Bucking the eligibility guidelines used by Erie County's IDAs, the Amherst Industrial Development Agency granted more than $790,000 in tax breaks Friday to Bryant & Stratton College to help it move its Amherst campus to a new site on Millersport Highway.
The $5.9 million project will allow Bryant & Stratton to construct a 29,000-square-foot building at 3650 Millersport that will increase the size of its Amherst facility by a third and allow it to install additional technology that will improve its teaching and training programs.
The IDA approved the aid even though offering incentives for educational services generally is prohibited under the eligibility policy used by all such development agencies in the county.
James J. Allen, the Amherst agency's executive director, urged the board to approve the tax breaks because the State Legislature has not reauthorized one of the laws governing IDAs that had listed educational services as ineligible for tax breaks.
He also said IDA officials believe the $5.9 million project will provide a public benefit and that Bryant & Stratton's educational programs will help build a trained work force locally.
Allen said he believes the IDA eligibility guidelines should be amended to allow incentives for for-profit colleges, like Bryant & Stratton. "I think we need to rethink that. The whole New Economy is knowledge-based and technology-based," he said.
Board member Stuart Shapiro cast the lone vote against the incentives, arguing that Bryant & Stratton officials had given no indication that the project would not proceed without the tax breaks.
"I wonder if this is part of our mission," Shapiro asked. "There is no indication that, otherwise, they would leave Amherst . . . or even indicate that they will not do what they otherwise would do."
Without the aid, Bryant & Stratton officials said the college would have to delay implementing some of the new technology, such as messaging services for its students. The project is expected to create 15 jobs at the college, which employs 55 full-time and 60 part-time workers.
"What we would have to do is hold off on some of the things we were hoping to do from the get-go," said Doreen Justinger, a Bryant & Stratton vice president.
But she also said the project, which will move its Amherst campus from its smaller, 21,000-square-foot current location at 40 Hazelwood Drive, would proceed anyway.
"The lease is up. That space was not working for us. We decided we wanted a more campus-like setting," Justinger said.
Bryant & Stratton is no stranger to IDA controversy. In 2003, the Erie County Industrial Development Agency granted the college $870,000 in tax breaks to help build its Southtowns campus in Orchard Park, only to have then-County Executive Joel A. Giambra veto the incentives.