9:26am

Mon July 9, 2012
Politics and Government

Syracuse poised to award second 30-year tax break

Syracuse appears ready to give out its second 30-year tax exemption after months of debate. The decision comes at a time when many in the city are skeptical of public backing for development.

The Common Council has called a special session for later today to vote on the property tax exemption for a developer planning to build a Syracuse University bookstore and fitness center in the University Hill neighborhood.

The vote was supposed to happen back in March, but it was pulled at the last minute because it faced certain defeat. In the months since, councilors have negotiated with the developer and university.

On Friday, councilors confirmed the deal will finally proceed because it has gained the needed five votes.

"A wonderful start"

The length and dollar amount of the tax exemption have not changed, but councilors have won more public access. The developer, Cameron Group LLC., agreed to host a minority apprenticeship program during construction and the university plans to include youth programs at the fitnesss center.

"There’s going to be more projects coming and we’re going to be negotiating even more, but I think it’s a wonderful start," said councilor Helen Hudson on Friday afternoon. "I really do believe that we should move forward."

The site of the proposed bookstore and fitness center is already owned by the university, which holds tax-exempt status. The developer will build and operate the complex and pay 17% of the property's value, or about $64,000, for 30 years while leasing it to the university. At the end of the 30-year term, the building would be transferred back the school and go off the tax rolls again.

Economic development proponents say the deal is a good new model for getting at least some revenue from tax exempt land.

But councilors in opposition scoffed at both the length of the deal - equal only to the one the Destiny USA shopping mall was given - and the location. The city should not be exempting projects in the city's most economically viable neighborhood, argued councilor Pat Hogan.

The vote is scheduled to take place during a special session of the council following today's regular meeting. One or more councilors could object to the special session and delay the vote, said councilor Khalid Bey, who chairs the economic development committee.