Skip to main content

GCEDC must find that tourists will flock to Dick's Sporting Goods in order to offer tax breaks to COR

By Howard B. Owens

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.

Kyle Couchman

I am not sure but the way the law reads doesnt the Dicks have to be the tourist destination. They aren't applying for incentives for Batavia Towne Center, just the lowes space and maybe one or two more next to it. Last time I checked Dicks isnt listed in many brochures as a tourist destination. As others have pointed out it seems to me this is a done deal despite there not having been a public hearing. Business as usual around here. By the way when did Queen Hancock recieve the power to declare places tourist destinations. I wonder if we can apply to get the Dot declared a tourist destination and get it incentives. Or maybe the Golden Coin. I know lets declare the East Side McDonalds project a tourist destination and get them incentives too. Wow we can rebuild the whole county and be rollin in tax money 10 or 15 yrs down the road. If theres anyone left here by then....

Apr 2, 2013, 10:54pm Permalink
Robert Brown

Good catch Dave - I thought this article was serious! I mean Batavia Downs is a tourist location. The Clarion is a tourist location. Alex's might be. Oliver's down on Main St. is. Darien Lake is. But Target, Famous Footwear, whatever retailer they jam into the closed Lowe's, and the other collection of shops affectionately known as Batavia Towne Center is clearly not a tourist location nor are they part of any tourist location! My house is more of a tourist location than those stores will ever be!

Yep, the GCEDC did a fantastic job retaining jobs in the closed Lowe's building. That $4.5M in tax breaks was a fantastic investment! It totally revitalized Batavia and Genesee County and gave all of us a much needed tax reprieve from all the generated permanent jobs, and sales tax revenue, and population growth, and wonder and amazement and apple pie with French vanilla ice cream on top.

COR doesn't deserve another tax break. They deserve to have their initial tax break revoked. "If you build it, they will come" was a great line from a fantasy. Get real!

Apr 2, 2013, 10:58pm Permalink
Mark Potwora

If you have a Dicks in monore county and a Dicks in erie county how can anyone with a half a brain deem this Dick a tourist destination....Hancock needs to go..Her and her golden boy Hyde are working outside the intent of what and IDA is...I hope these local sporting goods stores ban together to stop this give away that will put them at a disadvantage.I will call Coumo to express my displeasure with this scam...Did they make a date yet for this public hearing...I hope people hammer Hancock with calls everyday and tell her no way..Call you local legislator express your view on this scam..This is a scam so lets treat it as a scam...Its these tax breaks that cause these developers to build these plazas that aren't needed..Then they want more and more tax abatement's when they cant fill them...Its just sicking..

Howard great reporting of these facts..No one has ever reported on why they got a tax abatement. in the first place.. calling it a tourist destination...This wasn't in GCEDC press release...They were hoping to scam this thru trying to keep the public in the dark..We also know now that Ms.Hancock is part of this charade.I believe Mr.Cook chairman of the board is also part of the charade claiming no knowledge of any of this....I think all these school districts who loose tax revenue because of Ms.Hancocks tax give away should sue the GCEDC to get those moneys back...

Apr 2, 2013, 11:41pm Permalink
Bob Harker

Kudos to Kelly Rapone. Integrity and common sense are so rare in today's "lets grab all the taxpayers' money we can" mentality.

Thank you.

Apr 3, 2013, 5:29am Permalink
Barbara Hendershott

I have 2 dogs, 2 cats, 2 lizards and 3 children(plus a husband). Sometimes it can be a zoo at my house. Can I be on the tourist attraction? When I go on vacation, I can't wait to hit up the retail stores! Genesee County and NY State are a joke. I keep telling my children to LEAVE and one is ready to go.

Apr 3, 2013, 6:24am Permalink
Dave Olsen

It is you who is sick, Kyle. It's one of the traits I like about you. I wasn't thinking about anyone without clothes, so thanks for that image, that's almost as bad as me without clothes, although not quite.

For the record, and I know Kyle gets this, I was using a metaphor.

Apr 3, 2013, 7:26am Permalink
Kyle Couchman

Huh what? Whats a metaphor.... arent those those things that make craters?..... Anyway I guess it could be worse Dave, you could have refered to Hancock as Lady Godiva..... All I know is now that's been said I see a horse heading for County Legislators parking lot I'm goin home...

Apr 3, 2013, 7:36am Permalink
Jim Rosenbeck

Lets keep it simple to understand. NYS is so incredibly inhospitable to business, that we have rationalized creating a corporation (GCEDC) charged with giving local property tax breaks (to the tune of millions of dollars) to multi million dollar corporations. That pseudo public corporation (GCEDC) pays handsome salaries to its employees, who recieve generous bonuses and are eligible to particiapte in the NYS public retirement system. The Genesee County Legislature is then charged with suspending all semblance of integrity and common sense by deeming a strip mall a tourist destination.
Shame on all of us for taking part in this charade. Economic Development Corporations are part of the problem. They are not the solution. The solution starts with electing local and state officials who are commited to reducing the size of government and thereby lowering taxes for all businesses and individuals.

Apr 3, 2013, 7:43am Permalink
Thomas Schneider

COR already received tax breaks when when they built the plaza. No double dipping. If they can't rent the place out then maybe they're charging too much for rent.

Apr 3, 2013, 8:07am Permalink
Howard B. Owens

This is from a password protected site of newspaper archives, so I can't provide you a link. The article is from May 15, 2005, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the author is Heather Landy.

Hennion mentioned below is Jeff Hennion, senior vice president of strategic planning for Dick's Sporting Goods.

Quote from the article:

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."

Also from the story (Dalton mentioned below owns a local Fort Worth store, Texas Outdoors):

"We don't have the buying power, and we don't have the advertising dollars," Dalton said. "It doesn't make any difference even if we've got the best price in town if nobody knows about it. The deep pockets, in every way, it makes a lot of difference."

Dalton and his partner, Robert Cantrell, are also concerned about the city's role in creating what they call an "unlevel playing field" by granting Cabela's $41.6 million in economic incentives to build in Fort Worth in the hopes that the store will spur nearby development. "If we had a $40 million tax abatement, we could certainly do a little better," Dalton said.

The lead of the story:

FORT WORTH--Over the past few decades, sporting-goods retailers ranging from mom and pop shops to Wal-Mart Supercenters have learned to compete with Cabela's, the catalog merchant. Now they must learn to compete with Cabela's, the tourist destination .

The outdoor-gear juggernaut from Sidney, Neb., has parlayed its $1 billion mail-order business into a burgeoning retail chain with 10 locations and eight more on the way, including one in Fort Worth that opens May 26. Company officials expect the store, at Interstate 35W and Texas 170, to attract between 4 million and 6 million visitors a year, which would make Cabela's a bigger draw than the Alamo, Six Flags Over Texas or the Texas State Fair.

The 230,000-square-foot, 575-employee store is a Cabela's catalog come to life, with more than 200,000 hunting, fishing and camping items in stock, along with a gun library, aquariums, an African game diorama and other Disneyesque visuals. Texas will get its second Cabela's store June 30 in Buda, just outside Austin.

Apr 3, 2013, 11:35am Permalink
Mark Potwora

The city of Batavia's main street is dying and Ms.Hancock feels that we need to entice a store like Dick's by giving COR a million dollar property and sales tax abatement..I would hope that the three city county legislators will push Hancock to put a stop to this...Its our local sporting goods stores that will lose out...This is one of the reasons why there is such anti-GCEDC sentiment...I have no problem with any one setting up shop to sell there goods here but not with any type of tax breaks tied to it...

Apr 3, 2013, 12:55pm Permalink
Brenda Ranney

Tourist destination ... can't wait to tell hubby (former Lowes employee) might have made his daily grind more enjoyable kinda like being a lifeguard on Wikiki beach, lol.
Visiting/shopping @ Cabela's is on our "next time we head out that way" list.
As an example years ago after picking daughters up @ the Cleveland airport had time to spare we drove to Kiddron home of Lehnmans. Spent the day, got to touch items I'd been lusting after in their catalog, ate lunch @ an Amish biz, hit a few antique shops, stopped off @ Smuckers gift shop on the way home.
Other than that spur of the moment hey we got time to spare lets visit Lehnman's decision while waiting @ baggage claim the rest of our trip was just opportunities.
There were 6 tour buses parked outside the store when we arrived over 10 when we left 4 hours later.

Visited Dicks in Greece Saturday before Christmas while we were waiting on eyeglasses. Handful of shoppers despite the mall & every store being jammed packed. Recently took up backpacking so I was disappointed in Dick's lack of UL gear. To me it seemed like a glorified sporting goods section @ Wally World which we already have. Athletic shoes got 2 stores already. Sports gear ... Fisher Sports in Downtown Batavia.
Perhaps one of our local sporting goods shops could evolve into more of an outfitter more of a Cabela's on a smaller scale ? I'd go with tax breaks for them our neighbors.
Have a few of those workshops that Home Depot has exploited to their benefit. partner with Godfry's.
People just might stay & have lunch here hit a few antique shops visit the cheese factory ...

Apr 3, 2013, 12:58pm Permalink

Just what we need. Another project with a tax break. I don't get any tax break, but they do. It is no wonder so many people move away, to real tourist destinations. Didn't we just fund this waste of our tax money ((GCEDC??))) Who are the idiots making these decisions??

Apr 3, 2013, 1:53pm Permalink
Gerard Waite

What makes a shopplng center a tourist atracttion? Is Batavia the only city with a Target, radio shack, Petco, and a Michaels,along with an empty store!! Yes, tourists spend money, but get real. If I were a tourist I want a place that has some history, something entertaining,place to take pictures, unless THE PEOPLE OF WALMART are there. but those are not the pictures I want to keep!! Give me a break (on my taxes).

Apr 4, 2013, 10:11am Permalink
Cory Hawley

Mary Pat, Yellowstone National Park is a tourist destination. Yosemite. The Badlands. Black Hills. Everglades. Liberty Bell. Red Rocks. Grand Canyon. Not a shopping plaza. I don't care what breaks or funding is given if it is classified as this.
By the way, Mary Pat Hancock is the same person as my high school guidance counselor who told me that I should go to GCC rather than apply to other schools that I mentioned to her. I knew what I wanted to do, yet she strongly urged me not to apply to other schools out of state and to go to GCC. Thanks for costing my parents an extra year of college out of state to get credits that I couldn't get at GCC when I transfered. Nothing against GCC. Mary Pat has made stupid decisions/comments/recommendations way before this one above.

Apr 4, 2013, 11:02am Permalink
Dave Olsen

I suppose I should correct myself. Using "The Emperor's New Clothes" was more of an idiom than metaphor. I'd like to thank the Batavian for being the voice that called out in the crowd.

Jason, maybe you dad told your mom "Your eyes are the brightest stars out tonight" or "your smile is a ray of sunshine" or some metaphor like that, which could have played a part in your creation.

Apr 4, 2013, 11:34am Permalink
Dave Olsen

If this doesn't describe this particular situation, I don't know what would from the

the emperor has no clothes

used to describe a situation in which everybody suddenly realizes that they were mistaken in believing that somebody/something was very good, important, etc.

ex: Soon investors will realize that the emperor has no clothes and there will be a big sell-off in stocks.

From the story of The Emperor's New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen, in which the emperor is tricked into thinking he is wearing beautiful new clothes and everyone pretends to admire them, until a little boy points out that he is naked.

Apr 4, 2013, 11:40am Permalink
Kyle Couchman

Dave didn't you know it's not nice to pick on idioms.... They are born that way and cant help themselves. Every village has its idiom so to speak. As for the article Howard put. There's one big difference, 1) That Costco is going into one of the failed retail centers that became a distressed area, and notice they are putting housing in there as well. All the other projects... Well they have improved the areas they were built in. Carousel/Destiny USA used to be nothing but a garbage dump and oil tank terminal/oil tank farm. All of which has been removed. Fayetteville Mall and PennCann Malls were failed projects that were so empty they had more homless camps than they had retail spaces filled. So of course the public there supports those projects. Comparing Onondaga County to Genesee County is like comparing Oswego to NYC it just doesnt work. But it is a good example of where an IDA can do good for a metro area, with retail mix properties. I know they got the idea of work/live/shop from a town called Nedrow just south of the city bordering on the indian reservation there, they built a housing development just behind a failing retail plaza and it breathed new life into the place, even though you had to go thru the roughest most hostile ghetto in Syracuse to get there.

Apr 8, 2013, 7:56am Permalink
Dave Olsen

Kyle, you got to ask "how did these areas become distressed"? Most of the time whoever was in there left because, A.) Jobs left the area, because it was too expensive for employers to continue on in NYS and residents didn't have enough money to spend or 2.) The occupants got a better offer in a neighboring town or county whose IDA/EDC cut a bigger deal. Either way it is usually a result of too high taxes. Until we end the IDA/EDC process, we will never be able to lower taxes in NYS enough for it to make sense for companies to do business here without government involvement. We've got to stop this crazy merry go round of who gets to pay less tax, and who's got the most to offer, while the average person and small business owner just keeps paying more and more. It has gotten waaay out of control.

Apr 8, 2013, 11:56am Permalink

Authentically Local