Colleges lining up startup sites
Tax-free initiative looks to partner schools, businesses
CAPITAL REGION The governor’s tax-free zone initiative known as Start-Up NY is still in its early stages, but SUNY institutions around the Capital Region and the Mohawk Valley have wasted no time in identifying sites they want to market to startups, expanding businesses and out-of-state companies.
The eligible space so far is diverse. There’s an old grocery store turned college building in Saratoga Springs, a ski lodge in Cobleskill, a whopping 242 acres once home to juvenile delinquents that Fulton County officials are now trying to turn into a technology park, and a handful of unused or underused buildings in downtown Schenectady, among others.
Under Start-Up NY, businesses can operate tax-free for a decade if they locate on or near a SUNY campus. This means no business, corporate, state, local, sales or property taxes, and no franchise fees. The idea certainly caught the attention of business owners in and out of the notoriously tax-burdened state, but it has left local officials careful about which sites they choose for the program.
“It is a bold idea, that is for sure,” said Ray Gillen, chairman of the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority. “We’re trying to be very strategic about the properties we select. Our thing is, let’s look at properties that are close to the campus that are not currently on the tax rolls, so that by offering that property to these businesses we’re not creating a deleterious effect on our tax jurisdictions.”
Four Schenectady sites have been listed on www.startup.ny.com, where interested businesses can search for eligible space around the state. They include the old YMCA at 13 State St., the former Northway Auto Club building near Schenectady County Community College, empty space in Center City, and a building at 201 State St. that was donated to the college and will undergo renovation.
The old YMCA is currently used for the organization’s housing program. That program is soon moving to a renovated facility on Broadway, though, at which time the State Street building will be handed over to Metroplex. Local officials are marketing the building as ideal for office, technology or lab space.
“We are going to take the title soon, and it’s right next to campus,” said Gillen. “And it’s already off the tax rolls.”
Metroplex already owns the former Northway Auto Club building, which sits adjacent to SCCC’s new student housing and fronts Liberty Park.
“It is a building right at the gateway to the city and currently not on the tax rolls,” said Gillen.
Another eligible site in Schenectady is the SCCC-owned Kindl building at 201 State St. The building has a new façade, roof and windows, and the Kindl family recently donated $150,000 to SCCC to use on interior renovations. Once complete, the building will house the college’s Workforce Development programs, but will also include enough leftover space for a business, Gillen said.
There is also 20,000 square feet of office space available on two floors inside Center City, which boasts a total of 200,000 square feet and houses NBT Bank, CVS, the YMCA, Metroplex offices, AAA Northway and Adecco Engineering.
“In the beginning, some people said Start-Up NY wasn’t going to work,” said SCCC Board of Trustees Chairwoman Denise Murphy McGraw. “For us, it was perfect. We had these properties that were near us that we wanted to put to use up and down State Street. We would love to put more properties like that to use. We’re looking at what’s going on on Erie Boulevard; it’s going to look great when it’s done. We would love to put more properties like that to good use.”
The tax-free initiative has also given SUNY Cobleskill a new way to market a ski lodge that has been on campus since the late 1960s, but fallen out of use over the years. The lodge, officially known as the Fred Bennett Recreational Center, offered a few small slopes for the college’s gym classes to use.
“It was very expensive to maintain the lodge equipment,” said Timothy Moore, interim dean of SUNY Cobleskill’s School of Agriculture. “It’s been unused for three years at this point, but before that, we had only sporadic uses for it. Our fisheries and wildlife groups would get up there and stock the ponds, and we would do some events up there.”
In 2011, the college wanted to put a 156-bed residence hall on the site, which is just off state Route 10.
“We talked about dorms at one time, but we’ve really backed away from having it as a dormitory,” said Moore. “Some of the infrastructure wouldn’t have worked. Now with these Start-Up NY incentives, we think the ski lodge area could be a great facility for a small business to locate. We’d like businesses with a connection to a particular program here — something with natural resources or environmental programs, renewable energies and so on.”
In order to be eligible to locate in a tax-free zone, the business must have plans to partner with the higher education institution on educational and other opportunities. So at the University of Albany, four eligible spaces listed online are heavily marketed to businesses looking for research or manufacturing space.
In Fulton County, it’s unclear what that private-public partnership might look like. But 242 acres at the proposed Tryon Technology Park and Incubator Center is listed on the state’s Start-Up NY website as eligible for interested businesses. The land includes the former Tryon Residential Center, a juvenile detention facility off County Highway 107 in Johnstown that was shut down in 2011. It includes dorms, gymnasiums, a swimming pool and more.
The Fulton County Industrial Development Agency owns the land, but director Jim Mraz was out of the office Friday and unavailable to comment.
In neighboring Saratoga County, Empire State College has listed the former Grand Union at 111 West Ave. as an eligible tax-free site. The building is no longer a grocery store and today houses the college’s School for Graduate Studies, international programs, a bookstore, print shop and offices.
About 15,000 square feet of it will be available for an eligible business in 18 to 36 months, according to the online listing.
“SUNY Empire State College is a full, enthusiastic participant in Start-Up NY and looks forward to working with the governor, the state Legislature and SUNY in this exciting initiative,” said college spokesman David Henahan in an email.