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June 3, 2013 - 9:53pm

According to Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, Batavians owe a big thank you to Danny Wegman.

No, not for promising one of his unriviled grocery stores to Genesee County, but for steering her attention toward yogurt and the need to produce it in Western New York.

"When I visited Danny in his flagship store in Rochester, Danny said to me, ‘Indra, you should get into the yogurt business because it’s growing extremely rapidly and if you do, the plant has to be located right around here in Upstate New York,' " Nooryi said. "I listened to Danny  because Danny is one of the most respected thinkers in the industry, and, Danny, we delivered on the promise.”

Wegman stood at the back of a tent crowded with local and state dignitaries and smiled broadly.

Last week, Wegman told The Batavian that it might take build out of the STAMP project in Alabama to bring a Wegmans to Batavia. Today, Wegman (top inset photo) had a slightly different take.

Coming out from a tour of the new Muller Quaker Dairy plant, he said, "more projects like this and we'll be here."

The dairy plant -- which will manufacture two brands of Greek-style yogurt, Muller FrutUp and Muller Corner -- officially opened today.

To start, it operates three production lines, employs 180 people in a 350,000-square-foot facility that could one day accommodate as many as 16 production lines.

Already, the plant produces 120,000 cups of yogurt per hour.

Sen. Charles Schumer announced during opening ceremonies that Muller Quaker has reached an agreement with the Upstate Milk Cooperative to source all of its milk from WNY dairy farmers.

The OA-TK-A plant in Batavia will produce the milk protein that Muller Quaker uses in its yogurt production (rather than strain milk as done in traditional Greek yogurt production, Muller Quaker adds protein to give its yogurt a similar rich, silky texture).

"This is an amazing shot in the arm for our economy here in Western New York and I am pledged to continue to do whatever I can do to make this the most successful venture in Western New York," Schumer said.

The project brings together two companies -- the worldwide giant in the food and beverage industry, PepsiCo, and a much smaller, but well respected, dairy company from Germany, the Theo Muller Group.

Stephan Muller, who moved to the United States to assume the reins of the new company, spoke about the entrepreneurial spirit, the risk taking of the $200 million investment by the two companies.

Muller represents the fifth generation of Mullers in the dairy business.

His father, Theo Muller, said through a translator, that the company made previous attempts to break into the U.S. market.

Stephen Muller described his father as a bit of a technophobe who never used a computer and then he got an iPhone just after Stephen Muller arrived in the U.S.

"He sent me a text message," Muller said. "I think it was his first one or one of his first ones. He said, ’520 years ago Christopher Columbus started his journey west with just three ships. Now you are our Columbus. Capital, excellent knowledge now are your ships, and one thing one cannot buy, the iron will to have success."

Nooyi (second inset photo) believes the product will be successful

PepsiCo already has a track record of success of developing a balanced portfolio of food and beverage products that she described as "fun for you, good for you and better for you."

"PepsiCo is becoming a real force in the good-for-you space," Nooyi said. "We have the best go-to-market systems and superior marketing, combined with Muller’s leadership in phenomenal dairy products, I think we’re going to become a real force in the dairy business in North America."

The success in just getting the plant open bodes well for Batavia, Schumer said. With 90 acres of available space at the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park, there will likely be more jobs coming to town.

"We could employ as many as 1,200 more people when the food processors learn of the transportation advantages, the food production advatnages and just the work force advantages that we have here in this area," Schumer said.  "Food processors from around the world are learning what we have to offer."

Ken Adams, president of Empire State Development, said the success of today's opening is something that will attract more investment in the park, especially in supply chain support for Muller.

"It’s a very powerful confirmation of this facility, the agri-business park as a center for international investment," Adams said. "One thing I’m struck with at this ceremony is you’ve got a global leader like PepsiCo partnering wth Muller and obviously Quaker, the PepsiCo brand, coming together right here in Batavia. The project confirms Batavia, Genesee County’s position, certainly in the Northeast if not North America, as a center of the yogurt universe."

To purchase prints of these photos, click here.

June 2, 2013 - 5:37pm

The state law meant to curtail tax breaks by IDAs for retail developments should be defined as narrowly as possible, according to Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

If IDAs broadly interpret the law and push through subsidies for projects that should be outside its scope, then reforms may be necessary, DiNapoli said.

"They should certainly interpret it as narrowly as possible," DiNapoli said. "Having not been a Legislator at the time, I can't overly interpret on their behalf the intent. But what I think we'll do with IDAs that are too broadly interpreting that exception is, we'll make recommendations and work with legislators to tighten up that definition, if that seems necessary to curtail the use of IDA incentives for retail."

DiNapoli was in Batavia this afternoon for a meet-and-greet fundraiser hosted by the Genesee County Democrats at Larry's Steakhouse.

Throughout a six-minute conversation with The Batavian, DiNapoli made it clear he doesn't believe IDAs should be, as a general rule, handing out tax incentives to retail projects.

Asked whether retail chains really wouldn't come to a community unless they get tax breaks, DiNapoli said "that probably varies from community to community," but went on to explain the problem, as he sees it, with such IDA incentives.

"The kind of retail projects we've seen in recent years are the kind of projects that in the long term do not promote the kind of job creation and economic development that would really make a lasting difference in a community," DiNapoli said.

"I continue to have very healthy skepticism of the value of such incentives. As we always point out, there is a cost to the communities that isn't fully realized, so it underscores that the kinds of economic development (undertaken) should be of greater significance, more long lasting, have a transformational impact, and retail doesn't really provide that."

In early May, the Genesee County Economic Development Center Board approved $1.8 million in tax incentives for COR Development to remodel the vacant space at Batavia Towne Center formerly occupied by Lowe's Home Improvement.

The package includes a reduction in property taxes and forgiveness of state and local sales taxes on building material and store fixtures.

The state law prohibits IDAs from giving away state sales tax money unless certain findings are made (there is no law that prohibits other tax breaks for retail projects). The potential findings are that the project is in a highly distressed area, is a tourist destination or will provide goods and services not readily available to area residents.

It was on the last exception that the GCEDC board based its decision on. There was no evidence presented at any public meeting to substantiate the finding.

The only known tenant at the time of the vote was Dick's Sporting Goods.

Genesee County has five small retail outlets that sell sporting goods, four of which are locally owned.

Among the arguments put forward by GCEDC CEO Steve Hyde in support of tax breaks for COR is that he needs that Lowe's space filled in order to attract major corporations to projects such as WNY Stamp and the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park.

"I'm not sure I buy that argument," DiNapoli said. "I'm not in a position to judge that, but that argument is a stretch."

DiNapoli acknowledged that interpretation of the law is largely left up to the local IDAs.

"Even the report we put out every year (on IDAs in NYS), even that is limited by the fact that it's self-reported information," DiNapoli said. "As people have pointed out, IDAs, as well as other authorities in New York, tend to operate with a level of autonomy that I think doesn't provide a maximum opportunity for accountability.

"As you point out," he added, "there are certain exceptions and there certainly there isn't any easy way to clamp down on an IDA that might be too generous in interpreting that exception."

May 31, 2013 - 9:28am
posted by Howard B. Owens in GCEDC, Andrew Cuomo, Batavia Towne Center, COR Development.

During the "gaggle" (that's what reporters call it) with Gov. Andrew Cuomo following his speech at GCC yesterday, I asked him specifically about Genesee County Economic Development Center providing tax incentives to the retail project at Batavia Towne Center.

In these mini-press conferences, reporters are only given enough time to ask a few questions and it's difficult to ask follow-up questions, so I fumbled through my question (which really should have been a two- or three-parter), trying to cram in as much information into a short time as possible (and it was still a pretty long-winded question).

Another media outlet has reported that Cuomo was critical of the retail tax subsidies given to COR. The quote used: “It wasn’t the smartest investment of money."

The quote, in my view, is being taken out of context.

Here's Cuomo's full response to my question:

Your case is fact specific and I would have to look at the actual facts to see what they did. We had proposed IDA reforms. I believe there are economies that I can find there and I believe there are incidents where you can find it wasn't the smartest investment of money. That's why, that's one of the reasons I like the approach we're talking about here today. It's simple. It's clean. It doesn't have a lot of bureaucratic red tape. It's very easy to administer. Very few government officials required to administer it. So I think it's preferable to a lot of things we've done in the past.

Included in Cuomo's budget was a reenacted law meant to curtail IDAs providing tax breaks to retail projects. I asked Cuomo what the intent of that law was. He said, "Just improve the process and address the kind of abuses you've been talking about." He then said thank you and turned and left.

I didn't report any of this because I didn't find it particularly newsworthy. He couldn't address the specific local issue (hardly surprising, but I had to ask) and his answer to the more general "intent" question referenced my own question, which by his own admission, he didn't know much about. That seemed like a kind of circular logic that didn't make a lot of sense.

However, given that another media outlet used the quote, and though I don't mean to be critical of a fellow reporter, I feel obliged to put the quote in context.

May 30, 2013 - 9:16pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in business, GCC, taxes, GCEDC, New York Tax Free.

Genesee Community College sits high on a hill surrounded by a lot of open space.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited GCC today to promote his "New York Tax Free" proposal, which would allow SUNY campuses such as GCC to play host to new businesses or businesses that are creating new jobs.

Up to 200,000 square feet of land around a SUNY campus could also be used for the 100-percent-tax-free zone.

All that open space around GCC, then, might also be described as opportunity.

"That was the vision 10 years ago that we started developing with GCC and Dr. Steiner and now Dr. Sunser," said Steve Hyde, CEO of GCEDC. The agency now has offices across the street from the college campus in what's known as the Upstate Med-Tech Center. "I think we're really well positioned to rock and roll together and really make a difference here."

Cuomo is clearly passionate about his proposal.  Whatever its critics might have to say about it, Cuomo has an answer and at times during his speech and afterward made his points with the fervor of an evangelist for Upstate New York.

Cuomo:

Nobody ever said (speaking of those who have left New York), I didn’t like New York or I didn’t like Upstate New York. Nobody.

We did this (mess up the state and cause 50 years of decline) to ourselves. We did this to ourselves because this state has every asset imaginable.

I spent eight years in the Clinton Administration. I worked in every state in this nation, literally, dozens and dozens of times. I know everything else that’s out there. I’ve seen the best that every state has. No state has to offer what we have to offer in New York. No state has our combination of talents.

Our geography, our diversity, our history, the most beautiful natural resources, mountain ranges, the greatest cities, beaches, we have it all, all in one state – the best of everything with the distillation of the best of America -- in one state called New York.

So it’s not that that they're beating us. We're beating us. We created these conditions. We can reverse these conditions. Reduce the taxes. Make this state as competitive as any state out there from a tax point of view.

"NY Tax Free" would turn SUNY campuses into zones with no state or local taxes of any kind for businesses based on the campuses (or in the 200K zone), and a company's employees, for up to 10 years.

The businesses would have to match the educational mission of the host campus, working in industries of related fields of study.

Cuomo's dream is clearly to incubate the next Apple or Google.

"If you look at the places that are creating jobs, it's the higher education institutions that are doing research and development. It's the 28-year-old who develops the new chip or the new iPhone of the new application, but the schools are actually creating the jobs."

These sorts of companies are getting founded on NY campuses now, Cuomo said, but 75 percent of them leave New York within the first year, taken either by founders or investors to lower tax states such as Florida or Texas.

Yes, the proposal is big and bold, Cuomo said. No other state in the nation has ever dared to take on such an audacious project, but New York does big and bold well, Cuomo said (while a picture of the Erie Canal was projected on the screen behind him).

Big problems, he said, require big solutions.

"People have been leaving," Cuomo said. "Jobs have been leaving. At the same time, we have more and more government and the costs of governing are going up and up while there are fewer and fewer people to pay for the increasing cost of government, which makes taxes higher, making the tax burden higher, which causes more people to leave. That's the dynamic and the longer the dynamic continues, the worst it gets."

Upstate, especially, needs the help, Cuomo said, and with 55 of the 64 SUNY campuses located in Upstate, and 95 percent of Upstate residents living within 30 miles of a SUNY campus, this proposal makes a lot of sense.

In the past several years, there has been only a 5-percent increase in new jobs in Upstate, while New York City has grown jobs at a clip of 16 percent. The 5-percent growth rate doesn't even keep up with the national average.

The proposal would create 120 million square feet of entrepreneurial space in Upstate, Cuomo said, which is more commercial space than in San Francisco and Philadelphia combined, and more than Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse combined.

Speaking with reporters after his speech, Cuomo said the major criticism he's heard of the proposal is that taxes should be lowered to zero for everyone.

"It's the right idea to have zero taxes across the board," Cuomo said, "but there's some problems with the details."

If the proposal seems unfair, Cuomo argued that the current tax system is unfair.

"There is not a level playing field in the current tax code," Cuomo said. "The more you make, the more you pay. Some businesses get tax breaks that others don't. We have tax breaks for manufacturing. Why? Because we decided we want manufacturing businesses here. We have tax breaks for the film business ... because we want to produce movies here. It's a falsity that the tax code is equal, but for this. The tax code is anything but equal."

He also argued that residents around SUNY campuses will benefit from the job creation, with employees of these companies buying groceries, cars and houses locally.

"There will be economic activity in your community and that will be a good thing for you," Cuomo said.

He added, "We can't sustain what's going on now in Upstate New York. We cannot sustain the population decline. Nobody moving in. Everybody moving out. Fewer and fewer people paying the cost of a growing government.  We cannot continue the trajectory we've been on."

May 24, 2013 - 12:07pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, GCEDC, Batavia Towne Center, COR Development.

Earlier this week, we e-mailed 10 questions to Steve Hyde about the approval of the COR Development Project. Below are the questions and his responses verbatum.

Q. According to the best available information, at the time the GCEDC board passed the resolution finding that COR's project would provide goods and services not readily available, only one of the proposed tenants was known and two others were in negotiations. How can such a finding be made without a certainty as to the exact tenants? What if COR were to change the tenants to include, say, a liquor store and/or a jewelry store (two business categories well represented in Batavia)?

A. We cannot comment on private negotiations between a developer and prospective tenants.  Like every project that is presented to our board, we have to rely on the information provided to us by the applicant which included a confidential disclosure of not only the known Dick’s project but two additional tenants as well. If the tenants that ultimately reach an agreement with the developer fail to fulfill the new criteria as defined by state law, we would ask our legal counsel for an opinion as to whether the applicant is living up to their end of the agreement and initiate appropriate claw backs. We are confident that COR will fulfill their obligations as they are a reputable developer.

Q. GCEDC has asserted that the COR project is bringing in retail with goods and services not readily available in Genesee County, but there's never been any specific information from GCEDC to substantiate this claim. What exactly is it about the known COR tenants that provides goods and services not readily available in Genesee County? Beyond the assertion, what are the facts to back up the assertion?

A. Again, we are relying on information provided by the applicant that the tenants both know and where private negotiations are occurring will provide goods and services that are not readily available in our community. We confident that COR will fulfill their commitments as it pertains to the GCEDC board’s finding which allows for GCEDC participation in the project under the retail exception as a part of the new state law.

Q. Does GCEDC have any obligation to provide mitigation for the tax breaks given to COR to the existing retailers, be they an independent business such as Batavia Marine or long-standing national chains such as Kmart (which also sells sporting goods)?

A. Any business in the community can submit an application for assistance to our agency and if they fulfill criteria such as the creation of new jobs and investment then they may be eligible for assistance. Our goal is to help businesses create jobs and bring new investment to our community and we stand ready to do everything we can to do that. We encourage businesses to learn more about the incentives provided by our agency. Information about these incentives as well as an application for assistance are available on our Web site at www.gcedc.com.

Q. Calculating from COR's own sales tax estimates, their tenants will generate somewhere in the neighborhood of $26 million in annual sales. On what basis are we to believe that Batavia is a marginal market in need of tax incentives in order to attract these retail businesses? The figures appear to be right in line with Dick's per store gross sales average, which means they should be able to project $500,000 in net annual profit. At that kind of return, do these retail stores really need tax breaks in order to come to Batavia? Aren't the things that make Batavia an attractive place to do business -- centrally located in a large rural area, Thruway proximity, promising economic growth -- sufficient for retail without tax breaks, and if it not, what will keep these business in town when the subsidies run out?

A. The fact that we do not have large retailers like Dick’s indicates that Batavia is a marginal market, however as we grow our economy through projects like Alpina and Muller Quaker and longer term STAMP, we will become a destination market. The fact remains, the developer applied for tax relief to conduct an adaptive reuse and expansion of the property at Batavia Towne Center that will create jobs and new investment in our community and just as important the application submitted fulfills the criteria for retail under the new state law.

Q. According to COR, the stores will invest a collective $11 million in opening their stores. If a retail business is willing to make that kind of financial comment to a community, how can we believe that tax incentives are critical to attracting national retail to Batavia?

A. Think about that for a moment. If you had an opportunity to make a $1.8 million investment over 10 years, which is essentially what our incentive package totals, and the return on that investment was $11 million worth of capital investment, who would not make that deal. On top of that, our investment of $1.8 million is going to be returned in the first year alone based on sales tax revenue generation which will benefit our community and help keep property tax rates down.  Without our assistance, there is no $11 million capital investment and no new sales tax revenue for our community thereby creating additional pressure to raise property taxes which hurt residents and businesses.

Q. GCEDC has asserted that it's bad for the community and bad for attracting business to have Lowe's vacant. In the time since it's been vacant, GCEDC has landed two major tenants and is about to land a third for the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park. What evidence is there that a vacant Lowe's hurts business development?

A. When both Alpina and Muller Quaker were touring the area, the Lowe’s store was in fact still open which showed the companies that we did in fact have a vibrant retail center immediately located off of the I-90. Moreover, we are trying to take a holistic approach to economic development here in our community. You seemingly are taking the view that the Lowe’s vacancy does not “hurt” business development; we take the view, based on our years of experience in the company attraction business, that a vibrant retail center located at the gateway of our community enhances our ability to attract companies to our community in this very competitive world of economic development.

Q. GCEDC has asserted that it's bad to have a vacant Lowe's, but COR has said that it's bad for the rest of Batavia Towne Center to have a vacant Lowe's. Doesn't COR have a strong motivation to lease that space even without tax abatements?

A. I don’t want to single COR out; they are a prominent developer and like many developers they have options and choices as to where to lure their retail clients. Our decision was based on an application that our board believes fulfills the criteria under the new state law specific to retail projects. We believe the return on investment that will be generated through the tax assistance provided will create a vibrant towne center.

Q. What do you say to a comment such as Mike Barrett's, that tax incentives are like "using your own tax money to put yourself out of business"?

A. Alpina and Muller Quaker and the related economic benefits would not have occurred without the incentives being provided through the GCEDC. To the contrary, we are using incentives to create new jobs and new wealth and subsequently new tax revenues to make our community more prosperous and an even better place to work, live and play. I can assure you that Alpina and Muller Quaker are not putting local dairy farmers out of business.

Q. Based on our polls and nearly daily discussions with people in our community, it's difficult to find local residents who support tax breaks going to COR. Is it appropriate for GCEDC to go against the wishes of the vast majority of Genesee County residents on such an important issue?

A. Genesee County has a population of approximately 60,000 residents. A public hearing was held in the evening which was open to the public; about 30 residents attended and six spoke against the project during the hearing. One letter was received at the offices of the GCEDC opposing the project and was officially included in the transcripts of the hearing. The board was provided a written copy of the transcripts from the public hearing prior to voting to approve the adaptive reuse and expansion project at Batavia Towne Center. I think if we were to start relying on polling that admittedly in not statistically accurate and to use that data to make decisions about economic development, you would not see many businesses even contemplating coming to our community.

Q. Will GCEDC continue to have a policy of providing tax breaks to retail projects even though there is a significant body of research that shows tax incentives to retail have no tangible return to local communities and even though the vast majority of Genesee County residents oppose such tax breaks?

A. The GCEDC as a matter of practice does not pursue retail projects. This is evidenced to our not participating in the Tim Horton’s project locating at the west end of Batavia and the McDonald’s project planned for Aldi plaza in the City on the east end. We will continue to comply with state law while advancing our vision and mission to provide a positive place to do business for all companies. There is a significant body of evidence that shows there is a tangible return to local communities. To claim that the “vast majority” of residents oppose such tax breaks is subjective at best without any real statistically accurate information to substantiate such a claim.

May 17, 2013 - 6:57pm

Press release:

Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,I,C-Batavia) recently voiced his support for the Genesee County Economic Development Center (GCEDC) and its successful efforts to attract a Dick’s Sporting Goods store to Towne Centre Mall in Batavia. The group was able to secure the store’s move through pro-business tax incentives, which will create local employment opportunities and increase sales tax revenue to support local programs and services. Hawley defended GCEDC against attacks from Buffalo-area Assemblyman Sean Ryan, who has publicly criticized the local economic development effort.

“Here in Batavia and across Genesee County, we deserve access to both consumer choice and employment opportunities. By attracting Dick’s to Towne Centre Mall, GCEDC has helped bolster both,” Hawley said. “Assemblyman Ryan’s attacks on our local economy are completely uncalled for. While he purports to be concerned with the use of state tax dollars, surely he would agree that one of the highest-taxed states in the nation has bigger fish to fry than Genesee County’s legal ability to strengthen its own economy. I believe it is in the best interests of all involved that assembly members focus on their own constituents and that he focuses on revitalizing Buffalo’s economy.”

“The GCEDC was created to help increase the tax base, create new jobs as well as bring new investment and revenues into our community. This project fulfills all of these criteria and without our assistance, these benefits would not be realized,” said Steve Hyde, president and CEO of the GCEDC. “The project will create jobs, increase sales tax revenue, bring new goods and services into the community, and reinvigorate what is currently a large, vacant space located at the gateway of our community off of I-90.”

Hawley noted the crucial role the GCEDC has played in attracting job creators to Genesee County and keeping them here long-term.

“Between the Genesee Valley Agri-business Park, Oakta Hills and countless other projects, GCEDC has long been at the forefront of job creation and economic development in our community,” Hawley said. “Throughout my time in the Assembly, we have worked diligently to revitalize our local economy, and GCEDC has my full support in its effort to bring jobs to our community.”

May 17, 2013 - 4:05pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in GCEDC, Batavia Towne Center, COR Development.

Press release:

“The Genesee County Economic Development Center requested and received a legal opinion regarding the approval of tax incentives for the COR Development project in the Town of Batavia as well as whether the project is legally exempt from new retail provisions recently passed into state law.

“We are pleased to announce that this opinion supports the recent vote by our board to approve these incentives as well as the exemption to the new law.

“The GCEDC strongly believes that this project will bring goods into the community that are not currently available to area residents. It should be noted that other tenants also will be opening in near future providing residents with other goods and services in what is currently a large vacant space located at the gateway of our community off of the I-90.”

“More importantly, the sales tax revenues that will be generated in just one year will be more than the incentives provided to the developer. The GCEDC was created to help create new jobs as well as bring new investment and revenues into our community. This project fulfills all of these criteria and without our assistance these benefits would not be realized.”

Downoad: PDF of Attorney's Letter.

May 16, 2013 - 11:52pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in GCEDC, Batavia Towne Center, COR Development.

Was the Genesee County Economic Development Center Board of Directors' decision to provide $1.7 million in tax abatements to COR Development legal?

That depends on who you ask.

A Buffalo assemblyman thinks the GCEDC board violated provisions of the 2013-14 budget act, which attempts to curtail state sales tax abatments for retail projects.

Assemblyman Sean Ryan is asking for an investigation by the state's tax commissioner, but when The Batavian contacted Taxation and Finance Department last week, it took awhile to get a response and when we did, the agency passed the buck to the state's Budget Office.

So far, no state agency has expressed much interest in taking a closer look at GCEDC's actions.

At issue is a resolution passed by the GCEDC board that found COR's proposal to redevelop the former Lowe's location in Batavia Towne Center meets the necessary legal requirements to receive state aid.

Specifically, under terms of the law, an IDA cannot provide relief on state sales tax without making certain findings. Among the possible findings are that the project will serve as a tourist destination or that it's in a highly distressed area.

The finding for the COR project by the GCEDC board was that the project provides goods and services that are not readily available to local residents from current retail stores.

At the time the board passed the resolution, the only publicly announced tenant for COR's project was Dick's Sporting Goods.

Last week, at a Town of Batavia Planning Board meeting, it came out that Kohl's is a likely tenant.

There may be at least one other, and possibly a fourth, tenant, but there's no reliable indication of who those tenants might be.

Today, GCEDC Chairman Charlie Cook said at the time of the vote, the board had been given two other names, but acknowledged negotiations were still under way between the retailers and COR at the time of the vote. There is no guarantee that those retailers will be the ones to eventually occupy the space.

The big question is whether Dick's meets the requirement under the law for providing goods and services not readily available in the local market.

Ryan has pointed out -- as most Genesee County residents know -- there are four sporting goods stores in Batavia. There are also three department stores that sell sporting goods.

Cook said he's not much of a sporting goods shopper and is largely unaware of the type of merchandise carried by Dick's or what local retailers might offer that is similar or different.

"I feel the input that I had from the people in the community was that having Dick's here would be a huge draw for the surrounding area, and I guess that's something people will always have a differing opinion about," Cook said.

Prior to approving the COR abatements, the GCEDC conducted a public hearing on the project, as required by law.

COR VP Joseph B. Gerardi made a presentation about the project at the hearing, but no GCEDC staff covered the agency's position on the project. 

The pending resolution, with its key finding about the uniqueness of the project, was not made available by GCEDC staff at the meeting or prior to the vote by the board the following Thursday.

In other words, the public had no opportunity to review specifically what the board would vote on and comment on it.

State law enacted in 2012 requires "to the extent practicable" that resolutions to be voted on be made available to the public prior to the meeting.

We requested an interview with GCEDC CEO Steve Hyde this afternoon, but he was tied up in meetings and unavailable.

After the May 2 vote approving package of incentives, The Batavian began making inquiries trying to find out who, if anyone, would enforce the IDA law if there was any question about its application for a retail project.

We found press offices with state agencies willing to provide information "on background," but nobody willing to provide on-the-record information about the law and how it's enforced, if at all.

One exception was the Comptroller's Office, where spokesman Bruce Butry was willing to be as helpful as he could be.

The Comptroller's Office could conceivably audit the GCEDC and even focus on this specific project, but an audit would merely result in a written report, leaving it up to the County Legislature to act, or not, on any findings.

"At the end of the day, it's up to the people in the local community," Butry said. "Some of these IDAs operate with very little accountability other than the pressure put on the boards by the public regarding the types of projects they're going to approve."

The Governor's Office had no on-the-record comment about the law or the local situation.

Butry suggested we try Taxation and Finance. Once we reached the right person, he was very friendly, but he said it was up to the state's Budget Office to answer any questions about the law.

In response to a long list of e-mailed questions, Morris Peters, spokesman for New York State Division of Budget, provided some information "on background," and this statement for publication:

“Under these reforms, grocery stores will no longer be given tax breaks to move across the street. Tax dollars will be focused on those industries that create jobs and companies who will move to New York to help build our economy.”

Assemblyman Steve Hawley, who represents Genesee County, isn't surprised that Albany is keeping this issue at arm's length. He believes the decisions to provide abatements is a local issue and should be considered beyond interference from state agencies.

"I try not to meddle in local decision-making because there are too many people who do, like Mr. Ryan," Hawley said.

In response to Ryan's making public statements about the COR abatements, Hawley and Sen. Mike Ranzenhofer, who also represents Genesee County, were trying to organize a press conference for tomorrow to highlight the successes of GCEDC and invite Ryan to take a closer look at the agency, with an eye toward how he might better help his own constituents in the City of Buffalo achieve greater economic prosperity.

Scheduling conflicts may prevent that press conference from taking place.

Earlier today, Ryan and Hawley had a brief phone conversation in which Hawley said he asked Ryan, "Have you moved to Genesee County?"

When Ryan returned a call to The Batavian, he said, "I understand some people there are upset with me."

But Ryan said it was legitimate for him to call into question the GCEDC giveaway of state tax money because it affects his constituents, too, as it does all taxpayers in the State of New York.

"It all goes back to this: whose tax dollars are they handing out?" Ryan said. "Those tax dollars belong to every taxpayer in the State of New York."

A cynic might think that Ryan's real motive is to keep Dick's Sporting Goods out of Batavia so that Genesee County residents continue to drive to Erie County to shop.

Ryan said, "You could say that, but you should say he wants high wage jobs so that people can raise families and that we should use our scarce revenue to bring in those high wage jobs, not low-paying retail jobs that require people to draw on Medicare and food stamps because the wages are so low. That's not good for our economy and that's not good economic development."

To Ryan's point, the Comptroller's Office has a long history of taking a critical look at IDAs, even before Thomas DiNapoli held the office, particularly in the area of tax abatements for retail projects.

The current law attempting to curtail tax breaks for retail projects is based on a similar law that the state Legislature allowed to expire in 2008.

In 2006, the Comptroller's Office issued a report looking at implementation of the law and found that IDAs found creative ways to skirt it.

(The) exceptions, all of which are applied at the discretion of local IDA boards, can make the retail prohibition ineffective.

Since the application of these exceptions is determined at the discretion of each IDA, these criteria are sometimes subject to expansive interpretations.

The examples given were out of Erie County and included "tourism destination" designation for projects because they were located near an airport or Thruway exit.

Last week, the office again issued a report on IDAs and included a discussion of why it's important to curtail tax breaks for retail projects.

Retail projects generally do not increase the level of jobs available in a region or economic activity, as project-related gains often come at the expense of other retail enterprises in the area, and the jobs associated with retail trade tend to pay significantly less than manufacturing or other professional jobs. The restriction on retail projects was reinstated in the 2013-14 State Fiscal Year Budget, indicating that State policymakers understand the limited usefulness of these projects for economic development.

And ...

Very few of the IDAs sponsoring retail projects reported the estimated salaries of the jobs to be created, but data from the New York State Department of Labor shows that the average starting salary for a retail salesperson is $17,250, while the average for first line retail supervisors is $28,720.

IDAs, Ryan said, have become "subsidy machines."

"COR gets these subsidies from Buffalo to Syracuse," Ryan said. "They've figured it out. They know they can come to these IDAs and have their project viewed favorably because they say, 'see what a great thing we're doing for the community,' and everybody can say they're a part of it. The politicians run for election and stand in front of the place and say, 'look at what we brought here.' "

Ryan doesn't even believe it's about the commission check GCEDC will get for the project, which could total $100,000. It's about looking good, he said.

Even if Ryan is successful -- and Hawley doubts anybody in Albany will take serious an out-of-district assembly member calling for an investigation -- in getting the tax commissioner to look at the project, it's unclear from the IDA law what power, if any, the commissioner has to overturn a local decision.

Here's the relevant section of the law:

The commissioner is hereby authorized to audit the records, actions, and proceedings of an IDA and of its agents and project operators to ensure that the IDA and its agents and project operators comply with all the requirements of this section. Any information the commissioner finds in the course of such audit may be used by the commissioner to assess and determine state and local taxes of the IDA's agent or project operator.

And even if the commissioner can recapture the tax revenue, Butry, from the Comptroller's Office, said it only applies to the state sales tax incentive.

COR received a tax break on state and local sales tax for the purchase of building material, as well as a revised PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) on the increased assessment and mortgage tax relief.

Ryan agrees that there is no provision in the law for anybody in Albany to overturn the PILOT, the local sales tax or mortgage tax abatement. Those are entirely local decisions.

At the public hearing, Gerardi said the local share of sales tax revenue from the project would be $1 million.

Using that as a base for calculation, that puts projected annual gross revenue at build out at about $26 million.

Gerardi said the retailers coming into the project would invest $11 million.

Those don't sound like numbers, Ryan said, of companies that need tax incentives to build retail projects and create a playing field that isn't level for existing retailers.

Charlie Cook said he truly believes that in a small market like Batavia, big retailers won't come here without a reduction in their operating costs.

"You hate to see that big empty building just sitting there," Cook said. "They are offering an opportuinty to fill it with something that is vibrant and exciting and has the potential to draw in outside people."

Mike Barrett of Batavia Marine and Kurt Fisher of Fisher Sports have said they believe they can compete with Dick's on quality and service and Cook said he is hoping that is true.

"As you pointed out, these businesses have proven to be resilient and able to find niches and services that continue to make them very successful," Cook said. "That's my hope, that everyone is going to be a winner in the long run."

Cook said he and the GCEDC board are just trying to do the best they can for the community and there's no intent to subvert the law.

"We're a board of volunteers and the one thing we're interested in is promoting business development in Genesee County," Cook said. "That's our only motivation to sit on the board and when those opportunities come up, we embrace them."

As to any legal concerns raised by Ryan, Cook said that GCEDC has asked its attorneys to review Ryan's assertions, but Cook also said that prior to the board's vote, legal counsel assured the board that the action it was about to take was legal and proper.

"We're not out to push anything through that is improper," Cook said. All the information we had said it was perfectly proper and I guess at this point, we'll defend that. If it turns out that it wasn't, we'll review our policies and not do that anymore."

May 13, 2013 - 11:55pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in business, GCEDC.
Here's WGRZ's report on the compensation paid to Steve Hyde, CEO of GCEDC.
May 10, 2013 - 11:33am
posted by Howard B. Owens in business, GCEDC.

Press release:

Genesee County Economic Development Center (GCEDC) officials will hold a public information session on June 4 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the MedTech Center Building, located across from Genesee Community College (GCC) in Room 214. GCEDC officials are encouraging residents to attend the meeting to learn more about how the GCEDC fosters economic development in Genesee County.

Mark Masse, senior vice president of operations for GCEDC, will provide an overview of the organization, the incentives they offer, and how a potential company can be attracted to our community. A question and answer period will follow the presentation.

“This is a great opportunity for residents as well as local businesses to learn more about  how our organization enhances economic growth in Genesee County,” Masse said.

Because the seating capacity is limited to about 100 persons, GCEDC is requesting that those interested in attending to please contact Rachael Tabelski, marketing and communications manager at GCEDC by calling 585-343-4866, ext. 12, or sending an e-mail to [email protected].

May 10, 2013 - 8:27am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, Oakfield, GCEDC, Darien, Stafford, Alabama, bergen.

Genesee County Economic Development Center is trying to get initial permitting completed on a proposed expansion of the Upstate Med-Tech Center on R. Stephen Hawley Drive just in case a specific medical device technology company wants to lease the space.

Mark Masse, VP of operations for GCEDC, told the County Planning Board on Thursday that a contractor has a potential leasee and is in negotiations now. Getting certain regulatory hurdles cleared now would help the process.

"If they reach an agreement, the potential leasee is working on a tight time frame," Masse said.

Masse doesn't know yet how many new jobs could be created by the company.

"They haven't gone before the board yet for incentives from us," Masse said. "More information would be available at that point in time, if it gets to that point."

The planning board unanimously approved site plan review for proposed 60,000-square-foot facility.

The board also unanimously approved a site plan review for a proposed 60,000-square-foot cold storage facility at the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park.

Masse said GCEDC still owns the property the unnamed company is considering for the facility and sales negotiations are ongoing.

That company also has yet to come to the GCEDC board seeking incentives, so Masse doesn't know yet how many new jobs will be created by the facility.

In other board action:

  • Did not approve variances for applicants to operate a gift and hobby shop on Knowlesville Road, Alabama, and a country store on Tesnow Road, Alabama. The board encouraged the applicants to seek a zoning change with the town rather than get a variance to existing zoning.
  • Approved a special use permit for a home welding business at 7460 Alleghany Road, Alabama.
  • Declared that a proposed boarding house at 316 E. Main St., Batavia, isn't subject to county planning review. Owner Terry Platt is looking to convert a single-family home into a 12-room boarding house.
  • Approved subdivision and site plan review for 7,015-square-foot building to house a gun store, laser engraving business and indoor shooting range at 8240 Buffalo Road, Bergen.
  • Approved site plan review to rebuild a fabrication business at 1606 Broadway Road, Darien.
  • Approved, with modifications, a site plan review and area variance for a new Dollar General at 111 N. Main St., Oakfield.
  • Approved a site plan review for conversion of a former restaurant and apartment complex at 6309 Clinton Street Road, Stafford, into a four two-bedroom apartment and a single one-bedroom apartment complex.
May 2, 2013 - 6:17pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, GCEDC, Batavia Towne Center, COR Development.

All five members of the Genesee County Economic Development Center Board present for today's meeting voted yes on $1.8 million in tax breaks for COR Development to help the Syracuse-based company bring national retailers, such as Dick's Sporting Goods, to Batavia.

Legislator Shelly Stein, who sits on the GCEDC board, praised COR for all it's done for local schools and the community by generating new tax revenue.

While she said she agrees with much of what speakers said at Tuesday's public hearing on the proposed abatements, particularly about the current state of affairs in New York, she considered the proposed development a "great win for the county, the town and the city." 

New York's high tax rates, she said, makes such incentives necessary.

"I thank you for bringing this project forward," she said to COR VP Joseph B. Gerardi. "That 18 million of investment, and not asking for that PILOT to restart at zero and start at 40 percent, makes a lot of sense for us."

Board Member Jim Vincent said that clearly the public doesn't understand what GCEDC does.

"The public comments signify that we've still got a way to go to convince the populace of Genesee County about what we do and why we do it," Vincent said. "I appreciate projects like this coming forward because in my opinion just the sales-tax factor alone adds an annuity to reduce the tax burden on every business, farm and family that resides in Genesee County."

No other board members spoke.

After the vote, GCEDC CEO Steve Hyde thanked the board for approving the project.

"Just to remind everybody that inside the resolution, the predominate finding was that this was a unique facility project to meet the retail restrictions under the law," Hyde said. "This is the only 36-acre major shopping center inside this entire county. As the law states, this is the opportunity to bring more, varied shopping offerings and services to the community and without this particular project, as the law states, the availability of these broader services and offerings would not be readily accessible to the residents of the community.

"Hence, that was really the underlying basis of the retail restriction and the request for the board to consider, because at the end of the day, we're trying to attract large-scale, tech-driven manufacturing here. ... The last thing you want to do is have a large, empty building while we're showing our community."

John L. Rizzo and Mary Ann E. Wiater were not present at today's meeting.

Voting yes were Stein, Vincent, Charlie Cook, Wolcott T. Hinchey and John F. Andrews.

COR estimates that the four possible tenants -- which COR has previously confirmed includes Dick's Sporting Goods -- will generate more than $16 million in annual gross sales and the four tenants will likely invest $11 million to get their stores open.

After the meeting, walking down the hall, we tried to ask Gerardi why $1.7 million in tax breaks are necessary when the revenue estimates and total capital investment indicates there is market demand for the project. He said questions needed to be directed tomorrow to the company's CEO, Steve Aiello, and made a sharp left turn into the men's room.

Aiello has not previously returned calls nor answered e-mails from The Batavian.

April 16, 2013 - 10:02am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, GCEDC, Batavia Towne Center.

Press release:

The Genesee County Economic Development Center (GCEDC) announced today that the public hearing on the COR Development project application, originally scheduled for Tuesday, April 23rd at 4 p.m., has been rescheduled to April 30th at 7 p.m. to accommodate requests for the meeting to be conducted outside of normal business/working hours.

“The GCEDC strives to be a transparent and accommodating agency so when we get these types of requests we do everything we can to honor them,” said Charlie Cook, GCEDC board chairman. “It’s evident that this project has generated quite a bit of interest so we want to make sure that the community has the opportunity to learn more about the project and have their voices heard.” 

At the meeting, the GCEDC will provide a comprehensive overview of the project – including the benefits COR Development is applying for to develop the vacant Lowe's building – as well as a full disclosure of the fiscal and economic impacts the Batavia Towne Center has had on the surrounding community since it came to fruition. Following the presentation, the hearing will be open for public comment; the GCEDC also will read any written comments received by the agency prior to the public hearing.

Written comments can be sent to the GCEDC’s Marketing and Communications Director, Rachael Tabelski at Genesee County Economic Development Center, 99 MedTech Drive, Suite 106, Batavia, NY 14020.  Written comments must contain the individual’s contact information, including address and phone number, and should indicate if he or she would like the comment read at the hearing. All comments and public hearing testimony will be reviewed by the GCEDC board prior to a vote on the COR Development application for support.

April 11, 2013 - 5:19pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, GCEDC, Batavia Towne Center.

A public hearing has been set for COR Development's request to receive financial assistance to renovate the former Lowe's location in Batavia Towne Center.

UPDATE 7:40 p.m.: The hearing has been rescheduled. It is now at 4 p.m. April 23 at Batavia Town Hall. (It was previously set for April 22.)

COR is seeking nearly $1 million in tax incentives for the project.

April 4, 2013 - 10:06pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, GCEDC, Batavia Towne Center.

Press Release from Phil Ricci, chairman of the Gensee County Libertarian Committee:

Dick's Sporting Goods also does not expect to win, or ask for, tax abatements to expand here. "Our goal is to deliver everything at the lowest price," Hennion said. "We really don't feel like we should be using customers' money to build our stores."

That was a direct quote from the VP of Dick's Sporting Goods!

The classification of the Batavia Towne Center as a "tourist destination" is laughable at best, and a complete deception regardless. More than $6 million dollars has already been promised to COR over a 10 year period. Yet even though the company did not complete many of the promises within the original project, they are asking for an additional $ 1 million in "tax incentives" to re-fit a previously failed space!

No tax payer should be asked to subsidize a multi-billion dollar retail chain, so they can do business in their town, but what's even worse is when that retailer is not asking for the help!

Stop the abuse! Tell Mary Pat Hancock and the GCEDC Board to not approve the additional funds!

Sign the petition: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/706/682/307/stop-the-additional-funding-of-tax-incentives-to-cor-for-dicks-sports/

About the Genesee County Libertarian Committee: Advocate. Educate. Choice. The Genesee County Libertarian Party. For more information, please join us on Facebook @ https://www.facebook.com/GCLP.NY.
Also Please join us for our first fundraiser, April 13th at Batavia Downs! http://thebatavian.com/lisa-ace/sponsored-post-celebrate-liberty-night/36799
April 4, 2013 - 4:00pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, GCEDC, Batavia Towne Center.

NOTE: There was a big mistake in the original headline of this post about the amount of property taxes that would be generated over 10 years.  The correct number is $4.3 million, not the significantly higher number previously quoted.

Batavia Towne Center, in the four years since the first stores opened there, has generated more than $500,000 in new property tax revenue for schools and county government.

It's also generated more than $500,000 in new fire tax revenue for the Town of Batavia.

We don't know how much sales tax it's generated because those figures are considered confidential. But COR Development estimated -- when it applied to GCEDC in 2006 for tax abatements for the project -- that at build-out, the center would add more than $4.5 million in annual sales tax to the state and county treasuries.

Under the current terms of the agreement between COR and the Genesee County Economic Development Center, Batavia Towne Center will generate an estimated $4.3 million in property tax and fire tax revenue by 2018.

COR is asking that the original agreement be modified to help the company attract Dick's Sporting Goods along with one or two other retailers to the former Lowe's location.

There are three tax abatements under consideration:

  • $180,000 sales tax exemptions
  • $43,750 mortgage tax exemption
  • $828,390 property tax exemption

Before there was a Batavia Towne Center there was 47-acre parcel of land that didn't have much on it except for the Wood Hill Trailer Park off Park Road that -- according to a June 22, 2006 article in the Batavia Daily News -- was filled with aging trailers that once housed race jockeys from Batavia Downs.

The total assessed value in 2008 was $1.6 million.

After Batavia Towne Center opened, the assessed value jumped to $14.5 million.

Under the terms of the original agreement with GCEDC, COR received a $6 million tax incentive package:

  • $2,078,400 sales tax exemption
  • $312,500 mortgage tax exemption
  • $3.6 million property tax exemption

COR was planning a 375,000-square-foot shopping plaza that would be anchored by Target and Lowe's with Bed, Bath & Beyond, PetCo and Michael's, as other key tenants.

It would cost COR an estimated $40 million to build the center.

COR estimated at build-out the stores would employ 364 full-time equivalents (FTEs), who would be paid $9.9 million in annual wages, and the stores would generate $4.6 million in annual sales tax on $667 million in gross annual sales.

In 2007, the project was split into two parts, because Target insist on owning the building and real estate of their own stores, so the benefits and liabilities of the project are now split between COR and Target.

For the life of the agreements, both COR and Target are required to submit an annual report to GCEDC on employment.

By the time all of the stores were open in 2009, COR and Target reported a combined 365 FTEs.

As the economy declined after 2009, so did employment, dropping to 341 FTEs in 2011.

After Lowe's closed, the number of FTEs dropped to 270 in 2012.

The bulk of the incentive package for COR (all numbers in this story roll up COR and Target as if it were still a single project) was the property tax abatement.

The abatement is known as a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes). 

A PILOT is designed to forgive a portion of property taxes on the increased assessed value on a parcel of real estate that are the result of improvements.

In the case of Batavia Towne Center, as stated above, the property's assessment rose from $1.6 million to $14.5 million.

COR continued to pay property taxes on the original $1.6 million assessed value, but in 2010, when the assessed value jumped so dramatically, it paid no property taxes on that additional $12.9 million in assessed value.

Under state law, fire district taxes cannot be waived, so when the assessed value jumped, so did the amount COR pays for fire services in the Town of Batavia.  Currently, COR and Target pay more than $266,000 annually in fire protection taxes.

Starting in 2011, COR began paying taxes on 20 percent of the increased assessed value, or on $2.6 million of the new additional assessed value.

This year, COR's share jumps to 40 percent of the assessed value.

By 2017, COR will be paying 80 percent of the increase in assessed value and the PILOT expires in 2019, at which point, COR and Target will be paying property taxes on 100 percent of the increased assessed value, or about $4.1 annual in property taxes.

The bulk of those taxes go to the school district with the rest going to the county.  The Town of Batavia currently has a zero property tax rate.

The projected numbers are based on the current assessed value, which is subject to change annually.

For the exemption of the center to accommodate Dick's and other retailers, COR is asking for the PILOT to be amended to cut the taxes on the new assessed value of that portion of the project.

Currently, the portion of the property that contains Lowe's is assessed at $6.9 million.

The improvements will increase the assessment to an estimated $8.6 million.

COR is asking for an amended PILOT just for that parcel that will begin at the 40 percent of increased assessment value and extend the life of the PILOT (just for that parcel) through 2024.

Rather than going up 20 percent every two years, the 40 percent of assessed value would last for three years, then go up to 50 percent for two years, 60 percent for two years, 70 percent for two years and 80 percent for two years.

In 2007, as we reported earlier, the project was only eligible, as a retail project, for tax incentives, because it was declared a "tourist destination."

Under terms of IDA law, a tourist destination is defined as a location that will attract a significant amount of traffic from people living outside of the IDA's service area.

In this case, from outside Genesee County.

The agency also had to find that the project would offer a service not otherwise available to county residents.

In a June 8, 2007 letter, COR's VP and attorney Joseph B. Gerardi, wrote in a letter to Steve Hyde, CEO of GCEDC:

It is anticipated that the Towne Center will provide economic and/or tourism opportunities for commercial uses not otherwise readily available to residents of the Genesee County Economic Development Region. ... The Towne Center project is also anticipated to retain a significant percentage of the retail sales available in the Economic Development Region that is likely to be leaving the Region, and create additional economic development activity. This is a result of the potential for Towne Center to attract retail sales from counties that are in near proximity to the Region and/or development.

Legislature Chairwoman Mary Pat Hancock wrote in a letter dated Jan. 2, 2007:

In order to assist the Agency in making such a finding, the Company has represented that the Project is the sole comparably-sized shopping center available to residents of Genesee County and therefore provides a service that would otherwise be unavailable.

Hancock's letter did not address the "tourism destination" designation.

While the project was in development, GCEDC was apparently interested, according to a February, 2007 article in the Batavia Daily News, in adding a multi-screen theater to the project.

COR seemed less than thrilled with the idea, noting that adding theaters would mean less parking, and theater patrons would take up a lot of parking spaces that would otherwise be filled with store shoppers.

The original project proposal also promised restaurants, but none of have been built in the plaza.

COR also promised to plant $200,000 in trees in the parking area.

It's expected that if GCEDC is to grant new tax incentives to COR for Dick's Sporting Goods and other additional retail space, the project will need to be approved as a "tourism destination" and provide goods and services not otherwise available in Genesee County.

In 2005, while discussing sports retail outlets in Forth Worth, Jeff Hennion, then VP of strategic planning for Dick's Sporting Goods, told the Star-Telegram that Dick's wasn't interested in tax incentives for their stores.

"Our goal is to deliver everything at the lowest price," Hennion said. "We really don't feel like we should be using customers' money to build our stores."

UPDATE: Original site plan map added, courtesy COR Developerment.

April 2, 2013 - 10:16pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, GCEDC, Batavia Towne Center.

Batavia Towne Center -- the location of Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Michael's, Petco and Radio Shack -- is a tourist destination.

It became a tourist destination in 2007 when the board of the Genesee County Economic Development Center voted to proclaim it a tourist destination and Mary Pat Hancock, chair of the Genesee County Legislature, gave the designation her stamp of approval.

Without the designation, the GCEDC could not have awarded -- under state law at the time -- some $4.5 million in tax breaks for COR Development Company to build the retail shopping center.

The law lapsed in 2008, but is back in force this year, just in time for COR to request another $1 million in tax incentives to help lure Dick's Sporting Goods to Batavia.

The Buffalo News reported on the revival of the law last week, noting that it's the intention of the governor's office to crack down on tax incentives for purely retail projects.

Those retail projects were magnets for controversy because critics said they did not generate new wealth within the region, served a strictly local clientele and favored one business over others that were fighting for a piece of a shrinking local retail market.

Among the exceptions to the law banning tax incentives for retail projects is the declaration that the project is, or is part of, a "tourist destination."

The statute is pretty clear that Albany wants these incentives going only to retail projects that will likely "attract a significant number of visitors from outside the economic development region ... "

Who decides if a project is a tourist destination? According to the Govenor's Office, it's purely a local decision.

It's up to the GCEDC board to conduct a public hearing on the topic. After the public hearing, the board votes. If it votes to declare the project a "tourist destination," there's one last step, and that's for the chair of the governing agency -- in this case, Mary Pat Hancock of the County Legislature -- to approve the designation.

There's no other process to confirm the designation nor appeal the decision.  There's nothing in the statute that allows another authority to overrule the local decision.

For her part, Hancock seems quite convinced that Batavia Towne Center is a tourism destination.

Hancock noted that Batavia Towne Center is right next to the Clarion Hotel, with its new water park, conveniently located near the Thruway and there are lots of hotels in the area. Those hotels bring families to town for hockey tournaments and soccer tournaments, and business travelers might bring their families along these days.

And those people, she said, will want convenient shopping in the area.

"We would certainly like to see that empty building (the former Lowe's location) put to good use and see something there that brings people to the area," Hancock said. "It's conveniently located for people who come here and with the price of gas, it's wonderful that people can come here and mix business with pleasure."

Kelly Rapone, head of tourism for the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce, wanted to emphasize that she's supportive of the proposed project at Batavia Towne Center, but admitted that she's never considered the shopping center a tourism destination and the chamber has never promoted -- as far as she can recall -- the shopping center as a tourism location.

One measure in New York of whether a location is a tourism destination, as established by the promotion campaign "I Love NY," is whether a signficant number of people from more than 50 miles away will travel to the location.

That definition is used in awarding grants to tourism projects, Rapone said.

While the shopping center is good at pulling people from neighboring GLOW counties to Batavia, she isn't sure Batavia Towne Center would measure up to I Love NY's criteria.

"(Batavia Towne Center) is definately an asset to have when people are deciding where to stay while traveling," Rapone said. "They're not going to stay in a hotel when there's nothing around."

She doesn't think, though, that people are going to travel to Batavia and stay in a hotel just to shop at Dick's.

We asked Hancock about a remark by the owner of Barrett's Batavia Marine, Mike Barrett, that tax breaks to COR is like "using your own tax money to put yourself out of business," and Hancock said she certainly hopes that isn't the case.

She doesn't think that's GCEDC's purpose, she said.

"The GCEDC has done great work with our present businesses and works with our businesses to help them expand or move to different locations," Hancock said. "Part of the GCEDC's mission is to retain business and retain jobs and they've been doing a really good job."

LATER THIS WEEK (we hope): Details on the 2007 financial package that helped create Batavia Towne Center.

March 30, 2013 - 8:08am
posted by Howard B. Owens in GCEDC.

Press release:

Mostert, Manzanero & Scott, LLP, presented a summary of the audit process undertaken, the scope of their engagement, the findings, and various observations related to GCEDC’s financial position to an open meeting of the Genesse County Economic Development Center Board on March 28th.

The GCEDC Board engaged Mostert, Manzanero, & Scott, LLP, a certified public accounting firm, to perform the audit of 2012 financial statements.  The audit was designed to issue an opinion on the financial statements of the GCEDC for the year ended December 31, 2012; issue a management letter to the Board of Directors and management; and issue a report on internal control over financial reporting in accordance with Government Auditing Standards. 

Included in the management letter is a statement from Mostert, Manzanero, & Scott, LL,P affirming that no material deficiencies in internal controls were identified during their audit. They also affirmed that, in their opinion, the audited financial statements present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of the GCEDC as of December 31, 2012 in accordance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America.

“We are confident that the GCEDC internal control policies are functioning correctly and that our finance team monitors the GCEDC finances within the highest accounting principles,” said Shelley Stein, member of the GCEDC Finance Committee. “After reviewing the fiscal standing of the agency and the full audit results, I recommend approval of the 2012 audit and related material.”

The financial statements of the GCEDC are reported using the accrual basis of accounting. Revenues are recorded when earned and expenses are recorded at the time liabilities are incurred, regardless of when the related cash transaction takes place. For example, expenditures are recorded in the period that services are provided, even though corresponding payment for those services may not be made until a later date.

The GCEDC finished 2012 with $590,659 in net operating income. Total operating revenue was up 87 percent over 2011, which was mostly attributable to several noteworthy projects that closed in 2012, including Muller Quaker Dairy, LLC, Perry Vet and Lassister Properties/University Eye.

GCEDC’s year-end net non-operating income, which consists mostly of grant activity, totaled $508,892, up from $4,358 in 2011. Included here is the recognition of grant income from Empire State Development that supports a land purchase at the WNY Science, Technology and Advanced Manufacturing Park (STAMP) site. The corresponding expenditure has been capitalized as land held for development and resale on the GCEDC’s balance sheet.

March 29, 2013 - 5:24pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, GCEDC, Dick's Sporting Goods.

It's no sure thing that Dick's Sporting Goods is coming to Batavia.

First, there's no official confirmation that Dick's is the client COR Development Company has secured for the former Lowe's location.

Second, Charlie Cook, chairman of the Genesee County Economic Development Center Board, said it's far from a done deal that COR will receive more than $1 million in tax incentives to prepare the 138,778-square-foot space for a new tenant, whoever that may be.

If Dick's is the new game in town, local sporting outlets say they're ready for the competition; they just hope it's a level playing field.

The GCEDC board has yet to officially approve a trio of tax incentives for COR. The only action yesterday was to approve a public hearing for the project, which hasn't even been scheduled yet.

The board has been given scant information about COR's plans, Cook said, and without more information, the board isn't ready to act on the proposal.

"There is no commitment from the EDC for any sort of tax breaks or funding and there won’t be until we have a lot more information," Cook said.

This is the first big retail project that has come before the GCEDC board since Cook's been a member, he said, so he wants to educate himself on what projects like this mean for existing businesses before making a decision.

"I’m still learning," Cook said. "I’ve learned some things on the fly here and have been educated a bit on the impacts that some retailers might have that I hadn’t thought of. I haven’t formed an opinion yet."

Two months ago, a source told The Batavian Dick's Sporting Goods was planning a store at the former Lowe's location; however, repeated phone calls and e-mails to Dick's corporate office since then have been ignored by the corporate giant.

Dick's is a publicly traded company founded in Binghamton and now has 511 stores in 44 states. Annual sales in 2011 (the most recent numbers available) were $5.2 billion with a net profit of $1.6 billion, for a profit margin of 30.6 percent.

Those big numbers mean local retailers selling outdoors equipment and sporting goods face competition from a well-financed behemoth with significant market power.

That isn't scaring at least two local retailers who sell some of the same merchandise as Dick's, but the local owners are unhappy that a giant corporation like Dick's could benefit from any tax incentives given to COR.

Mike Barrett likened the practice of using tax incentives going to corporate chains to "using your own tax money to put yourself out of business."

Still, Barrett's Batavia Marine -- founded in 1955 by his father and uncle -- has been in the same location for decades and Barrett has seen a lot of upstarts come and go.

"We can compete in a lot of different levels they can’t," Barrett said. "Price is one thing and service is another. I knew about this coming for about a year, but we’ve outlasted a lot of other people, so … (Barrett shrugged)"

Kurt Fisher, whose store Fisher Sports is less than two years old, thinks he's found a local niche to serve and his new location in the Court Plaza (off Court Street) is doing well.

He isn't even particularly worried about Dick's potential for offering lower prices.

"The bigger issue for us would be they have more opportunity to have more stock because they have more money to bring everything into the store from every company," Fisher said. "We don't have that opportunity. Olympia (on Lewiston Road) doesn't have that opportunity. They (Dick's) can fill the store with everything, but that doens't mean their prices are good. That's their story everywhere. They have full stores but that doesn't mean they have the best price."

Fisher is ready to compete head-to-head with Dick's, but he doesn't think tax incentives should be used to give a big chain an advantage over local businesses.

"For the town and city to do that, it tells me they're more worried about the Big Box people compared to the smaller business people, for sure," Fisher said. "We don't get tax breaks and we're already in business."

Before today, Charlie Cook said he had no idea that Dick's was the potential tenant for COR. He doesn't even know now if the information is true. He said the GCEDC board was told the confidentially agreement prohibited even the GCEDC board being told who the tenant might be at this stage, even in closed session.

Who the tenant is could be critical information for the board to consider before approving incentives for COR, Cook said.

"I am interested in protecting existing businesses," Cook said. "I think when the facts come out, and more names are divulged (there could be more than one retailer moving into the former Lowe's location), if something isn't going to have an impact on local retailers and actually has attributes that benefit the local economy, you have to look at that differently than a business that competes directly with somebody down the street. Until we know more, we can't make that judgement."

Cook also acknowledged that taxpayers may have legitimate concerns to consider about COR receiving new tax incentives after receiving tax incentives in 2007 to construct the curent building for Lowe's, but "what it comes down to is we're staring at a big empty building and how can we put it to the best use."

March 29, 2013 - 9:43am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, GCEDC, Le Roy, Batavia Showtime.

CLARIFICATION: Regarding the headline and the item below: The GCEDC board approved the COR project being set for a public hearing, but its project has not yet received final approval.

COR Development Company, owners of property at 4180 Veterans Memorial Drive, Batavia, is planning a $4.5 million investment in the former Lowe's location for renovation, adding space and retrofitting the existing structure. The renovations will pave the way for one or more retailers to lease the space. Total tax incentives: $1,052,104. The project is part of Town Center Batavia, which is 350,000-square-feet of "destination retail space," according to the Genesee County Economic Development Center's release. In 2007, COR received incentives to build the project. The former Lowe's location is currently 138,778 square feet. Under the proposal, COR will receive $180,000 in sales tax exemptions, a $43,750 mortgage tax exemption and a $828,390 property tax exemption on the increased assessment value of the property. COR projects 120 new retail jobs as a result of the project.

Batavia Showtime, 6 Alva Place, Batavia, is planning a $52,200 investment for the purchase and installing of a digital movie projector. Batavia Showtime is approved for a $4,176 sales tax exemption on purchase of the projector. GCEDC's release states that the board is looking to assist in the project because it qualifies as a tourism destination and provides a service to the area, being the only local movie theater, that would not otherwise be available. The theater was in danger of closing prior to Batavia Showtime purchasing the facility. The owner is planning upgrades beyond the purchase of the digital projector. An estimated three new jobs will be created and four jobs retained.

Le Roy Plastics, 59 Lake St., Le Roy, is planning a $885,000 investment for the consolidation of all operations and processes into one facility. The company plans to renovate portions of the new facility and purchase furniture, fixtures and equipment. The GCEDC board approved $43,931 in tax abatements for the project, including a $24,800 sales tax exemption, $9,063 mortgage tax exemption and a $10,068 exemption on property taxes above the current assessed value.

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