By Dan Hust
HORTONVILLE December 19, 2006 The Villa Roma’s main building can and should rise again.
On that, no one disagreed yesterday.
But the Town of Delaware Justice Court in Hortonville packed with some of the area’s most influential policymakers was sharply divided on a proposal to give the resort hotel real property and sales tax abatements as it undertakes a $7 million rebuilding effort.
Local businesspeople and hotel employees advocated for all the help the Sullivan County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) could give the Callicoon employer.
Representatives of the Sullivan West Central School District, however, argued that that should not be at the expense of the school.
The main building, destroyed by fire in April, is already being rebuilt, with local contractors’ bulldozers and other equipment excavating the site of the 45,000-square-foot replacement.
Villa Roma management hopes to have the new lobby, front desk, cafes, lounge, business center, mezzanine, main dining rooms and kitchen complete by later next year, along with the refurbishment of around 55 guest rooms, shops, convention space and walkways.
Due to the vagaries of weather and construction and the complications of a flood that hit already-renovated areas in June, Villa Roma officials are not guaranteeing a specific date of completion, and a cost/benefit analysis estimates a maximum buildout time of 2-3 years.
Although a legal notice mentions the entire Villa Roma property, the abatements would relate only to the main building’s reconstruction, said General Manager Rich Sandler. The rest of the sprawling hotel complex continues to be taxed at current rates.
Monday’s public hearing was convened by the IDA in order to gather comments to present to the IDA board when it votes on the $2.7 million worth of abatements today.
And IDA Executive Director Jennifer Brylinski got an earful.
“It’s only beneficial that the Villa Roma becomes what it was and even more again,” remarked Club Manager and golf pro Matt Kleiner.
Kleiner said that the hotel’s driving range suffered a 30 percent loss of business so far this year, with the banquet facilities seeing up to a 50 percent loss.
Numbers in the cost/benefit analysis provided for the Villa by Shepstone Management Services were even more sobering: 215 jobs gone, room tax revenue down by an average of $5,743 per month, and sales tax revenue losses amounting to an average of $52,151 per month.
The loss of jobs and tourism has hit neighboring communities hard, added Town of Callicoon Supervisor Gregg Semenetz and Callicoon Business Association President (and Sullivan County Democrat publisher) Fred Stabbert III.
“Business has been down for many of our local businesses,” Stabbert explained. “We would just like to support the rebuilding of the hotel and any help the IDA can give them.”
SW representatives said they, too, support the hotel’s reconstruction, but they felt the impacts to the school district from the proposed abatements would be unacceptable.
“We’re hoping the IDA will redistribute the pain and the benefit,” remarked SW board member Shaun Sensiba, who was joined at the hearing by fellow board member Noel van Swol, Board Chair Arthur Norden, School Business Administrator Bob Miller and Superintendent Alan Derry.
Derry pointed out that the cost/benefit analysis assumes a 2.5 percent per year escalation in its current $11,200-per-student costs.
He estimated an 80 percent increase instead, citing reductions in state aid and increasing expenses.
In other words, said SW officials, granting school tax abatements to the Villa would seriously wound the district financially.
“I would love to see the Villa Roma rebuilt,” he remarked. “But I would hate to see that the benefit of this work be borne on the backs of my students… It would make budgets more difficult to pass.”
Norden claimed the analysis itself contained incorrect figures, saying that “the arithmetic is off by nearly $3 million in terms of benefits.”
The analysis estimates that the benefits to the community would total nearly $59.3 million once the new facility is operational.
Norden estimated a cost-per-pupil upwards of $15,000 and that these abatements would actually cost the district more than $4 million while not hurting the county or township at least not in the way a school district would be affected, which cannot impose taxes and has to rely on public votes to pass budgets.
Criticizing the lack of a firm PILOT (Payments In Lieu Of Taxes) agreement, he asked that the IDA consider another mortgage tax abatement, a room tax abatement or a low-interest loan rather than a reduction in school taxes.
Villa Roma attorney Marvin Newberg responded that this is a standard IDA program based on the type of business.
“The Villa Roma’s not getting anything special here,” he said, warning that without abatements, the Villa could see a fate like that of the many now-defunct hotels within his hometown of Fallsburg.
“The long-term benefits, especially for the school district, are there,” he explained. “I can’t think of a more worthy project as far as jobs and more spinoffs.”
“The Villa Roma has been… our showcase, our star player,” agreed Sullivan County Visitors Association President/CEO Roberta Lockwood. “They are an integral part of all of the tourism activity in Sullivan County’s Catskills… and their loss is severe to us.
“We need this to open, and we need this to go forward,” she urged. “We just ask that you might consider a positive outcome in this.”