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WHEATFIELD – The owner of the Wurlitzer Industrial Park in North Tonawanda asked for a 15-year property tax break from the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency on Wednesday.

Thomas E. Austen said he plans a $1.24 million renovation of the second and third floors of the 750,000-square-foot complex at 908 Niagara Falls Blvd. The site was originally Wurlitzer’s organ factory.

As an industrial park, about 233,000 square feet are in use by 43 tenants who employ a total of 275 people, Austen said. The renovation and interior demolition, which could cover as much as 130,000 square feet, is meant to attract more office and light manufacturing tenants.

“It’s an old building. The first building was in 1892 and they kept building through 1950. It’s concrete walls, concrete floors,” Austen said.

He told the IDA that 18 new jobs would be created in the renovated space, but he called that “a very conservative estimate.”

The IDA staff calculated that the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, arrangement would save Austen $423,668 over the next 15 years.

He won’t have to pay sales tax on building materials or equipment for the renovated area, but most of the savings – $373,268 at current tax rates – is in property taxes.

“The existing assessed valuation of the building will not be evaded,” IDA counsel Mark J. Gabriele said. “It will only be on [the value of] the additional improvements.”

The IDA board will vote on the proposal at its May 14 meeting.

In another matter Wednesday, the IDA received its annual outside audit, which showed that the agency lost $459,375 on its operations in 2013, as revenue plunged by 57 percent.

The agency closed on 12 projects last year and collected about $900,000 in fees, but that was only about half the value of the nine projects it handled in 2012, according to the audit by the Lumsden & McCormick accounting firm.

The IDA also received a $400,000 grant in 2012 for use in lending money to businesses, a grant which was not repeated in 2013 and thus took a toll on the balance sheet.

“It was a clean report. It wasn’t one of our most successful years,” IDA Chairman Henry M. Sloma said.

For the first quarter of this year, the IDA was in the red by $192,585.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com