Representatives of Erie County’s suburban industrial development agencies say they are responding to their critics by recommending changes to the policies that guide tax breaks for the redevelopment of aging buildings or unwanted parcels.
The suburban agencies and the Erie County IDA are drafting a new plan that would seek to focus any benefits on the property – not the tenant – and limit incentives to companies moving from one community to another.
“We’re addressing the issues that have been raised as criticisms of our current policy,” James J. Allen, executive director of the Amherst IDA, said Wednesday in a meeting with the editorial board of The Buffalo News.
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, Assemblyman Sean Ryan and other officials have over the past year sought to rein in the power of the county’s five suburban IDAs, arguing the agencies freely hand out tax breaks to unworthy projects. Representatives of the five suburban IDAs – Amherst, Clarence, Concord, Hamburg and Lancaster – and the county IDA in October began a review of the countywide policy that covers “adaptive reuse” projects.
The policy now in use bars tax breaks for retail projects, except when they are part of an adaptive-reuse plan to revitalize a long-vacant building, or if they are located in an “enhancement zone” that a municipality has targeted for reinvestment.
The suburban IDAs have drawn criticism for granting tax breaks under this exception to projects such as the Paula’s Donuts shop in Clarence and Premier Wine & Spirits that moved from the Town of Tonawanda to Amherst.
Officials with the Amherst IDA, which granted $584,590 in incentives for the $9 million liquor store project, defend the tax breaks as necessary to bring back to life a long-vacant, contaminated former car dealership on Maple Road. “If we don’t proactively revitalize and redevelop our older areas of town – Eggertsville, Snyder, the Village of Williamsville, the Main Street strip – 30 or 40 years from now, it’s not going to be pretty,” Amherst Supervisor Barry Weinstein said.
Michael J. Bartlett, director of economic development for the Hamburg IDA, said the suburban IDAs are criticized for helping the tenant when they issue tax breaks to boost the redevelopment of a vacant building, while projects that rely on incentives to redevelop eyesore buildings in downtown Buffalo are applauded.
“You’ve got to give all the municipalities the same tools,” said Carl J. Calabrese, a former deputy county executive who lobbies on behalf of the suburban IDAs.
The proposed changes in the first draft of the new IDA policy include targeting incentives to the structure and the fixed assets, not to the tenant, Allen said, though he conceded tenants may indirectly benefit through reduced rents. Also, Allen said, the review committee is weighing a ban on incentives for a company moving from one community to another, with the exception of, for example, preventing a company from leaving the area.