Sansone successfully lobbied Sunset Hills officials in March to pass a 40-year Community Improvement District sales tax for a grocery store. But that still didn’t get the grocer to sign on the dotted line.

The Sunset Hills Toys R Us has been vacant since the nationwide toy chain closed three years ago. A Ross Dress for Less next door initially stayed open, but eventually shut down in January. Amazon has specifically targeted former Toys R Us stores to redevelop into its Amazon Fresh grocery concept, which rapidly expanded over the last year to more than a dozen stores nationwide.

Mayor Pat Fribis said Amazon showed developers enough interest over the last two years to keep the property tied up and not available to other tenants, but then at some point stopped returning the developer’s calls.

A spokesperson for Amazon declined to comment on the decision not to locate in Sunset Hills or whether the online retailer was still interested in the St. Louis market. The 37,000-square-foot grocery store could have opened in 2022, Sansone Group said at the time.

“The fact of the matter is we’re no closer to not only bringing the grocer to the city of Sunset Hills, they still have yet to commit to coming to the St. Louis metro market as a whole,” Kornfeld told the city’s board of aldermen Tuesday night. “Maybe that changes in six months, maybe it doesn’t. The current status that we have from the grocer is ‘we’ll call you when we call you.’ … Sometimes things just weren’t meant to be.”

Once Amazon’s prospects faded and the space was open, the deal with Bass Pro Shops came together in a matter of months. City officials were told about the switch in the last two weeks, but were asked to keep it under wraps until the big announcement.

Eyeing a third location

Bass Pro Shops had been scoping out sites for a third location in south St. Louis for years, representatives said. The Springfield, Missouri-based outdoor retailer has two other locations in the St. Louis area, in St. Charles and a Cabela’s in Hazelwood.

The move into Sunset Hills might have been helped along thanks to a personal connection through Bass Pro Chief Financial Officer Kevin Maliszewski, an Edwardsville native whose wife’s family lives in Sunset Hills. He said he usually doesn’t get involved in the company’s real estate deals, but got involved in this one due to the personal connection.

Sansone had been marketing the Toys R Us site for four years, even before the store closed. Other possible tenants interested in the site included a fitness center and a garage sale-type indoor flea market.

Knowing how difficult it can be to fill vacant big-box retail spots, Fribis said she wouldn’t have been surprised had the Toys R Us site stayed vacant for several more years. Now, she’s elated by the prospect of having a store like Bass Pro she thinks could help lift every retailer by drawing shoppers to the city.

“It’s like we won the lottery,” she said.

Filling an abandoned storefront with a powerhouse tenant like Bass Pro Shops is a “once-in-a-50-year opportunity,” Kornfeld said: “We live in a world that doesn’t have retailers expanding — we’re fortunate with Bass Pro to have a user that’s thriving in a pandemic.”

Sansone Group broker Grant Mechlin, who also did not identify Amazon by name, said Bass Pro Shops brings some benefits that the grocery store would not have — notably size. It will use all of the shopping center’s available vacant space for its 75,000-square-foot redevelopment.

“We would have loved to have made that deal (with the grocer), but I think we were lucky to some degree that this opportunity came along because it’s an even better use and a bigger tenant and more regional than the grocer was,” Mechlin said. “This is twice as big and much more regional.”

The Bass Pro Shops deal is contingent on the Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen amending the 40-year, $5.3 million Community Improvement District so that it can benefit a retailer of more than 60,000 square feet instead of a grocer over 25,000 square feet. Fribis has called a special meeting for Aug. 24.

The mayor doesn’t expect every alderman to vote for the incentives. But even some who questioned the details of the CID during the meeting welcomed the outdoor destination to the city.

“We were excited about a grocery store, and now we’re even more excited about Bass Pro,” said Alderman Cathy Friedmann.

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