ITHACA, N.Y. — Officials unanimously approved a motion for a public hearing on the Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services’ application for a nearly $4 million tax exemption over a 30-year timeframe.
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It was approved Thursday afternoon by the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency’s Board of Directors.
The urban revitalization project — which would happen at 210 Hancock St. — would result in the transformation of “an entire city block from two underutilized buildings and a surface parking lot into mixed-use, mixed-income housing and community service space,” according to the project’s application.
The project would include:
— The construction of a 65,000-square foot, mixed-use building, which is expected to house HeadStart and feature 54 one and two-bedroom apartments;
— Twelve three-bedroom townhouses, which are set to be approximately 1,200-square-feet each;
— The creation of a bicycle and pedestrian path
—The construction of a playground
— The reconstruction of two city streets to “eliminate automobile traffic.”
The application states that the project would cost $21,706,403. The developers – Paul Mazzarella and Joe Bowes – are seeking $3,892,413 in tax exemptions.
The project application does not have a strategy in place for diversity in hiring at the property, which was called into question by Martha Robertson, vice chairwoman of the IDA.
Mazzarella and Bowes said INHS has a policy for diversity in hiring but they have no control over the policy of the contractors they hire to build the property.
The developers’ Community Investment Incentive Tax Abatement Program (“CIITAP”) application also states that they will not use contractors that “pay a prevailing living wage” or “use local labor,” which Robertson questioned.
They responded by saying that INHS itself is a living wage employer, but they responded “no” on the application because they are hiring other entities for construction.
In response to the lack of local labor, Bowes said developers answered “no” during the construction phase because the application doesn’t provide specifics about the number or percentage of local laborers that is required.
“I think that we were being careful about checking a box on a form,” Mazzarella added. “We didn’t really understand what the commitment was.”
“It’s a 30-year abatement. I would love to see a little more commitment,” Robertson retorted. “This obviously wouldn’t happen at all without taxpayer money … it’s so necessary.”
About an hour before the board discussed the proposal, about 85 community members poured into the legislative chambers on East Court Street to protest the IDA’s lack of a clear-cut local labor hiring policy.
Many spoke in front of the board, saying that not having a local hiring policy hurts taxpayers in Tompkins County.
“Our money circulates,” said Lindsay Mills, CEO of John Mills Electric. “When these jobs go out of town, you’re not just affecting construction workers, you’re affecting business owners.”
“We’re not just construction workers. We’re not just contractors. We are your community,” he said before being greeted with applause from all directions.
Both the Tompkins County IDA and the City of Ithaca have created committees to discuss the implementation of local hiring policies in tax exemptions.
James Dennis, Chairman of the IDA and a member of the IDA’s local labor committee say that proposals will come from both committees at roughly the same time – likely in October.
Present board members unanimously passed a motion for a public hearing on the Hancock Street proposal with two members – IDA Secretary Mayor Svante Myrick and Will Burbank – absent. The date of the hearing is still undetermined.
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