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vpb0710_120The Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency (IDA), by a 4-3 vote, today declined to approve a request for bonding support for a mixed-use development project in the Village of Lansing, adjacent to the Shops at Ithaca Mall.

Under the proposal, the IDA would have issued up to $2.3 million in Recovery Zone Exempt Facility Bonds for the Arrowhead Ventures project and to make available dedicated payments under a payment-in-lieu-of-tax (PILOT) financing agreement (known as PILOT increment financing) to support debt service on the bonds or other qualifying project costs.  The project, proposed by the Triax Management Group, involved a BJ’s Wholesale Club, 12 units of senior housing, and expansion of a reclaimed wetland for bird habitat—the senior housing and wetland development elements required by the Village of Lansing.  The recovery zone bonds, made available as part of the federal stimulus program, expire at year’s end.

Voting in favor were IDA members Larry Baum, and Legislators Jim Dennis and Nathan Shinagawa; members Jeff Furman, Dan Cogan, Legislator Will Burbank, and Legislature and IDA Chair Martha Robertson voted no.

As was the case when the County Legislature last week reviewed the issue, and ultimately provided its bonding authorization in a split vote, several IDA members in comments during the two-hour-long special meeting reflected the difficulty of the decision—weighing the potential economic benefits (through jobs created, sales tax and property tax revenue generated, and senior housing and wetland reclamation) against public benefit questions and potential policy precedents for the IDA.  Acknowledging the policy issues but recognizing the potential benefits, Member Cogan initially indicated he would probably vote in favor to enable the project to proceed.  But after later discussion, which focused on as much as a $1.8 million tax subsidy for the housing the increment financing would provide, Cogan said he had changed his position and would vote no.

ida_122010Members of the IDA, TCAD, and various stakeholders at Monday's IDA meeting

Before the vote, Chair Robertson stressed her vote is not ideological, that she would support having the retailer in this community, but does not support what she called “not having a level playing field” where IDA support for retail is concerned, and she again questioned whether the level of public benefit from the housing portion would justify IDA support.

Among many addressing the IDA before the vote were City of Ithaca Mayor Carolyn Peterson and Planning and Development Director JoAnn Cornish, and Ithaca Downtown Partnership Director Gary Ferguson, all expressing concern about policy and precedent on IDA incentives, and Chamber of Commerce president Jean McPheeters, who urged support.  Legislators Pat Pryor, who represents most of Lansing, and Frank Proto both spoke in favor—Pryor saying that constituents have indicated this project is “something people really want and really need.”  Proto, who chairs the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, said a number of people badly need entry-level jobs.

It was estimated the project would create around 70 jobs and could generate as much as $750,000 in annual sales tax revenue for county municipalities, more than $400,000 for the County alone, something that Legislator Dennis, who chairs the Legislature’s budget committee, advised should not be ignored.

Chair Robertson indiated she would be open to exploring whether the IDA could provide support for a reconfigured project in some other way and that preliminary discussions to investigate possible alternatives had already begun.

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