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Buc-ee’s targets Springfield for first Missouri store

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A Texas company is looking to build a mammoth gas station in northeast Springfield at the intersection of Interstate 44 and Mulroy Road, across the interstate to the north from TLG Peterbilt.

Buc-ee’s Springfield LLC proposes a 53,000-square-foot travel center and 100-pump vehicle fueling facility on the site. At its regular meeting Monday, Springfield City Council heard a request from Buc-ee’s officials for an infrastructure reimbursement agreement. After a property purchase, Buc-ee’s intends to return with a proposal for a community improvement district. Both instruments would pay for public improvements estimated to cost $8.5 million.

Some $4.1 million of interchange work would be provided by the IRA. The work includes eastbound and westbound on-ramps and off-ramps, including landscaped roundabouts for each, and a bridge.

The IRA would capture half each of the 1-cent general sales tax and quarter-cent capital improvements sales tax. The agreement has a term of 20 years and includes an interest rate on the unpaid balance of 2%, with a cap on reimbursement of $4.1 million.

Similar IRAs have been used to reimburse developers of projects such as Lowe’s at 1707 W. Norton Road, the James River Towne Center/Walmart Supercenter on East Independence Street and Costco on East Chestnut Expressway. Agreements take the form of a contract between the city and the developer, the council bill explanation said, wherein the developer designs, funds and builds specific public improvements and is reimbursed through sales taxes generated by the development.

Council will vote on the IRA at its Jan. 24 meeting.

If the project advances, the Springfield Buc-ee’s will be the first in Missouri. The mascot of the company, which was established in 1982, is a grinning beaver in a red ballcap. The Buc-ee’s website claims to have the cleanest bathrooms in the country. Buc-ee’s stores also offer barbecue, a jerky counter, a selection of fudge and kolaches, and an assortment of candy.

The tastiest selection for city development officials, though, is the 175-225 new full-time positions the store would offer, with a starting hourly pay rate of $15-$17 plus paid health care, 401(k) plans and three weeks of paid vacation.

Additionally, the development on 1,000 acres would provide City Utilities of Springfield water and three-phase power service north of I-44.

Springfield Economic Development Director Sarah Kerner said 88% of Buc-ee’s customers come from at least 20 miles away.

“They’re not going to cannibalize local convenience stores here in Springfield,” she said.

The average visitor group spends $100 per visit to the store, Kerner said, and estimated annual taxable sales, not including gasoline, are $30 million.

Kerner showed before-and-after photos of places where Buc-ee’s had located. At a Fort Worth, Texas, Buc-ee’s, a row of restaurants and retail establishments were developed alongside the gas station in a two-year period. She also showed a Terrell, Texas, development, which grew from farmland and a single small building prior to development to a fully built-out shopping center, including a movie theater – “which I’m not sure we’re going to see at Mulroy Road,” she said.

In its packet of information about the IRA, council was briefed on the proposed Cottle’s Range Community Improvement District, which would impose a district sales and use tax at a maximum rate of 0.63% on retail sales made in the district.

The CID would reimburse costs for improvements to North Mulroy Road and new construction of a Buc-ee’s Boulevard, as well as public utilities extensions. The total budget for these projects is $5.1 million.

Since Buc-ee’s has not yet purchased the property for the proposed gas station, a CID cannot yet be entered into.

One council member, Mike Schilling, expressed his objection to the proposed development. He said the city would be subsidizing private development if it approved the funding instruments, and asked if Buc-ee’s had demanded “the whole load.” Kerner replied that they had.

“That’s where we’re at now with corporate America,” Schilling said.

City Manager Jason Gage said the IRA and CID tools are only for infrastructure improvements. An additional 6 million annual visitors will require significant infrastructure improvements, he noted.

Gage said the interchange, combined with utilities, including water and sewer infrastructure, would open the whole area up for development.

“We weren’t able to do that before,” Gage said of the utilities extension.

Kerner clarified that the funding mechanisms would only pay for public improvements – not building costs.

Schilling also expressed concern over stormwater runoff. He noted the area is now earth and soil that would be replaced with impermeable surfaces that would not absorb water. He asked what provisions are in place to control that.

Kerner replied that Buc-ee’s would follow all city stormwater requirements, since they’ll be located in the city of Springfield, and Gage added Buc-ee’s would have to follow the code that the city has in place right now. He added this consideration is addressed with any commercial development.

Schilling expressed further concern that the land slopes toward Fulbright Springs, which feeds Fellows Lake, Springfield’s drinking water source.

“I certainly want a guarantee it’s not going to contaminate our drinking water,” he said.

Councilperson Angela Romine asked about the impact on existing houses and farms, where property taxes are likely to go up.

Gage said he would take that scenario over one where property values declined, and he added he hoped the Buc-ee’s project would attract additional development.

Romine said she wouldn’t want the development next to her house, and Gage replied that from a zoning perspective, the project is compatible with the area.

“They’ll be a very good neighbor, but they are still a commercial neighbor,” Gage said.

Councilperson Richard Ollis said the proposed development is in an area that already gets a lot of traffic.

“How much sales tax are we deriving from that corner today?” Ollis asked.

“Zero dollars,” Kerner replied.

“I am having difficulty understanding why we’re not jumping up and down at a project like this,” Ollis said.

Zone 2 Councilperson Abe McGull, in whose zone the development is proposed, pointed out that the project will not only employ up to 200 people when finished, but it will also require the work of local builders, plumbers and electricians.

“I appreciate the scrutiny – I really do,” McGull said. “If you have any questions about this, please contact your Zone 2 councilman.”

Councilperson Matthew Simpson said residents often talk about poverty in the city, and noted the single largest thing the city can do is incentivize employers who are willing to pay a higher wage.

“Hopefully, it has a multiplier effect and begins to bring wages up,” Simpson said.

Mayor Ken McClure expressed his support for the project.

“We are pleased and eager to welcome Buc-ee’s to Springfield,” he said. “This will have a very positive and lasting impact on us.”

Added McClure, “This will benefit this community immensely.”

Stan Beard, director of real estate for Buc-ee’s, said it takes about 13 months to build a Buc-ee’s.

He added he appreciates council sharing concerns.

“We’re a big footprint; we’ve got a lot of folks who visit us,” Beard said. “Dare I say we’re the Bass Pro [Shops] of the convenience store world.”

He added Buc-ee’s has raised the bar for convenience stores.

“We’re not a pull-in-and-buy-a-can-of-Copenhagen store,” he said. “We’re a pull-in, oh-my-gosh-I’ve-just-spent-$150-at-Buc-ee’s.”

He said Buc-ee’s follows all water quality rules and typically exceeds them.

“We’re all about being a good neighbor,” Beard said.

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