Bass Pro founder tells intriguing fish tale

Brian Brown, Reporter

Ever hear of a $215 million catfish? After yesterday, the city of Memphis, Tenn., has.

Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, made a rare appearance at a construction kick-off ceremony June 21 for the company’s long-awaited Outdoor World retail store planned to open within Memphis’ iconic Pyramid, and he had an interesting fish tale to tell.

According to, Morris told the invitation-only crowd that included professional angler Bill Dance and Memphis Mayor A. C. Wharton that a 2005 fishing trip on the Mississippi River ultimately led to Bass Pro’s plans to put a store in the vacant former arena.

Morris said catching a catfish led to the store plans at the Memphis Pyramid.

As the story goes, Morris was with Dance and Jack Emmitt, Bass Pro’s first fishing manager, when Morris said he would build a store within The Pyramid if they caught a 30-pound catfish.

“Sure enough, with about one hour to go, (Emmitt) got a bite and caught this catfish in the shadow of The Pyramid, and I said, ‘It’s a deal – we’re gonna do it,’” Morris said, according to the Web site.

Last year, the Memphis City Council approved a plan that allowed the Center City Revenue Finance Corp. to issue $215 million in bonds to fund the development project, which now includes a three-story hotel.

In 2010, Bass Pro Shops signed a 55-year lease with the city that garnered $30 million in construction funding assistance.

On June 15, the Springfield-based outdoor retailer, which has 58 stores in the U.S. and Canada, announced it had firm plans to build a store in Little Rock, Ark. The Outdoor World is expected to open by Christmas 2013.

Earlier this week, I spoke with Tommy Hodges, the developer of the 169-acre Gateway Town Center in Little Rock that will feature the anchor Bass Pro store. He declined to provide terms of the agreement with Bass Pro – which both parties state does not include public financing – saying only:

“We did some things for John; he did some things for us, and I’ll leave it at that.”

I neglected to ask if the negotiations took place on the Arkansas River.

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