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Amherst Development Corp. faces resurrection Amherst IDA pushes to break roadblocks in State Legislature

The Amherst Industrial Development Agency is taking steps to create a back-door solution to break the legislative log-jam now keeping non-profit groups from using IDAs to help finance civic projects.

The move would revive the largely dormant Amherst Development Corp. and amend its by-laws and certificate of incorporation to allow it to issue tax-exempt bonds for civic projects under the terms of a recent Internal Revenue Service ruling.

About $195 million in Erie County projects -- including expansions at the University at Buffalo, Women and Children's Hospital and St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute -- have been on hold since the legal authority for IDAs to back that type of project expired at the beginning of 2008. Most of the "civic facilities projects" are for schools, health care and senior housing.

The changes, which also face approval by the Amherst Town Board, possibly as early as Monday, would clear the way for the University at Buffalo to seek tax-exempt financing for its proposed $65 million expansion that would add about 560 student housing units just south of the Ellicott Complex on the school's Amherst campus.

Under the changes approved Friday, non-profit groups, in a concession to local labor groups, would agree to pay prevailing wages on projects valued at $10 million or more. The changes do not include a requirement that the developments include project labor agreements.

Should the State Legislature in the future approve a law that grants IDAs the power to finance civic facilities projects, the Amherst Development Corp. would lose its ability to fund any new projects, with that authority returning to the Amherst IDA, said IDA Executive Director James J. Allen.

"This is strictly an interim measure," said Terrence M. Gilbride, a Hodgson Russ attorney who represents the Amherst IDA.

The Erie County Industrial Development Agency and Erie County Executive Chris Collins in July proposed a similar plan, using an IDA entity known as the Industrial Land Development Corp., but that effort ran into opposition in the County Legislature over efforts to insert pro-union provisions into the needed legislation.

In other business, the Amherst IDA also approved what essentially is an insurance policy for the sales tax breaks now available to insurer GEICO Corp. for its proposed expansion in Amherst.

The IDA, which last month approved a one-year sales tax break for the insurer, extended the tax break for as long as 10 years in case the state Legislature makes changes in the Empire Zone program that would eliminate that incentive in the future.

The longer sales tax break now is included in Empire Zone benefits, but the program is being reviewed and could be changed.

The IDA's action ensures that GEICO would receive the nearly $815,000 in sales tax savings it currently is eligible to receive through the Empire Zone program as it expands its Amherst customer service center and hires as many as 536 additional workers.

"This is basically putting a back-up plan in place," said David S. Mingoia, the agency's deputy director.

e-mail: drobinson@buffnews.com

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