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Land swap heralds break for taxpayers

WHEATFIELD – A land swap approved earlier this month by the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency was a step toward selling out the industrial park controlled by the IDA, which would be a break for county taxpayers.

When the county foreclosed on the former Inducon Industrial Park off Lockport Road in 1999, the county found that it had inherited the legal responsibility to pay the taxes imposed by the Town of Wheatfield for its special districts – primarily water, sewer and highway.

In 1991, the town had floated a 20-year bond issue to pay for infrastructure in the industrial park and laid a special assessment on the property to pay it off.

The 162-acre industrial park was taken over by the county because the former owners, a company called 2400 Lockport Inc., owed $3.84 million in unpaid county, town and school taxes.

The taxing entities lost out on that money, but the county found it also was required by state law to make good the town’s losses. That cost the county $1.8 million up front. Also, the county had to keep paying those special district taxes every year even though the land was mostly vacant. The property was included in the 1999 county tax foreclosure auction, but nobody bid on it. The County Legislature then shifted control of the property to the IDA.

At the outset, the county was paying the town well over $300,000 a year to cover those special assessments. The industrial park, renamed Vantage International Pointe, didn’t stay vacant forever, as the IDA constructed a new headquarters there in 2001.

When Samuel M. Ferraro, the county’s economic-development chief, took the IDA’s reins in 2003, the county still was paying about $1,000 a day on Inducon assessments.

But, as the IDA has gradually sold off lots to private companies for development, the tab has slowly shrunk. As of this month, only 15 of the 162 acres remain unsold.

Ferraro said the county’s tax load on the industrial park has fallen to about $30 a day.

County Treasurer Kyle R. Andrews said that most of this cost is the assessment on the IDA’s building itself. He said the county paid Wheatfield $12,195 this year – that works out to a little more than $33 a day – and $9.094 of that was for the IDA headquarters. The remaining vacant lots cost the county only $3,031, or $8.49 per day.

Andrews said, “It was a team effort on the part of a lot of people, but it filled up quite nicely, and resulted in substantial savings to the county, along with economic development.”

“It’s a great feeling for Niagara County,” IDA Chairman Henry M. Sloma said at the July 8 board meeting, at which the board approved the latest land transaction in the industrial park.

It was a land swap involving Vision Metalizers, a company that in 2006 purchased six acres of Vantage land behind one of the park’s earliest tenants, Saksco Gourmet Basket Supplies. Vision Metalizers intended to construct a warehouse to store components made in India for a variety of products.

Susan C. Langdon, the IDA’s director of project development, said Shail Bhandari, Vision Metalizers’ chief, was unable to get the project moving, but he hasn’t given up on it. Meanwhile, Sloma said, the IDA was contacted by “a bigger company that may be interested in building a manufacturing facility.”

The upshot was that Vision Metalizers traded its original six acres back to the IDA for another plot of land in the park. The new parcel coves 7.5 acres, but because of the need for fill on some of the land and required setbacks from other tenants, only about six acres would be usable.

Langdon said Bhandari still intends to erect a warehouse, covering at least 10,000 square feet, in the next two or three years. “He doesn’t really care where in the park that is,” Langdon said.

The time when Vantage International Point – the IDA now prefers to spell Point without an “e” at the end – is full may not be far away. “We’re running out of land,” Sloma said.

But land banking can be lucrative. Not only does the IDA pocket cash from land sales, but buyers often apply for IDA assistance, enabling the agency to charge fees on the value of the new project.

The Town of Lockport IDA, with a 120-acre industrial park nearing capacity, recently used eminent domain power to take 91 acres of adjoining vacant land from General Motors. Although the Lockport IDA had to pay GM $546,000, the value set by an appraiser the town hired, it now has more land to market.

Sloma said of Vantage Point, “Once it’s sold out, maybe we’ll find another location to turn into an industrial park.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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