SUNY presidents see value in Cuomo 'tax-free' plan

June 11, 2013 Updated Jun 11, 2013 at 11:55 AM EDT

By Dan Miner, Reporter- Business First

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SUNY presidents see value in Cuomo 'tax-free' plan

June 11, 2013 Updated Jun 11, 2013 at 11:55 AM EDT

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “Tax Free NY” program offers tantalizing development opportunities in prime locations throughout Western New York, college presidents told Business First.

The recent announcement of the program, which aims to lure new businesses on or near college grounds with the promise of no taxes for a decade, turned focus to the campuses themselves, where plenty of undeveloped land sits throughout the state.

But colleges are everywhere, and the program’s reach might be as well.

That includes places such as downtown Niagara Falls, where the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute sits, hinting at the potential of a tax-free environment for the next developer of the Rainbow Centre Mall.
It includes the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus — University at Buffalo facilities that abut several properties that are currently for sale.
And it includes downtown Dunkirk, the site of SUNY Fredonia’s Technology Incubator. The incubator’s mission is to graduate companies into nearby buildings.

“We deliberately situated that incubator in a commercial area in Dunkirk,” said Virginia Horvath, Fredonia’s president. “If the incubator is included as campus property (under the state program), it could be a wonderful opportunity.”

Some early caveats exist. The program will be tailored to campus startups and biotech companies, and retail, restaurant and residential projects will be carefully scrutinized before they’re deemed eligible, said James Klyczek, president of Niagara County Community College.
NCCC opened the Culinary Institute in 2012 in a portion of the languishing mall. State-run USA Niagara, along with the city of Niagara Falls, are soliciting bids to develop the remaining 200,000 square feet.

“We’ve always envisioned that the remainder of the mall property would have some relationship to the culinary institute, and to the college,” said Klyczek, though he noted USA Niagara, and not NCCC, is overseeing the Rainbow Centre project. “Of course, it’s very dependent on what proposals come through.”

State Sen. George Maziarz, R-Lockport, has sent a letter to Cuomo exploring the possibility of the Rainbow Centre’s inclusion into the state program.

Cuomo’s plan calls for tax-free communities on SUNY campuses and up to 200,000-square-feet adjoining the grounds, with 3 million square feet designated for private colleges and the inclusion 20 strategically located state-owned properties. That includes sales, income, property and corporate taxes.

The program is being crafted into legislation and then have to pass the state Assembly and Senate, a Cuomo spokeswoman said. After it’s passed, colleges will craft their zones individually, subject to administrative approval by the State University of New York and Empire State Development Corp.

That broad autonomy means colleges will likely be free to include hubs, satellites and other off-campus locations.

The governor announced the broad outline of his plans in May at the University at Buffalo, and college officials have commenced a number of meetings, conferences and trips to Albany since then to learn more about the program.

UB’s president, Satish Tripathi, and a distinguished professor, Robert Genco, recently traveled together to Albany to meet with the governor’s representatives. Both men said they came away believing the program could be an important factor for UB, capitalizing on its faculty research and convincing graduates to stick around and start businesses near Buffalo.

“We see this as a program that will benefit all three campuses,” Tripathi said. “It could attract companies from the outside or expand on campus.”

But they also said that, to be eligible, businesses will likely have to be aligned with UB. For instance, even though the Buffalo City Mission is directly adjacent to UB’s Educational Opportunity Center, a buyer of that property will have to abide by the program’s specifications for tax credits.

Genco said UB has already fielded several inquiries from tech-related companies interested in the program.

Dennis Ponton, SUNY Buffalo State’s provost, said the program could help the college’s outreach in nearby neighborhoods, particularly on Grant Street and Elmwood Avenue.

“We see this as an excellent opportunity to link Buff State to the neighborhoods to foster economic development in a collaborative effort,” he said.