Attorney William Mattar is saying “thanks, but no thanks” to the $550,000 in tax breaks the Amherst Industrial Development Agency awarded his law firm in January for a $4 million expansion project next door to the firm’s current office. Mattar told the IDA board in a letter declining the tax breaks on a new building now under construction 6710 Main St. that will be the home for a new veterans advocacy business Mattar is creating, along with some back office work for the law firm.
“We’re able to proceed without the tax benefits,” Mattar said Friday.
Mattar said he was declining the tax incentives because it is reconfiguring the layout of the new building in a way that would have its legal practice, which has its offices next door at 6720 Main St. and is ineligible for tax breaks, occupy more than a third of the structure.
Under state law, law firms are considered to be retail businesses that serve a primarily local clientele. State law prohibits IDA tax breaks on the vast majority of projects where more than a third of the space is taken by businesses that are deemed to be retail in nature. “The law office is growing,” said James J. Allen, the IDA’s executive director. “The Mattar firm would be more than a third.” And that pushed the project over the threshold that would have made it ineligible for tax breaks, he said.
“It affected it to the point where we probably couldn’t do it,” Allen said. “We were very concerned that the new building be primarily for the veterans advocacy group.”
Allen said Mattar declined the tax breaks voluntarily. “I’ve been here 35 years, and I truthfully can’t think of any instance where someone has written us back and said they don’t want the incentives,” Allen said.
“The business analysis for the veterans advocates and the back office work is showing growth on a faster trajectory than initially anticipated,” Mattar told The Buffalo News. “Due to the space constraints in both the current building and the one under construction, we found it best to reconfigure the layout in such a way that may take the project out of Amherst IDA compliance.”
Mattar’s quest for tax breaks touched off considerable controversy late last year, with the Amherst IDA’s decision to offer incentives drawing criticism from some residents and local politicians, including Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
“This has nothing to do with outside criticism of the Amherst IDA,” Mattar said. “We continue to endorse the rights of growing businesses to take advantage of benefits that local and state agencies make available.” While construction of the new building is well underway, Mattar has not used any of the sales tax incentives that were available through the IDA, said James J. Allen, the agency’s executive director.
Mattar said the veterans advocacy group is expected to be up and running later this summer. The project was expected to create 20 new jobs and will support the 74 jobs now in place at the law firm, but Mattar said those projections may be too conservative.
Mattar also is renovating its existing office as part of the project, but that work was never part of the tax breaks granted by the IDA. “This project continues to be an economic development benefit to the town, bringing construction jobs and new job creation and fresh town and county taxes,” he said.