By Trent Moore and David Palmer
The Cullman Times
Much like the sport itself, local officials are taking a patient and deliberate approach to the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame project coming to Cullman.
The hall of fame selected Cullman as the host site for the facility last month, and city officials will be working with the board for the next year to plan and design the project. Construction is not expected to begin for at least a year, perhaps longer.
The proposed $17 facility will include a 56,250-square-foot civic center, 30,900-sqaure-foot hall of fame, an aquarium, gift shop and exhibit space. The city will cover the majority of construction costs, though the hall of fame is ramping up a several-month fundraising drive in an effort to generate approximately $5 million of the cost.
It will be constructed at the city-owned Burrow Property on County Road 222. The state recently announced plans to add an Interstate 65 interchange approximately one mile from the proposed site, which officials say was a major factor in the recruitment.
The joint-use civic center will fall under the umbrella of Cullman Parks and Recreation, and director John Hunt said both sides are already in the early phases of generating architectural drawings and ideas for the project.
“It’s going really well and we’re starting the planning stages now,” he said. “Word around town seems to be really excited, and I have not talked to a single person that is not looking forward to this project.”
Cullman Mayor Max Townson said the city is working with the bass board now on a strategic plan that will define goals and targets for the year.
“We’re meeting with them to come up with a tentative plan, and we still have to iron out some details,” Townson said.
Bass Hall of Fame’s board of directors is already meeting about fundraising for the project, anticipating a successful campaign to meet its obligation in the project.
“All of the anglers and manufacturers in our industry said it just seemed Cullman was the most logical place for the hall of fame. It was so ironic that Ray Scott (founder of Bass Anglers Sportsman Society) was in the audience when we made the announcement of Cullman. The second tournament he ever put together was in Cullman at Smith Lake,” said Sammy Lee, chairman of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame’s board of directors.
The board’s goal is to raise $5 million-$10 million initially. Lee believes the enthusiasm for the project will go a long way in meeting the goal.
“This is a dream come true. This is what I’ve worked for so long, and you couldn’t ask for a better community than Cullman to work with,” Lee said. “The people we have worked with to make this happen have been well prepared. When they say they can do something, they mean it. And they understand how large and how important this industry is to people, not just in the United States, but around the world. It is world-wide.”
Bass fishing is a $45 billion industry, Lee noted, appealing to people around the world. And he anticipates that the hall of fame will be a center for anglers and future anglers to gain an even greater appreciation of fishing.
“There’s so much involved in this project. For Cullman, it will mean bringing visitors to the community and open the door to new investments. The environmental aspects of this project are also so important. People will learn about the value of a healthy environment and how so many things work together in creating and maintaining strong habitats,” Lee said.
Lee said he knows an angler from Zimbabwe who has said he will bring his family and entire fishing club to Cullman to visit the hall of fame.
“What we discovered is that Cullman is progressively aggressive. Other communities do some wonderful things, too, but Cullman has a vision of the future and knows how to make a project like this move forward,” Lee said. “The initial response from industry has been overwhelmingly positive. We don’t think we’re going to have any problem raising money. To have your industry support you in your decision goes a long way. And in Cullman, we had not met a group so willing to answer questions about this project. They answered every question we had.”
Lee said he understood a lot of people were involved in Cullman County preparing for the project, but he specifically noted Mayor Townson, parks and recreation director John Hunt, economic development director Peggy Smith, and assistant director Dale Greer.
“They understood what we wanted to accomplish and went to work thoroughly. It doesn’t hurt either to have a fisherman like Dale working on this. He was like a proud poppa when the announcement was made,” Lee said.
The city will own the facility and lease the hall of fame section to the hall of fame board. Townson said both entities will team up once construction eventually begins, with the bass board handling the interior design work for that part of the facility. Once complete, Townson said he believes the facility could be one of the most successful family attractions in the state.
“They’ll put some money into this on the inside, and we’ll be building the facility, and they’ll finish the inside with the aquarium, memorabilia and all those things,” Townson said. “We want to have something like a fishing camp, where families can come as a unit and learn how to be good stewards of Mother Earth, by taking care of fish and streams. They’ll be able to learn about the different fish and about the environment.”
Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.
David Palmer may be contacted at email@example.com or 256-734-2131, ext. 213.