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Niagara IDA OKs tax break for spinal surgeon’s office despite lawmaker’s criticisms

WHEATFIELD – A tax break for a spinal surgeon’s new office was approved this week by the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency - and criticized by a state lawmaker.

Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, who criticized the project last month, said Wednesday after the IDA vote that he will ask the state to investigate the deal, declare it illegal and “claw back” the tax break for Spine Surgery of Buffalo Niagara, headed by Dr. Franco E. Vigna.

“It’s really bad economic development practice,” Ryan said. “They granted a tax break for a doctor to move his office across the street.”

Vigna is purchasing a vacant former restaurant on Williams Road in Wheatfield. The IDA board voted unanimously that the project merits an exception from the state ban on tax incentives for retail projects because it would provide unique services in Niagara County.

Niagara County Manager Richard E. Updegrove has to ratify or reject the IDA finding of a unique service. If he rejects it, the tax break is dead. IDA attorney Mark J. Gabriele said the finding of a unique service is the only time a county official can block an IDA decision.

Vigna sent the board a letter detailing the unique services he intends to offer at the office in a building formerly used as a Denny’s and a Perkins restaurant. He said he will be only the second doctor in the state to offer the Integrity System, which he described as “the newest form of spinal decompression,” as well as pain management and cognitive behavioral therapies not otherwise available in Niagara County.

“Nowhere else in Niagara County, or Erie County, is there a medical practice offering all of these services under one roof,” Vigna wrote.

Ryan accused the Niagara County IDA of “twisting” the rules. “The idea that somehow this is unique because it’s all under one roof doesn’t qualify,” he asserted.

Some board members criticized Ryan for injecting himself into the issue. Besides criticizing the medical office deal, Ryan last month called for a state investigation of an IDA tax break for a project to connect vacant former Walmart and Sam’s Club stores in Niagara Falls, creating a giant warehouse with possible retail and office space.

“I wasn’t too happy about comments made in the paper from Erie County,” board member William L. Ross said. He called Ryan’s statement “a slap in the face” for the IDA.

“My opinion will be based on facts, not fabrication or spotlights,” Ross said.

IDA Chairman Stephen F. Brady said the project never would have made it into the board’s agenda if the IDA’s full-time staff didn’t think it was legal.

“Assemblyman Ryan is free to think what he wants to think,” Brady said. “Staff does not waste our time. They do a tremendous job of vetting projects.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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