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Consensus forms in favor of tax breaks for development of Victory Packing Mill

Monday, December 9, 2013
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Victory Mill
Victory Mill

— There’s a consensus forming to approve several tax breaks to support conversion of the aging Victory Packing mill into apartments, but the Saratoga County Industrial Development Agency won’t vote until January.

“We’re basically the last hope for that building,” IDA Chairman Ray Callanan said following a public hearing Monday on the project.

The IDA is being asked by developer Uri Kaufman to grant more than $1 million in tax relief to assist his $26 million plan to convert the vacant and deteriorating mill along Fish Creek — parts of which date to 1846 — into high-end apartments and a day care center.

Unlike a proposal the IDA rejected two years ago, under which Kaufman sought larger tax breaks, this time his plan has the support of local officials.

“I think our board is unanimously in favor of the project,” said Victory Mayor Pat Dewey. “It’s been a perplexing problem for the village. It’s kind of a white elephant.”

Kaufman, whose previous mill reuse projects include the Harmony Corners apartments in Cohoes, wants to convert the 250,000-square-foot Victory building into 98 apartments — eventually to become condominiums. There would also be a 100-child day care facility with as many as 46 employees.

“We are supportive 100 percent of the proposal presented to the IDA,” said Saratoga town Supervisor Tom Wood.

Under the proposal now before the IDA, the developer would be given a 10-year tax deal. It proposes that Kaufman pay no additional taxes in the first two years. In the next five years, he would pay a flat $147,500 in property taxes annually. The final three years would be based on the future property’s assessment, with payments expected to be higher.

In addition, the IDA is considering a mortgage tax exemption worth an estimated $250,000 and a sales tax exemption on building materials worth about $920,000.

The main remaining question about the project is whether it is appropriate for the IDA — which is supposed to support industrial development — to aid conversion of an old mill into residences.

“I think it would be a great thing to turn over the mill. I just don’t know if it fits into economic development,” said IDA member Michael Mooney.

Agency Vice Chairman Richard Dunn said the likely alternative is seeing the mill abandoned and eventually demolished at public expense. “I don’t see this as precedent-setting except for when we have other industrial buildings in the same category,” he said.

However, granting tax breaks for a mill’s conversion to residential use is a deviation from standard policy. Because such deviations require a 30-day public comment period, IDA bond counsel James Carminucci recommended a vote be postponed until the agency’s Jan. 13 meeting.

Agency members said they hadn’t been aware they would need to delay action. “It will pass,” Callanan predicted.

The mill is the dominant feature in the tiny village of Victory, which has only about 500 residents.

Kaufman paid Saratoga County $50,000 for the abandoned mill in 2008 after the county acquired it for a second time because of unpaid taxes. No business has operated there since 2000.

“It is a shell of a building now … and to convert it into residential units and a day care is an extremely high cost, mainly due to the condition of the building,” said Kevin McAuliffe of Syracuse, Kaufman’s lawyer.

Kaufman, of Nassau County, has been hailed for his transformation a decade ago of the Harmony Mills complex in Cohoes, but he has also run into problems elsewhere with his mill rehab projects.

In Amsterdam, he presented an ambitious plan to turn the eyesore Chalmers Knitting Mill complex into luxury apartments but was unable to make progress on it. The city got into a legal battle with him and the plan died. The city tore the buildings down in 2011 and is hoping to attract new development to the site.

 
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