Although Chairman Henry M. Sloma warned his colleagues to expect criticism, the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency took the first step Wednesday toward approval of a property tax break for the Seneca Nation's planned golf course in Lewiston.
The IDA's Project Review Committee formally accepted the application for a five-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes arrangement for the $20 million course. A public hearing will be scheduled sometime in May, after the full IDA board ratifies the committee's action next Thursday.
The final vote on the aid to the project is on target for May 17.
"In granting these incentives we will receive some criticism, and that criticism will focus on whether the corporation needs it," Sloma predicted.
The applicant is the Seneca Management Development Corp., an entity set up by the Senecas for projects outside the 50-acre footprint the nation controls in downtown Niagara Falls, where Seneca Niagara Casino is located.
Seneca spokesman Phil Pantano said there has been no consideration of attempting to make the course tax-exempt by declaring it sovereign Seneca land, as the Niagara Falls site is.
Regardless of how profitable the casino is, Sloma said, the IDA's tax-exemption policy does not allow it to discriminate.
"I see this as a net gain for the community. I don't think we should reflect on the profitability of the sponsor," Sloma said.
The application estimates the Senecas will make $965,000 in payments in lieu of taxes over five years to the county, the Town of Lewiston and the Lewiston-Porter School District. There is also a projection that the course's sales tax revenue during that period will be almost $2.4 million.
However, the Senecas expect to save $1.1 million on their property tax es and $522,000 by not having to pay sales tax on their construction materials and course furnishings.
Project manager Gary Paumen said construction should start next month and be complete by the summer of 2008. While the grass is planted and allowed to grow on the 18-hole course, the 12,000-square-foot clubhouse will be built, and the first ball should be teed off in May 2009.
The 18-hole layout was described by Rajat Shah, senior vice president of Seneca Niagara Falls Gaming Corp., as a "championship course," but its total length is to be 7,026 yards, which Paumen acknowledged is probably too short for a Professional Golf Association tournament.
There are other levels of pro golf, however. Shah said, "At this point, we can't guarantee we can attract a national tournament. . . . That is our intent, but it's a long process."
The layout will include six large retention ponds, which will double as water hazards. They are to help drain the low-lying site into a Department of Transportation ditch that bisects the course and leads to Four Mile Creek and then to Lake Ontario.
An unusual feature of the course will be a double green serving both the ninth and 18th holes. Thus, both the front nine and the back nine will end near the clubhouse, whose entrance is to be off Creek Road just south of Swann Road.
The 251-acre site is bounded by the Robert Moses Parkway and Creek, Pletcher and Raymond roads. The maintenance entrance will be off Pletcher Road at the north edge of the property, Paumen said.