Tax break for Syracuse bookstore lives to fight another day

Mar 26, 2012

A tax-break deal for a new off-campus bookstore and fitness center for Syracuse University has gotten a reprieve.

The deal was slated for a vote in the Syracuse Common Council today, which, based on a whip count of the councilors, would have voted the deal down.

Instead, the council withdrew the legislation from the agenda, giving the project a shot to revise and resubmit.

The road ahead is far from certain though: Many councilors still have serious issues with a request from a private developer for a 30-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) deal to build a complex that it would then rent out to the university.

"I don't see where you would grant a PILOT in the most commercially viable area of the city and [for] a brand new building," said councilor Pat Hogan.

Hogan added he'll likely remain "a solid no" on the project.

"Steadfast" on 30-years

Tom Valenti, one of the principals for the developer, Cameron Group, said when the council asked him Friday if he would be willing to talk more, he agreed, even though the project was first proposed in 2006.

At issue is the length of the PILOT: Valenti contends the 30-year deal is the best he can do.

"I'm steadfast that 30-years is the only way that's going to work with the rent we have coming in from the university."

But councilor Kahlid Bey thinks there's more room for compromise than Valenti is letting on.

"I don't believe that. He's a businessman; he has to make his best sell," Bey said after Monday's council meeting.

The only other project in the city with a 30-year deal is the stalled Destiny USA mega mall. That project had regional benefits, whereas the bookstore and fitness center does not, said Bey.

Those is favor of the tax deal take a better-than-nothing approach. The land in question is currently owned by Syracuse University and thus tax-exempt since the school is a non-profit. If it went undeveloped or if the school undertook the bookstore project itself, the city won't see any tax revenue.

Any new deal between the Cameron Group and the city would have to be approved by the Syracuse Industrial Development Agency (SIDA).

SIDA barely passed the PILOT in a 3-2 vote last month and one of the those "yes" votes has since resigned from the board.