IDA approves Concord abatements
By Eli Ruiz
MONTICELLO March 22, 2013 On Tuesday, the Industrial Development Agency (IDA) board unanimously passed three resolutions essentially recognizing the $1.2 billion Concord project applicants EPR Properties, EPT Concord II, LLC and Monticello Raceway Management Inc. (MMRI) as qualified for IDA programs.
The agency ignored a letter from five of nine county legislators to their colleague and IDA Chairman Ira Steingart, asking that it “take no further action” on more than $200 million in potential tax-breaks until the five can “better understand the PILOT.”
The memo also, according to Steingart, suggested that the five legislators didn’t quite have a grip on the purpose of Tuesday’s special meeting.
“It’s called a uniform tax abatement program for a reason. I think it’s widely misunderstood… you just can’t pick and choose who you give it to, or what you give,” affirmed Steingart. “You don’t put a program on the table, and then look to pull out after the developer has already poured millions of dollars into the property.”
The five legislators at the heart of the memo were Cindy Gieger (District 5), Cora Edwards (District 6), Gene Benson (District 7), Alan Sorensen (District 9) and Kathleen “Kitty” Vetter (District 3).
Legislative Chair Scott Samuelson expressed his displeasure with the memo getting out to the public stating that it was meant only for legislators to see, he then affirmed, “I’d like to state that the majority of legislators support this project and support this [IDA] board and all of its efforts.”
Gieger then chimed-in, stating firmly that in-fact herself and the 4 legislators attached to the memo do support the proposed development at the Concord site. She said, “Given the extraordinary size and reach of the EPT Concord, Monticello Raceway and Empire water park projects, and the certainty that they will have long-term and wide- ranging impact on this county’s economy and its finances, we would like to have a full opportunity to review the cost/benefit analysis which I just got… I just got this yesterday. Before we go ahead and approve, my feeling is that as a legislator we need to be sure that the county's interests are going to be addressed here."
"It's a lot of money; it's a lot of abatement; it's a lot of exemptions," added Gieger.
IDA board members led by Steingart explained that the Town of Thompson had already completed an environmental review, including up to four public hearings on the project, implying that Gieger and the others had ample time to review the pilot and relevant materials.
"They talk about what we're giving away," said Steingart. "We have nothing now… we should be rolling out the red carpet."
With the passage of the three resolutions the agency is now free to negotiate formal terms and agreements with the operators.
With several large-scale projects proposed for the 1,725 acres, EPR is also expected, in the spring, to announce a themed water park and hotel which also qualify for the IDA's Destination Resort Program, opening up the opportunity for the operators to be granted waivers on sales tax on the initial financing costs and construction materials. As part of the Destination Resort Program, the applicants will be eligible for 100 percent property tax abatements for the initial eight years of the project, with partial reductions the following eight years.
Since its inception in 1970, the IDA has used what IDA attorney Walter Garigliano called "a one size fits all" general abatement policy. In 1998 the agency started using the far more generous Tourism Industry Tax Abatement Policy.
"From an economic development standpoint, tourism is an extremely coveted project for any locality," explained Garigliano. Referencing the period before the Tourism Industry Tax Abatement Policy was adopted, Garigliano said, "We struggled mightily in attracting these types of projects… states around us all had very generous policies regarding tax abatements."