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.