A Buffalo developer wants to get rid of sales taxes for downtown businesses in an effort to continue the revitalization of the city.
"We need to reinvent things, we need to think outside the box," Rocco Termini told 7 Eyewitness News reporter Rachel Elzufon. Termini says that Buffalo is coming back; that people are returning downtown and new restaurants are popping up, but adding retail in the central business district remains a challenge.
Termini cites the lack of taxes on cigarettes and gas on the Indian Reservations as an example of how this could work, adding that people will travel far to buy those products because of no taxes. He hopes that some concept would work downtown.
In addition to getting rid of sales taxes, Termini says that low-interest loans would be needed to rehabilitate storefront areas. "Right now those spaces are in bad shape," he said, adding that the plan includes bringing in boutiques rather than big box stores.
Termini proposed the idea to Buffalo Place, a non-profit organization that advocates for downtown Buffalo. Termini says they will soon start putting together proposals for the state to look at.
One idea to make up money generated by sales taxes would be to utilize the Buffalo Billion. Termini believes the lost money could come out of the Better Buffalo Fund.
Getting rid of sales tax in downtown Buffalo or creating a sales tax free zone has been proposed before, including by former County Executive Joel Giambra.
Giambra tells 7 Eyewitness News that he again, "thinks it's an idea that needs to be explored."
Termini believes the chance of this plan happening now is better than ever before.
"The opportunity and the time is now, when we have the Governor's time and attention," Termini says. "We've never had the momentum that we had now." The developer believes this could also give New York ideas for helping other cities including Rochester, Syracuse and Utica.
Local business owners downtown also voice their support. “Having that kind of a break would help people look at downtown as a viable possibility,” said Joseph Incao, who owns Furnishings on Main Street. Incao says a lack of foot traffic due to few businesses downtown is the biggest challenge.
It is still unclear whether the proposal would be for a permanent end to sales tax in the central business district. Under the current plan, it would last for five years, but Termini calls that "experimental." He adds that Buffalo Place is hiring a grant writer, and her first project will be putting together ideas for a sales tax free downtown zone.
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