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RE: WNY Developers as Opportunistic & Undeserving as NYC Counterparts

Buffalonians deserve objectivity and accurate facts from the media, especially from their primary daily newspaper. The editorial board of the Buffalo News failed to meet this standard with its opinion on the State’s Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP).

A “brownfield” is a parcel of land that is difficult to reuse or redevelop because of the presence or potential presence of contamination. As described by the State, the brownfields program provides tax credits to developers to encourage the voluntary cleanup of contaminated properties “so that they can be reused and redeveloped.”

According to the recent Buffalo News editorial, “undeserving” and “opportunistic” downstate developers are scamming the program “to help fund projects in high-value areas...that would have been built without the tax credits.” In contrast, viewed through the BN’s rose-colored glasses, “this region has used the program responsibly, helping pay for...downtown’s HarborCenter, and other worthy projects.”

I am in no way excusing the manner in which brownfield-related tax credits have been used to subsidize New York City area projects. However, when evaluated by the criteria utilized by the Buffalo News when criticizing “opportunistic downstate developers,” the development being built by Terry and Kim Pegula on the Inner Harbor’s “Webster Block” certainly appears undeserving of special tax relief.

First and foremost, as heralded in Mayor Byron W. Brown’s April 2012 press release soliciting proposals for the “Webster Block,” the former parking lot located directly across from the First Niagara Center was “the most sought after parcel of land in the Buffalo-Niagara Region...considered a prized downtown parcel due to its location in Downtown Buffalo, its proximity to Buffalo’s waterfront, two major sports venues, and the Peace Bridge.” To suggest that the Pegulas needed the extra incentive of brownfields tax credits to proceed with their hockey-focused project—adjacent to the home of their Buffalo Sabres—is naïve, at best.

Second, there is scarcely anything in the official records to suggest that protection of the public health and the environment mandated special treatment and cleanup of the “Webster Block” site, given the proposed plans to construct a 19-story mixed-use facility with a hotel, two NHL-sized hockey rinks, and other commercial uses. Although the former parking lot had been used for warehousing and manufacturing prior to 1980, it was not a “Superfund” site or widely known or thought to be highly contaminated.

A February 2013 article in the Buffalo News reported that the Pegulas would be spending $8.7 million to clean up the HarborCenter site and “anticipate receiving $20 million in state brownfield tax credits.” That tidy profit is on top of the nearly $37 million incentive package the billionaire couple received from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency (ECIDA) in real property and sales tax relief.

WNY developers seem as opportunistic and undeserving as their downstate counterparts.


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