In 2011, after seven years of promotion, Vista was still vacant. At that time, the developer packaged ShopRite, Berkshire Bank and SEFCU as the first prospective tenants, but said that those tenants would not commit to Vista unless they received enhanced abatements because there were substantial challenges to bringing businesses to a completely undeveloped site. The dilemma was this: the town had been trying for seven years to develop the site without success; would occupancy by the first retail tenants be a catalyst to bring desired development to Vista? At a hearing regarding the abatements in 2011, then Supervisor Messina, as well as representatives of the Bethlehem Central School District supported the use of enhanced abatements. After careful consideration, the BIDA decided that providing the enhanced abatements was the proper decision. Based on new tax revenue to the town, school district and other tax jurisdictions, our decision has proved to be the right one.
In 2011, Vista tax revenue for all local tax jurisdictions was about $16,000 for the undeveloped property; in 2014 the property taxes, PILOT payments and water fees will total over $230,000; in 2015 and beyond they will be higher still. In addition to the three initial projects, four additional projects have been built: two medical office buildings with standard real property tax abatements and two retail buildings with no real property tax abatements. Vista is already a net positive for local government, and at full development – which will take many years – it will provide substantial tax revenues. Since the Vista campus is now actively being developed, the BIDA has adopted a policy that retail projects will not receive abatements absent compelling justification.
In 2013, the developer applied for exemptions on another building to house technology businesses. The developer represented that a technology tenant engaged in medical research would occupy part of the building, along with other possible technology tenants. This promised to bring the first scientific and technology uses to Vista. Once again at a hearing on the project, the supervisor, school district and others urged the BIDA to grant an enhanced abatement. The BIDA analyzed the costs and benefits and determined that the total cost of the enhanced abatement and tax exemptions would be offset by substantial new tax revenues. Additionally, the BIDA granted tax exemptions because the BIDA believed that other technology users would follow once this building was constructed and occupied. At present the developer is negotiating with potential tenants and may or may not proceed with the building. However, it should be noted that if qualifying tenants do not occupy this building the enhanced abatement will not be provided.
The BIDA has never granted an exemption that was not supported by representatives of the town and the school district. We value the opinions of our residents as well as those of the town and school district leaders. We have and will continue to seek such input to facilitate public discussion of the costs and benefits of each potential project. The BIDA will continue to serve the residents of the Town of Bethlehem by working to attract good corporate residents to our community.