David B. Garvin, founder of Camping World, is negotiating with Cabela's, the world's largest retail and mail-order outdoor outfitter, to house a megastore at his proposed 965-acre complex in Franklin - now known simply as “Garvin's.”
“I've got my fingers crossed,” Garvin said. “They flew in here on their corporate jet for two hours two weeks ago.”
Cabela's is the most prominent of several potential additions to the site, he said, which will include a 500,000-square-foot RV showroom and a Camping World store.
Company officials told Garvin a Cabela's store could attract 4 million people to southcentral Kentucky annually, he said. The company has apparently ruled out a prospective site south of Nashville.
“Every state is trying to attract them because they're an attraction themselves,” Garvin said.
The stores often exceed 200,000 square feet and are the top tourist stops in Pennsylvania, Texas, Michigan and Colorado. A Cabela's that Garvin visited in Fort Worth, Texas, cost $80 million to build, he said.
“The interiors of these things are incredible,” Garvin said.
Stores are detailed with ornate stone work and Deer-antler lights. The company caters to serious outdoorsmen by offering services like fly-fishing demos and turkey camouflaging seminars, he said.
Kentucky Secretary of Commerce George Ward recently sent the company an incentives proposal. A topographical map has also been forwarded to Cabela's for inspection after phase one of an environmental study was completed. Gov. Ernie Fletcher is excited, Garvin said.
“It's much like a negotiation between Kentucky incorporated and Cabela's Incorporated,” Garvin said, with Franklin the lucky recipient.
Dubbed the “world's foremost outfitter,” Cabela's prefers rural settings near metropolitan areas, he said, and Franklin's demographics got the company's attention.
“Franklin is at the center of the weighted population from the Rockies to the Atlantic Ocean,” Garvin said. “A lot of people would discover Franklin. It's a historical, beautiful town.”
About a year ago, Garvin contacted Cabela's CEO Dennis Highby about the possibility of bringing the chain to southern Kentucky. However, negotiations stalled, Garvin said, because of concerns that Interstate 65 and Ky. 100 couldn't handle traffic from the megastore, which would encompass roughly 30 acres of Garvin's complex.
That construction prerequisite is being hurdled by the current widening of the two highways, Garvin said. Upon completion, I-65 will expand to six lanes in Simpson County and Ky. 100 will spread to seven lanes.
“Even without Cabela's, this needed to be done,” Garvin said, due to a new technical college adjacent to Ky. 100 and other projects in Simpson County.
Garvin credited Tom Baker of Coldwell Banker Commercial Real Estate in Bowling Green for bringing negotiations back on board.
Baker sits on the Congressional Sportsman's Foundation Board of Directors in Washington, D.C., a 21-member board of businessmen and conservationists who advise Congress on people's rights to hunt, trap and fish. The board's president is Mike Callahan, who is a member of Cabela's senior executive team.
Baker said Callahan was impressed with Garvin's proposal.
“It takes someone of David Garvin's caliber to make a project like this successful,” Baker said.
Hailing Garvin's business acumen and vision, Baker said he thinks the project will pan out, although Cabela's is still studying traffic counts, highway access and visibility, among other data.
“They know more about southern Kentucky than most anyone else does with the research they've already done on this project,” Baker said. “These folks are talking about 850 jobs and four million people coming to their store a year.”
Baker, who sold the property for the Super Wal-Mart project on Morgantown Road and the new Sam's Club on Scottsville Road, said he met with Fletcher about it this week in Frankfort. He said the project also has the full support of Sen. Richie Sanders, R-Franklin, Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, Sen. Brett Guthrie, R-Bowling Green, and Rep. Rob Wilkey, D-Scottsville.
Sanders, an avid hunter and Cabela's customer, confirmed talks with the company are ongoing.
“I did write a letter to Cabela's supporting the project and would be glad to try to work with them and also the governor and the commerce secretary,” Sanders said, “But I personally have not had any direct conversations with the folks at Cabela's.”
Baker and Garvin said a Cabela's store would not only familiarize people with Franklin, it would be a boon to Bowling Green hotels and restaurants and benefit the whole state with increased tax revenues.
As the project has morphed, Garvin said he's revised his vision for an RV paradise. Now, he wants the entire complex to be the “must-go-to place” for eastern U.S. interstate travelers, which is why he is pursuing other conceptual items like an IMAX Theater and a Fresh Market.
Cautioning that no contracts have been signed, Garvin said, “All this stuff is right in limbo stage, (but) we're excited.”