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Tax breaks for Batavia Downs hotel debated at hearing

BATAVIA – The merits of a proposed $5.5 million hotel at Batavia Downs as a “tourist destination” were called into question again Monday night by an attorney representing the Clarion Hotel, located a short distance from the harness track and gaming facility on Park Road.

Vivek Thiagarajan said at a public hearing that the new 84-room hotel is not a tourist destination.

“The actual construct will not draw people to the hotel,” he said on behalf of Clarion Hotel owner Chan Patel. “The draw is Batavia Downs.”

Earlier this month, Thiagarajan wrote in a letter to the Genesee County Economic Development Center that Patel did not to apply for tax breaks for a project in 2012 because only hotels that promoted tourism were eligible for assistance.

He repeated that assertion on Monday, adding that Buffalo-based developer ADK Hospitality’s request for $638,000 in sales tax, mortgage tax and property tax abatements is more than what the group paid for the Downs property.

Thiagarajan said his client had “no issues with the hotel itself” but that the economic development center was obligated to apply the same rationale in both situations.

Anthony J. Baynes, managing member of ADK, and Michael P. Nolan, chief operating officer of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., which owns Batavia Downs, opened the hearing with a presentation that focused on the new hotel’s impact on tourism in Genesee County.

“This hotel has the potential to strengthen one of the largest tourist facilities in the area,” Baynes said. “It will not be affiliated with any hotel chain, but will be a privately branded hotel that will best serve tourism. It will be operated by local management with the staff to be hired by ADK.”

Citing data from an economic impact study by Hotel & Leisure Advisors, a hospitality consulting firm based in Cleveland, Baynes said the hotel will attract 16,469 new out-of-state tourists in the first year and 100,000 new restaurant and beverage patrons in its first four years.

“Excluding real estate tax, the hotel will generate $2.8 million in tax revenue over the first 10 years, with $551,000 in county bed tax payments to help tourism promotion in Genesee County,” he said.

Nolan said the hotel is necessary for the Downs to compete against a new $425 million project that includes a hotel in Seneca County and with the three Seneca Nation casinos in Western New York.

“The hotel with the gaming facility is crucial,” he said.

He added that the Downs entered into an agreement with ADK with the “contingency of receiving a package from the GCEDC.”

“If not, it won’t go to fruition,” he said.

Mark Masse, senior vice president of operations for the economic development center, read a form letter of support from 10 businesses and organizations, including the Harness Horse Breeders of New York State, Genesee County Chamber of Commerce, Western New York Harness Horsemen’s Association, U.S. Foods and Turnbull Heating & Air Conditioning.

John Sackett of Byron, a former Genesee County legislator, said he was there on behalf of taxpayers when he said the project would be detrimental to private enterprise.

“If this is so good, so profitable, then it can stand on its own feet and doesn’t need any subsidy from the taxpayer,” he said. “What it gets down to is it’s all about the dirty dollar.”

Jerry Dee of Rochester spoke on behalf of the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters Local 276, based in Cheektowaga. “Our members live here and work here,” he said. “In Seneca County, they are utilizing union construction workers. We ask that you also use union construction workers and if you do, we will support this project.”

Directors of the economic development center are expected to vote on ADK’s tax incentive application at a special meeting on Thursday.