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October 12, 2015 - 5:10pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in brownfield opportunity area, BOA, batavia, GCEDC.

Areas in urban communities known as brownfields can sometimes be expensive to redevelop because of the environmental cleanup costs, and that cost drives away potential developers because projects that might turn a profit without the cleanup quickly become unprofitable. 

To address that issue, local agencies, including the City of Batavia, have come together with a plan to help reduce the expense for developers who wish to complete projects on brownfield sites.

They're calling it the Batavia Prosperity Project, or BP2, and the City Council will get a presentation on the proposal tomorrow.

"This is really a partnership, an example of cooperation among all the parties, city, county and schools, that recognizes the common interest in a revitalized urban core," said City Manager Jason Molino. "We can focus on this together because we recognize there is a greater reward for everybody concerned."

The program would take fees paid by developers on future projects in the city -- brownfield or otherwise -- that qualify for PILOTs (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) from each of the taxing jurisdictions and pool those fees in a common fund that could be tapped down the road by brownfield opportunity area (BOA) developers to help offset environmental remediation costs.

Such PILOTs would need to be approved by the Genesee County Economic Development Center and Steve Hyde, the CEO, will be at Tuesday's meeting to help explain how the program will work and the benefits for the community.

The program, as proposed, is the first of its kind on a citywide basis in the state.

"This could help us clean up contaminated sites, increase our tax base and increase employment opportunities," Molino said.

The city's three BOAs are all in what are identified as low-income, blighted neighborhoods, which means under New York State law, they are eligible for tax breaks for retail projects, which expands the redevelopment opportunities. And since under the law, census tracts next to low-income, blighted neighborhoods are also eligible for those same tax breaks, every census track in the city is eligible for such projects.

Molino isn't predicting that because of that big retailers are going to swoop in and build new stores, but that "isn't necessarily a bad thing," he said.

It's all up to the free market.

"I think the market is going to dictate what comes in here, and what can and what cannot work," Molino said.

Market studies show that what the urban core needs more of are restaurants, medical offices, office space, housing and warehouse space, so those are the kind of projects most likely to be attracted to development, brownfield or otherwise, in the city.

"There is an increased demand from people who want to live Downtown," Molino said. "I think mixed use is where we're going to see an increase in development."

The STAMP project recently announced -- solar company 1366 Technologies -- creates an opportunity for Batavia.

"We want to capture some of that overflow," Molino said. "This policy is another tool for dealing with development of our urban core."

The properties in the BOA have generated a good deal of interest, Molino said, ever since a development forum hosted by the city in 2013. There may be a project coming soon, but the city also needs another tool to help make development in the city more attractive to investors.

The City Council meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.

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