June 6, 2007 in Nation/World

L.L. Bean plans recreation center

Jerry Harkavy Associated Press
 

FREEPORT, Maine – Mail-order retailer L.L. Bean is looking to develop a theme-park-style adventure center near its flagship store that would build on the company’s outdoors heritage, drive sales and add another attraction for tourists.

The project featuring lodging and dining facilities is centered on a 700-acre parcel owned by the outdoors outfitter about a mile from its Freeport store. Visitors to the site and another Bean-owned property along Casco Bay could try activities from biking and archery to kayaking and snowshoeing.

The concept was the brainchild of former Chief Executive and current board Chairman Leon Gorman – the grandson of Leon Leonwood Bean – as a way of making it easier for people to enjoy outdoor activities, said Carolyn Beem, a Bean spokeswoman.

The plan, still in its preliminary stages, was first reported Tuesday in the Portland Press Herald, which obtained a copy of a confidential document asking hotel development companies to spell out their qualifications for taking on such a project.

The company envisions a “family-friendly outdoor adventure attraction with lodging amenities under something similar to a theme park operating model,” the document said.

There are no plans for roller coasters or log flumes. Instead, the idea would build upon efforts by outdoors outfitters such as Cabela’s, L.L. Bean and Bass Pro Shops to generate customer traffic by offering rock-climbing walls, aquariums and even ponds to let customers try out equipment.

“Cabela’s and Bass Pro have incorporated a lot of what maybe L.L. Bean will multiply into an entirely outside-the-store environment to try to make themselves a destination,” said Bob Simonson, an analyst who covers Cabela’s Inc. for William Blair & Co. “Cabela’s has always called itself the destination store.”

Beem insisted the project was not a response to plans by Cabela’s to develop a 125,000-square-foot store in Scarborough, 25 miles from Freeport. That store will anchor a $75 million development that includes a 200-room hotel, restaurants and a bank.

The new center would build on Bean’s experience with its Outdoor Discovery Schools program that offers instruction in skills such as fly fishing and kayaking.

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