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NEW OWNER OF BON-TON SITE HAS HIGH HOPES

There's a new up and down in the roller-coaster ride known as downtown.

Today's subject is the former Bon-Ton department store, and the bad news is that City Hall plans to lower its assessment by 73 percent.

The drop in assessment will cost the city about $42,000 in tax revenue each year.

Clearly, it is one more indication of the decline in downtown property values.

The upside?

The new owner, Richard Taylor, is investing his own money in the huge two-building complex along Main Street.

Taylor, a Toronto native who owns a local manufacturing company, is making improvements to the buildings with an eye toward developing them as a high-quality gathering spot.

He envisions stores, restaurants and offices on the lower floors and condominiums on the top three floors.

In short, even Taylor hopes the assessment drop is a temporary thing.

"I'm looking forward to paying a lot of taxes in the future," he said Thursday.

In fact, the move to reduce the buildings' tax bill was initiated by the former owners, the Bon-Ton department store chain. Taylor said he's willing to pay his fair share once the buildings make money.

The tax bill for 1997-98 is $57,667. It will fall to $15,638 under the reduction.

Deborah B. O'Shea, Mayor Masiello's point person on the project, has said that Taylor's goal is to create a bustling marketplace, "a city core within our city core."

"I'm absolutely encouraged by his plans," Ms. O'Shea said Thursday. "The fact that he sees potential in the retail market downtown is very satisfying. He's not doing this on a lark."

The assessment reduction should come as little surprise, given the state of downtown's real estate market and the price Taylor paid for the buildings -- nothing.

In a bizarre twist, the Bon-Ton agreed to give Taylor $425,000 to acquire the two properties and pay bills, including utilities and property taxes.

Common Council members have expressed concern over delays in developing the former downtown landmark, but the Masiello administration appears willing to give Taylor time to revitalize the buildings.

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