(Editor's Note: In observance of the Columbus Day holiday, the top story will not be updated until Tuesday.)
By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
The Bass Fishing Hall of Fame will open its doors to Western legend Mike Folkestad, electronics pioneer Darrell Lowrance and the late guide, educator and competitor Jack Wingate in 2013. That's only in a figurative sense, though, because the shrine still has no actual doors to swing either way.
Hall president Sammy Lee told BassFan this week that four sites for a permanent location are under serious consideration and two others that have potential (at least from a preliminary perspective) have cropped up within the past couple of weeks.
"This whole thing's kind of like having a baby," he said. "When will it happen? When the baby's ready to be born.
"I was very impatient for it to happen a few years ago. Now, through age or experience or maybe a combination of both, I'm resigned to believing that good things come to those who wait."
Everything is Tentative
The election of Folkestad, Lowrance and Wingate was ratified last month during the Hall's quarterly meeting, which took place in Cullman, Ala. Cullman is one of four cities currently in the vetting process as permanent homes for the shrine.
It's joined by two other Alabama bergs – Guntersville and Scottsboro. The fourth city at that stage is Kissimmee, Fla.
"They all bring unique, positive opportunities to us, but they're all distinctly different," Lee said.
Kissimmee, of course, is extremely attractive because it hosts millions of visitors annually as the home of Walt Disney World. The three Alabama cities are located within what's traditionally been called the "cradle" of the sport as they enjoy proximity to some of the region's top bass-fishing destinations. Each is within 200 miles of Montgomery, Ala., where Ray Scott laid down competitive fishing's roots in the late 1960s.
Hall president Sammy Lee has been involved in the process of attempting to find a permanent home for the shrine since 1999.
One of those four could be named as the permanent site during the Hall's annual banquet at the Bassmaster Classic (which will take place in Tulsa, Okla. in 2013). Hall representatives have visited each of them and met with civic and community leaders, and two of them have completed feasibility studies while the other two are in that process.
New Players not Identified
Lee declined to identify the two latest cities to show an interest in being home to the Hall, as discussions are in the earliest stages. He said both would be considered "Top 100 markets" in the U.S.
If either or both become serious contenders, that may negate any type of announcement at next year's Classic because the vetting and negotiating process cannot be completed in the less than 5 months that remain.
"A lot is going to depend on these two new sites that've popped up," he said. "If they want us to come and meet with them, then that's going to push everything out past the Classic. We'd have to let those places do their due diligence as far as a cost analysis and feasibility study, and it could take more than 6 months for all that to be conducted and concluded.
"At this point, we don't know if they're serious or if they're just dipping their toe in the water. It's been frustrating just to get to this point in trying to find the perfect site, but ironically, it's worked out for the best. We've had a couple of sites withdraw over the last few years – when we went to them and said, 'Here's what we're looking for,' neither one were willing to meet our requests and they just kind of faded away."
Hall representatives tell potential host cities that the shrine will attract between 300,000 and 400,000 visitors each year. In return, it asks for a commitment of between $10 million and $20 million, among other incentives.
The process has already taken longer than Lee had hoped when he undertook it in 1999, but he's willing to wait a little longer if it means ultimately ending up in the perfect locale.
"The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame took 10 years from when it announced Cleveland as the site until it opened its doors, and we're not to that point yet. If we get a great opportunity in a major city on a major thoroughfare, then that would turn our heads real fast."
> To visit the Hall's website, click here.