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Empire Zone rules too rigid, developer says

A prominent developer wants local leaders to join his crusade for changes in a state program that doles out incentives to stimulate economic development.

Incentives that work in New York City don't produce the same results in upstate communities like Buffalo, Rocco R. Termini told Common Council members this week.

Termini, whose development companies have launched numerous projects throughout the area, is pushing for revisions in New York's Empire Zone program.

New York City has many huge corporations with deep pockets that can make "bricks-and-mortar investments" as they expand operations and create new jobs, Termini argued. In doing so, many qualify for tax breaks and other benefits.

But it's usually a different scenario in communities like Buffalo, Termini said. Many new jobs in the upstate region are created by small companies that don't have the capital to build their own facilities. So they reach out to developers to construct projects, then lease space from the builder.

Therein lies the dilemma, in Termini's eyes. Even if a developer is spearheading a project that paves the way for tenants to create new jobs, the developer is ineligible to receive Empire Zone breaks unless it hires new employees as a result of the project.

Without Empire Zone benefits, Termini told Council members, developers can't offer low-cost rents to smaller companies.

"It costs us more to provide the housing than we could possibly get from the rents," Termini said.

He wants the state to amend the program, giving economically distressed communities like Buffalo the flexibility to give incentives to developers that launch job-producing projects, even if it's tenants that create the jobs.

Timothy E. Wanamaker, however, warned that if Buffalo succeeds in getting the state to revamp Empire Zone benefits, some changes could also "work against" local economic development efforts.

"We're a little antsy about starting this dialogue until we have a game plan," Wanamaker said.


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