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COR Development

February 6, 2015 - 2:40pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, COR Development.

Despite the presence of two long-established local jewelry stores, national retail chain Kay Jewelers is planning a new store in Batavia Towne Center.

Syracuse-based COR Development has received $6 million is tax abatements -- to help finance the construction of the strip mall in 2006, and then remodel a portion of it in 2013.

Tax abatements for retail developments, which are authorized by Genesee County Economic Development Center, are controversial in New York and have been criticized by both Comptroller Thomas Dinapoli and Sean Ryan, a member of the Assembly representing Buffalo.

When COR sought its second round of tax abatements in 2013, the anticipated retailers going into the area once occupied by Lowe's were Dick's, Marshall's and Kohl's, though DIck's seemed to be the only sure thing at the time.

The GCEDC Board approved the $1.7 million in abatements with a finding that the tax relief would help bring new business to Batavia that would provide goods and services that are not readily available to local residents from current retailers.

It's important to note, that the proposed location for Kay's -- sandwiched between the AT&T Store and Sally's Beauty Supply -- is not part of that 2013 expansion and is not covered by the second around of abatements, though it is covered by the 2006 round of $4.3 million.

We've contacted a representative of COR Development for comment and have not received a response.  

Lease agreements are not public record, so we don't know whether Kay Jewelers is receiving a discounted rent bolstered by the tax breaks.

Officials at GCEDC were unaware of COR's intention to lease space to Kay and have not offered a comment on the plans.

Batavia is served by two locally owned jewelry stores: Valle's, on Jackson Street, and Lambert's, on West Main Street.

Jim Lambert said he's heard rumors for months that Kay was planning to open in Batavia and was disappointed to learn the new shop would be in a tax-subsidized development.

"Nobody gave me any tax breaks to open my business," Lambert said. "Everything we do, we do on our own. We don't get anything."

Kay Jewelers, with an advertising budget that includes radio, TV and glossy national magazines, plus the ability to heavily discount, absorb losses and give credit to high-risk borrowers will provide the local shops with formidable competition, Lambert said.

"For a place like us or Valle's, you just can't compete with their budgets for advertising and so forth," Lambert said.

He said he finds it interesting that Kay would open in Batavia, with a population of less than 25,000, when the chain is closing stores elsewhere.

"I'd be surprised if they could do $1 million here," he said. 

It's not like they don't have several other stores in Western New York already, he said.

"Personally, I didn't think it would actually happen," Lambert said. "I thought Kay's would be smarter than invest all that money in Batavia, but they afford to lose money for years and use it as a tax write-off. I can't afford to lose money."

The owners of Valle's wanted to get more information on the issue before commenting.

Besides Valle's and Lambert's, Kay will be competing with JC Penney and Walmart. Lambert noted that Walmart is already the largest seller of jewelry in the nation.

How much more can the market be divided and everybody still stay in business? Lambert wondered. Given the revenue demands of the chain, he said he will be surprised if Kay lasts in Batavia through two Christmas seasons, but in the meantime, the local businesses could be hurt substantially.

"It just kills the little man again," Lambert said. "It kills anybody who was born and raised in Batavia. It's going to cut into Valle's profits and it's going to cut into our profits and then they'll be gone in a couple of years."
January 22, 2014 - 2:16pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, Batavia Towne Center, COR Development.

A subdivision of Batavia Towne Center to make way for a Kohl's Department Store was approved by the Town of Batavia Planning Board on Tuesday night.

The subdivision is necessary, according to Kate Johnson, of COR Development (top photo) because Kohl's needs its building on its own parcel for financing, tax and insurance purposes.

Kohl's will own its building, but COR will continue to own the land.

A subdivision carves a parcel of land from an existing parcel to make a new parcel with its own tax ID number.

Kohl's is planning 56,883-square-foot building roughly in the area of the former Lowe's garden center.

Johnson also revealed that Marshall's is planning a store next to Dick's Sporting Goods and said a fourth store is planned for the former Lowe's space, but said she can't mention the name of the store.

Previously, it was reported that the discount chain 5 Below was planning a store for the location.

Town officials are also considering a sidewalk for pedestrians that would connect Batavia Towne Center and Batavia Downs as well as an extension of Richmond Avenue through to Veterans Memorial Drive.

December 23, 2013 - 4:05pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, GCEDC, Batavia Towne Center, COR Development.

The Town of Batavia Planning Board will hold a public hearing Jan. 7 to consider an application for a subdivision of property in Batavia Towne Center.

The subdivision would make it possible for Kohl's Department Store to own its own property inside the shopping center, much like Target does now.

Kohl's would be purchasing the parcel from COR Development.

In June, the Genesee County Economic Development Center Board approved $1.8 million in new tax abatements for COR (on top of the $4.6 million in tax breaks COR received from GCEDC in 2006), ostensibly to attract new businesses that provide goods or services not readily available in Genesee County.

Kohl's is a department store chain that sells furniture, clothing, bed and bath items and other general merchandise.

The store will be located where Lowe's once had its garden center, just south of the new Dick's Sporting Goods.

To the north of Dick's will be a Five Below and possibly Marshall's; both are discount retailers.

In order for Kohl's to own its own parcel, the property currently owned by COR must be subdivided.

All subdivisions must go through a public hearing, which is a chance for the public to learn the facts of the project relevant to the subdivision and comment on the issue.

The same process was used to subdivide Batavia Towne Center for Target. A portion of the tax breaks secured by COR in 2006 are now applied to the Target property.

While it's possible for Kohl's to apply to transfer tax abatements received by COR to the new parcel, Rachael Tabelski, director of marketing and communications for GCEDC, said the agency has yet to receive an application for the tax abatements from Kohl's.

The hearing will be held at Batavia Town Hall, 3833 W. Main Street Road, Batavia, at 7:30 p.m., Jan. 7. Written comments will be accepted prior to that date.

September 6, 2013 - 5:49pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, GCEDC, Batavia Towne Center, COR Development.

Today workers just about completed installing the Dick's Sporting Goods sign on the former Lowe's building.

Syracuse-based COR Development received $1.8 million in local tax breaks in order to retrofit the building so Dick's could come to town and compete against existing locally owned sporting goods stores.

One store, Fisher Sports, has already closed because of the preferential treatment given to COR by the Genesee County Economic Development Center.

Dick's is expected to open within a couple of months.

June 5, 2013 - 5:45pm

When we e-mailed a series of questions to Steve Hyde seeking more details on the process by which tax subsidies were approved for COR Development to redevelop a portion of Batavia Towne Center, we also e-mailed five questions to Mary Pat Hancock, chairwoman of the Genesee County Legislature.

Under state law, in order for state sales tax abatements to be awarded to a retail development project, a finding must be made that meets a specified requirement. The finding must be made by the Genesee County Economic Development Center Board and confirmed by the chief executive -- in this case, Hancock -- of the government agency overseeing the IDA. 

For the COR project, the GCEDC board passed a resolution finding that the proposed retail project would provide goods and services not readily available to Genesee County residents.  The only confirmed tenant for the space at the time was -- and still is -- Dick's Sporting Goods.

Hancock said she was not available to respond within the deadline set by The Batavian. We received her answer today. Below are the questions we e-mailed and her e-mailed response.

Questons:

1. Did you conduct any independent research to substantiate the board's decision?

2. At the time you wrote the letter, what did you know about the proposed tenants for the retail space? Were the names of all the businesses communicated to you, and if so, was it your understanding that contracts had been signed or whether these businesses were just proposals?

3. On what factual basis did you base your decision to confirm the finding? What is it about the proposed businesses that caused you to reach the conclusion that they would provide goods and services not readily available in Genesee County?

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

5. Should the existing businesses in Genesee County that must now compete against subsidized national chains receive any tax breaks or other mitigation to level the playing field for them?

Hancock's Response:

Dear Howard;

I do appreciate your forthright and direct manner. It is refreshing. Howard, I am going to frame my reply by indicating how I proceeded to educate myself regarding the proposed project. I hope it covers the intent of your request.

The Legislature does appoint the GCEDC Board. We believe they are a group of outstanding citizens with very strong business sense…as demonstrated by their own careers. They are also committed to the economic health of our community, or they wouldn’t be spending hours of their valuable time volunteering on the GCEDC Board.  Because they have a strong business sense, they also have a very strong respect for the law and carefully follow the latest and most accurate legislature and regulations guiding IDAs. I attended the meeting where they discussed the issue thoroughly. At a subsequent meeting they voted in favor of proceeding with the project.

The Legislature has an attorney. It would be foolhardy for me to sign an official letter without checking the legality of the document with our attorney. He is a careful attorney and checks out his information on many levels. He researched the law and provided me with a copy of the statute as recently amended. He also gave me his written opinion as to the requirements of the law and its application to this project. I was assured that we were acting within our legal rights.

The Genesee Economic Development Council (sic) was required to hold a public hearing and make specific findings of fact before awarding incentives, and did so on this matter.   I did attend the hearing and heard a positive presentation and only six persons spoke against the development.

Howard, I remember how that area looked before the development. It was sad. The lack of development in that area did not result in a healthy Batavia downtown. It looks, and is, more vibrant now, not only in that Town of Batavia area, but downtown as well. We hope to keep it that way…and better. I am most hopeful and confident that each step we take to attract new and suitable businesses to our area…will benefit all of us. Howard, I know you and I share the same desire for a successful, livable, and economically healthy community. We may not agree on everything, but our goals are surely the same.

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 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 20, 2013 - 9:24pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in business, Batavia Towne Center, COR Development.

Jim Rosenbeck, a member of the Genesee County Libertarian Committee who's planning a run for an at-large seat on the City Council, submitted this response to Steve Hawley's defense of the COR Development tax breaks:

I often agree with Steve Hawley, as Libertarians often do, when republicans champion fiscally responsible positions. But that wasn't the case on May 17th. That day, Mr. Hawley put out a press release lauding GCEDC's successful effort to offer abatement of taxes to COR Development. COR will in turn use those subsidies to offset costs of remodeling their property in the Batavia Towne Center in order to fit the needs of the next tenant, Dick's Sporting Goods. In exchange for tax abatements approaching 2 million dollars, we are promised new local jobs and additional sales tax revenue.

As I recall, we heard that same promise once before when COR received six million dollars in tax abatement to develop their property for among others, the long gone Lowes Corporation. So now, we double down on our bet, while we hope and pray that Dick's Sporting Goods delivers as COR has promised. But let's look a bit closer at these promises. Is COR or Dick's promising full-time jobs? Are they full-time jobs that also pay a living wage? No, of course they aren't. During their public hearing COR talked in terms of full-time job "equivalents." That is corporate double talk for part-time and low-wage jobs, the kind of jobs that are fine for students but don't work so well for single moms who need to pay the rent. That is the dirty little secret that COR won't tell you and Dick's won't tell you, and sadly on May 17th, Steve Hawley also neglected to tell you. To add insult to injury the most handsome job created by GCEDC goes to the guy with the greatest vested interest in perpetrating the illusion of quality jobs. Yes, the best job that GCEDC has created to date is the one that is held by its President and CEO Steve Hyde.

But let's not forget the promise of sales tax revenues. Are we significantly increasing the size of the sales tax pie by subsidizing the development of Dick's Sporting Goods? I wonder. I would like to know what portion of any sales tax revenue produced by Dick's would still have been realized from a similar sale at Olympia, T-Shirts Etc., Barrett's or perhaps Fisher Sports. No one knows. For COR to promise significant increases in tax revenues is at best speculative and certainly self-serving. We should remain skeptical whenever we are promised sales tax revenue and jobs with one hand while the other hand lobbies our County Legislature for nearly a quarter of a million dollars for its own funding next year.

Growing government through Economic Development Corporations (EDCs) in order to address the problems created by big government....high taxes, over regulation, cumbersome bureaucracy is simply counter intuitive. Our economic problems are systemic. They are symptomatic of a state government gone awry. I am unwilling to accept that the answer to big government is to create a whole new bureaucracy with a CEO making close to a quarter of a million dollars a year. We need to stop creating the good jobs on the backs of the taxpayers  while promising a small sliver of the pie to the people who pay the bills. I am not ready to pretend differently. I am not ready to concede hope that we can do better. What we need is more truth and transparency in our government, not more promises that may or may not be kept. I agree with Steve Hawley much of the time. This time, I don't.

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 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 18, 2013 - 1:36pm
* NOTE: I edited this so as to be correct in that The Daily News in fact has published this response. Thank You to the Daily News

Another news service in Batavia published an editorial supporting tax incentives for a retail plaza.

http://thedailynewsonline.com/opinion/article_89f5b4b4-a5f6-11e2-a613-00...

I sent them this letter. I want to thank them and I want to share it here as well.

Thank You Howard & Billie Owens for this open, public forum.

Regarding your April 16, 2013 Editorial: The Arguments for Tax Incentives, I as a founding member of the Genesee County Libertarian Committee, respond.

Sorry, editor, but the basis of your argument for tax incentives is flawed right from the onset. The only reason the former Lowe's location is empty now is because it probably never should have been built in the first place. Certainly the developer should never have received incentives to help them do it. Not to mention the ludicrously laughable notion of calling a shopping plaza a tourist destination. The Batavia Towne Center is a classic example of over-development. Communities all across New York State desperate to improve their economies continue to waggle tax incentives at large retail chain stores in the mistaken belief that there will be future sales tax income and jobs. The reality, unfortunately, is usually a bit different. The jobs are typically entry-level, non skilled and part time with low pay and high turnover. The actual sales don't result in a net bottom line increase for a community - they're sales that would have been captured by another retailer, but now at a lower price thereby actually generating less sales tax revenue for the community while the business profits leave town. Lowe's leaving shows that Batavia is already over-developed, and you admit in your editorial that it never lived up to it's expectations. Neither will Dick's in my opinion. It's fine if Dick's and whoever else will be sharing the space want to take the risk, then I'll wish them good luck. It's the American way: if you take the risk, you should reap the rewards. I do not, however feel the taxpayers should be sharing in this risk. That to me is precisely what COR Development is asking us to do, they took the risk (albeit with our help) and it didn't work out, predictably. Now they want the taxpayers to mitigate their loss. Sorry, you can't have it both ways guys.

Your argument that the local companies, such as Adam Miller and Genesee Lumber have survived in the face of big box retailers may have some merit. Yes, Dick's will never match the service of a homegrown Batavia sporting goods store, and maybe they will all survive, but at what cost? Just because they did not immediately close doesn't mean they have been doing well all this time. How do we know that if demand had increased, one of those companies could not have expanded, or a new local start-up would have come along? The answer is we don't know and we never will as long as incentives are continued to be offered to large chain retailers. It's true that the land where The Batavia Towne Center sits was under utilized and producing much less revenue before the plaza was built, but it's also true that we will never know what might have been there instead. What we can predict is Lowe's will not be the last empty store in that plaza. COR themselves have admitted in your paper that they ask for these types of incentives routinely. Will we have to ante up again in a few years?

If the county wants to help spur retail activity, then they can instead spread the million dollars that would otherwise be designated for COR evenly among all retail businesses in Genesee County, including the ones at Batavia Towne Center, to use as the owners see fit. One of the base libertarian principles is that people know best what to do with the fruits of their labor, not government and certainly not an unelected, semi-private-sort-of-public entity which appears to lead the County Legislature around by the nose. However, I would be against that as well, even though it would be better, because we will never get property taxes and government reined in if we continue to allow the GCEDC to choose who gets to pay less and who should keep on shouldering the rest of the load. Government costs keep rising, the population keeps shrinking and there is no magic powder. We can make Genesee County prosperous again, but we have to think differently, we can't keep trying the same tired old failed practices of the past. According to Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the author of “Big-Box Swindle”: “…between 1990 and 2005, the amount of retail space per capita in the U.S. doubled, from 19 to 38 square feet. In contrast ............. since the early 1990s, per capita retail spending, adjusted for inflation, has increased by only about 14 percent.” (Site www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/files/msnarticle.pdf ) It appears to me that Batavia is a microcosm of this oversupply that has occurred around the state, and actually we are running about 8 years behind.

Let's take the lead instead, let's continue to find ways we can reduce government through privatization where feasible. It has worked with the ambulance service, it will work for the city's trash collection and it can work in other areas as well. Let's find functions that can be consolidated or eliminated completely. Ultimately, the goal should be a lower and lower tax burden on everyone in Genesee County. We can't control the state and federal taxes, but we can whittle away at our property and sales tax. If Genesee County has the lowest property tax rate and the lowest sales tax rate of our surrounding counties, what might that do for Economic Development, organically? We wouldn't need an EDC, and we wouldn't have to endure the chairperson of our county legislature making us a joke by declaring a shopping plaza a tourist destination.

Malign Libertarians if you must editor, but we are the ones who truly have a vision for the future of ALL Genesee County residents, and we are the ones who are advocating for freedom.

David Olsen, Vice Chairperson, Genesee County Libertarian Committee

 

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