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Erie County’s industrial redevelopment deserves government support

Development program’s promise in local areas is threatened by downstate greed

In an all-too familiar course of events, a promising government program’s survival is endangered by corporate greed and abuse of loopholes.

The program in question, the Brownfields Program, incentivizes redevelopment of former industrial properties by offering tax credits to companies that build there. The concept is promising and encourages clean up of sites that would otherwise go to waste and remain as eyesores.

Unfortunately, the program’s goals have been undermined.

Developers, largely in Manhattan, have taken advantage of the tax credits offered by the program even though their development projects don’t meet the criteria.

These high-value projects are occurring in competitive areas and would have been completed without the program’s assistance.

Meanwhile, more necessary projects in North Country and the Southern tier, which actually need the tax breaks, aren’t receiving aid. As a result, the Brownfields Program has had a limited effect on the state.

The abuse of the program and the clear lack of oversight by those running it have deeply mitigated its effectiveness.

But that’s not the case in Erie County.

The work done in this area demonstrates the project’s potential – and offers compelling reasons to keep the program running.

Developers in the areas have efficiently used the program’s benefits to complete 17 projects since 2010.

The multiple projects have totaled approximately $15.5 million in Brownsfield credits, a stark contrast to the six Manhattan projects that cost $186.6 million.

And critically, the projects in Erie County have actually fit the criteria the Brownsfield program originally laid out.

Developers in Erie County have used the tax breaks correctly, working on a variety of older, polluted industrial properties and transforming them into usable commercial, retail and residential sites.

Sites like the HarborCenter and downtown offices are among the projects that benefited from the program, with more construction in the works. The proposed “Project Hello,” a $102 million project by a steel company, is another potential beneficiary of Brownsfield and would create more than 170 jobs for South Buffalo.

The effectiveness of the program in Erie County makes the abuse of the incentives in Manhattan even more blatant – and problematic.

The Brownsfield program clearly holds great potential and can help needy areas transform their environmental and economic landscape.

Programs like these are precisely what the state needs, and it’s a shame that the greed of developers like those in Manhattan have threatened this.

The program is currently set to expire at the end of the year, but Cuomo and the State plan to extend it. But while the Assembly and the Senate plan to extend the program essentially as it is, Cuomo wants to impose more restrictive eligibility guidelines and ensure that tax credits go only to cleanup costs, not development.

Clearly, Cuomo’s plan responds to the problems that are currently undermining the program. With greater supervision over the projects involved, the Brownsfield program will be able to reach its potential and help New York do the same.


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