Bass Pro Shops has pulled out of a long-delayed shopping center project south of Panama Lane, even as the Missouri-based sporting goods chain indicated Wednesday it remains interested in opening a store in Bakersfield.

The company's statement that it is no longer committed to the project elicited surpriseamong people familiar with the project.

"I don't think you can take Bass Pro off the table," said City Councilman Russell Johnson, whose Ward 7 includes the project.

Word of the retail chain's withdrawal from the proposed 93-acre Bakersfield Gateway development comes as the city is preparing to accept bids on a public works project considered key to the shopping center: a $25 million interchange at Highway 99 and Hosking Avenue.

City Manager Alan Tandy emphasized the proposed interchange has other purposes beyond serving the shopping center, such as relieving congestion in the area. The project'straffic impact fees, expected to total tens of millions of dollars, would reimburse the city for its work, he added.

Bass Pro's involvement would be helpful but not crucial to Bakersfield Gateway's success, said Duane Keathley, a Bakersfield commercial real estate broker who represents the project's Texas-based developer, The Woodmont Co., and the property owner, Kern County's Giumarra farming family.

An entertainment venue such as a movie theater complex would draw tenant interest as easily as the sporting goods retailer, he said. Also, the chain may yet rejoin the 1 million-square-foot retail and entertainment project or sign with another local shopping center, Keathley added.

"Sounds to me like (Bass Pro) may be willing to jump back in that deal," he said.

In 2007, Bass Pro Shops announced its intention to open a 150,000-square-foot store at the northeast corner of Hosking and the 99. The chain has no stores between Manteca and Rancho Cucamonga.

But the recession sidelined the project, and in the meantime, nothing has been built at the site.

"We did announce a project in Bakersfield, CA some years ago but unfortunately the project never materialized," company communications manager Katie Mitchell wrote in an email Wednesday.

"We have always been interested in Bakersfield and with regards to any future projects in that area, we always look forward to reviewing and considering any opportunities that may become available."

People familiar with the Bakersfield Gateway project said it cannot proceed without the interchange, which would provide easy freeway access from the north and south.

"In this case of whether it's Bass Pro or someone else, nothing can happen without the Hosking (Avenue) interchange," Councilman Johnson said.

Tandy, who said bidding on the work will begin this summer and end "around the end of 2015," said he hasn't given up on Bass Pro.

"Their condition was that the interchange" had to be built if they were going to be part of the shopping center, he said.

An environmental review of the proposed shopping center is expected to begin as soon as its backers pay the city about $133,000 to cover the cost of the analysis and about $60,000 owed from a previous project. The review is expected to take about a year to complete.

Representatives of The Woodmont Co. and the Giumarra family could not be reached for comment Wednesday.