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Friday, May 24, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Q&A with Steve Hyde on COR Development incentives

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Batavia Towne Center, business, COR Development, GCEDC

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.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 10:13 am

Terry Platt says he's done investing in Genesee County after city denies rooming house application

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, Terry Platt

Terry Platt, a landlord who owns numerous properties, says he's done investing in Genesee County.

On Tuesday, the City of Batavia Planning Board voted unanimously to disapprove Platt's proposal to convert a single family home at 316 E. Main St. into a boarding house.

"I hate to say it, because I would love to stay here and spend my money in the city, but after today, I think they've proved to me that Terry Platt's not wanted in this city," Platt said. "Therefore I will be looking to sell some things, but keep many so I can keep the income and take it to a different city that deserves it."

According to Platt, he put down $5,000 on a purchase offer for the property after city officials assured him the parcel was properly zoned for a rooming house and approval of his application wouldn't be a problem.

Then, last Friday, in a meeting with the city, he got the impression the attitude had changed.  Sudden, he said, city officials had found laws that limit the size of the rooming house.

He was told that instead of 12 rooms, he could only have nine, if approved.

At Tuesday's meeting, council members Rose Mary Christian and Kathy Briggs, along with John Roach and two neighboring property owners spoke against Platt's plans.

Christian noted that 316 E. Main St. is next to a pair of well-maintained Victorian-era houses, including one that won an award from the Landmark Society this year.

"These are extraordinary properties that are well maintained and cared for by the owners," Christian said.

Both Christian and Briggs noted that converting a single-family home to a multi-unit dwelling goes against the city's recently adopted strategic plan, which aims to convert many of the existing apartment buildings that were once single-family homes back to single-family homes.

Roach objected to the idea that Platt would likely take in NYS parolees as tenants.

Christian noted that some of Platt's properties have sex offenders living in the dwellings.

April Walroot, Platt's property manager, said out of the 28 rooms the company has rented now, only four are the homes of registered sex offenders.

She also said that because the house is within 500 feet of a school -- St. Joseph's -- NYS Parole won't allow sex offenders to be placed in the residence.

According to this online mapping tool, St. Joe's is more than 800 feet from the house, as is the Richmond Memorial Library. 

Elizabeth Jess, who recently acquired the red brick home next to 316, said she and her husband bought it because the neighboring homes were single family and well maintained. She said she was worried about sex offenders moving into a residence next to her family.

"If there was ever any indication this could happen, we never would have bought this home," she said.

The Bialys, who own the recently designated Landmark home, have invested thousands and thousands of dollars into maintaining their house and they are concerned that putting a rooming house two doors down from their home would diminish the value.

Platt said, yes, his company does work with NYS Parole to find homes for former prison inmates. He also said all of his rooming homes are supervised and there are rules enforced on the residents. There's a strong motivation to obey the rules, Platt said, because offenses get reported back to parole officers.

It's an advantage to the city, he said, to have parolees living at his properties rather than elsewhere in the city because they are expected to follow certain rules and are monitored by the property manager.

The conversion also fits within the city's strategic plan, Platt said, because they city wants more residents downtown.

"We have a location downtown where people will be able to walk to everything and be able to spend their money downtown, keep the traffic downtown," Pratt said. "It will be a positive for the city."

After the application was denied, Pratt talked of possible legal action. He said he will consult with an attorney.

He feels there is an issue with the city giving him indications it would be approved and then, from his point of view, changing the rules at the last minute, and he also feels the city is discriminating against a certain class of people.

"There is a shortage of this type of housing for the good people who need a place to live," Platt said.

The denial is just one more piece of evidence, Platt said, that the city doesn't want him around so he's going to stop investing his money locally.

"It's pretty obvious the City has made many gestures and many ways to let Terry Platt know he's not wanted in the City of Batavia," Platt said.

Asked if the City isn't also making it harder for other landlords to do business, or was he just being singled out, Platt said, "It has lot to do with Terry Platt and his rooming houses, because how can they let a single-family home on Oak Street be converted to a rooming house several years ago and now all the sudden they don't want to see rooming houses near downtown where they need the traffic?"

Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at 4:19 pm

School district receives BEA award

Photo and information submitted by Robert Mullen.

The Apple Award - Presented to the Batavia City School District...

...at the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce - Business Education Alliance - Annual Spring Breakfast Meeting held on Fri., May 17th, 2013 at the Terry Hills Golf Course, Restaurant, & Banquet Facility.

Accepting the award (pictured L to R) from BEA President Mrs. Kitty Maerten (Superintendent of the Alexander School Distirict) are Mrs. Jillian Thomas - High School Business Teacher and Junior Achievement Coordinator for the Bataiva City Schools, Mr. Shawn Clark - Batavia High School Principaland Mrs. Eileen Ognibene - High School Business teacher and coordinator for the B.E.E.P. (Business Education Employability Profile) offered through the Career and Financial Management course offerings.

The Apple Award is given to schools and/or programs that exemplify the characteristics of authentic learning through educational opportunities that integrate real world business experiences (both in-the-classroom and out-of-the-classroom) for enhanced student learning. Batavia City Schools was recognized for having a superintendent on the BEA board, a liaison who attends the monthly meetings, junior achievement programs offered in the district, a job shadowing program, a CFM class that worked with the BEA to offer mock interviews, job shadows, and an employability portfolio (B.E.E.P.) that students interviewed for in order to qualify for a scholarship.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Unemployment rate improves for Genesee County, but county still has fewer jobs

post by Howard B. Owens in business, economy, jobs, unemployment

Even with the opening of Alpina and the ramp up of Muller Quaker in the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park, Genesee County lost 300 jobs year-over-year for April, according to data released by the NYS Department of Labor.

Even so, the unemployment rate for the county dropped to 7.1 percent, the lowest April since 2008, when the county's unemployment rate was 5.4 percent.

The April 2012 rate was 7.6 percent.

The total number of non-farm jobs in the county hit 21,900 for April 2013, compared to 22,200 in April 2012.

The data does show an increase in jobs from March 2013 when the job count was 21,700.

The unemployment rate in March 2013 was 8.0 percent.

The state's unemployment rate is 7.3 percent, which is an improvement over the previous month and as well as a year ago.

The national unemployment rate is 7.1 percent.

In Orleans County, the unemployment rate is 9.3 and it's 7.8 percent in Livingston and 8.3 percent in Wyoming.

Monday, May 20, 2013 at 9:24 pm

Rosenbeck responds to Hawley's defense of COR tax breaks

post by Howard B. Owens in Batavia Towne Center, business, 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.

Monday, May 20, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Photo: Sweat Pea's now serving ice cream

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, downtown, Sweet Pea's Cupcakery Café

Sweet Pea's Cupcakery Café, on Jackson Avenue, has something new just in time for summer: soft-serve ice cream.

It's very good.

Pictured are owners Lyndsey Oliver-Farewell and Travis Farewell.

Saturday, May 18, 2013 at 1:56 pm

End of an era for Liberty Pumps as production stops for Model 101 pedestal sump pump

post by Billie Owens in bergen, business, liberty pumps

Friday, May 17, marked the end of an era for Liberty Pumps with the final model 101 pedestal sump pump being produced in its Bergen facility. The Model 101 is the last remaining pump from the company’s original product offering dating back to 1965.

“It’s pretty amazing that this product sustained a 48-year production life given the advancements and popularity of submersible pump technology” said Randall Waldron, vice president of Sales and Marketing.

“It is not often a product can sustain four decades of sales with very little changes to it. Sales volume for this model has simply dropped to the point where it is not viable as a production model any longer.”

As part of the ceremony commemorating the final production unit being built, Liberty staged a pump “funeral” complete with flowers, a few words from the President Charlie Cook and a procession through the manufacturing area where the last pump will eventually found its resting place in the Liberty Wall of Fame.

“We’re not shedding too many tears however,” Waldron said, “our aggressive product development and new innovative designs have helped put us on track for another record sales year.”

Friday, May 17, 2013 at 6:57 pm

Hawley defends GCEDC's tax breaks for COR Development

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.”

Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 8:39 pm

Darien opens water park Saturday

post by Howard B. Owens in announcements, business, Darien, tourism

Press release:

Warm weather is back and Darien Lake is helping Western New York cool off this summer with more than one million gallons of water. Darien Lake’s water park will open this Saturday, May 18, 2013, from 10:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

“We made a big splash for our 50-year anniversary with new attractions and upgrades at our opening last weekend,” said Bob Montgomery, general manager at Darien Lake. “Now, with summer weather here again, families can beat the heat and have a blast as we open our water park.”

Free with the price of park admission, the water park is a 10-acre water park keeping park guests cool with more than 1 million gallons of water. There is something for everyone, with slides, tube rides and more.

Take the plunge on the Tornado, which boasts a high-speed 132-foot long tunnel that rockets thrill seekers at speeds of 20 mph or take a break as you relax and float down the lazy river on the Flotation Station. Guests can soak up the sun and ride the waves in Crocodile Isle, a 600,000 gallon wave pool.

At Hooks Lagoon, children will have barrels of fun with pirate ships, water slides and pools. Also perfect for families is the Big Kahuna, a four-person rafting adventure.

The water parkwill be open during every park operating day from now through Sept. 2. For the months of May and June, Darien Lake’s operating schedule is primarily weekends and holidays, with full-season daily operation beginning June 14.

For additional details on the water park and all of attractions and lodging available at Darien Lake, please visit www.DarienLake.com.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 10:19 pm

Insurance company offers local governments a chance to improve worker safety for free

post by Howard B. Owens in business, genesee county, INSURANCE

Local governments, including Genesee County, that participate in pooling a workers compensation insurance program have a chance to get help reducing workplace injuries using consultants for essentially no cost.

Bill Fritts, president of Lawley Genesee, explained what his company is prepared to do for local governments if Lawley becomes the worker compensation insurance broker.

The possibility came to Fritts's attention, he said, after receiving a request for proposal from the county for a new workers comp plan.

As a broker, Lawley can apply its commissions to provide a variety of services to members of the pool.

Genesee County, along with all of the local school districts and most towns and villages (but not the City of Batavia) are part of a self-insurance pool for workers compensation.

If a worker is injured on the job, the pool will pay the first $500,000 of coverage.

What the county has been shopping for is a new carrier for "excess coverage" -- an insurance company that pays any claims in excess of $500,000.

There are only three such carriers in the nation.

Under the plan presented by Fritts, Lawley will accept bids from the carriers, select one and manage the relationship.

With its commissions, Lawley will then use its own experts to identify areas where worker safety can be improved and look for other cost-saving opportunities.

Lawley's consultants will study claim history, look for departments that have safety records that can improve and then study work that's going on in those workplaces to see what safety improvements can be made.

"We'll look at what members are hurting and helping you," Fritt said. "We send in loss-prevention consultants to those areas first that hare hurting you and see what safety programs are needed. We might create incentive programs if they need to change their culture and help them change their culture."

There is no additional fee for the pool members for the extra services.

"I've seen the results and it's pretty amazing," Fritts said. "It makes you feel pretty good because you're preventing injuries."

At the next Ways and Means Committee meeting, legislators will have a chance to vote on the offer.

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