White Plains takes another swing at establishing an IDA

By Ryan Deffenbaugh

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The city of White Plains might be hoping that persistence pays off. The city’s Common Council passed a resolution in February asking the state Legislature to allow the city to establish its own industrial development agency, the latest move in an effort that stretches back more than a decade.

The council has passed similar legislation, called a home rule request, to start up a White Plains Industrial Development Agency in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Establishing an IDA has been a goal of Mayor Thomas Roach since he took office in 2011, but he is not the first mayor to pursue it.

Roach said he took up the effort from Joseph Delfino, a Republican who served as the city’s mayor for 12 years before choosing not to seek re-election in 2009. Throughout his time as mayor, Delfino also pursued a city IDA, which can offer tax breaks to businesses to help drive job growth.

But the bid for a White Plains IDA has repeatedly faltered in Albany. Bills in the state Assembly and Senate have continually failed to gain traction.

“The Legislature has been reticent to create any new IDAs,” said Senator George Latimer, a Democrat representing the 37th Senate district and sponsor of the legislation in the state Senate to establish the city IDA. “There is a general discussion that there needs to be some broad-based reform of IDAs before we expand them. But there hasn’t been an agreement on what that reform would look like.”

Brian T. McMahon, executive director of the New York State Economic Development Council, a 900-member advocacy and educational organization representing the state’s economic development professionals, said the Legislature hasn’t approved a new IDA in decades.

“Every county in the state has an IDA, and I think the feeling of the Legislature has been that that is adequate for local economic development purposes,” McMahon said. “That enters into their thinking on why not only in White Plains but for other cities and towns in the state that have similar legislation.”

But, he added, there are perfectly legitimate reasons for municipalities to want local control of an IDA.

“We feel very strongly that economic development in White Plains, I’m sure, is very different from economic development in other areas of the county,” McMahon said. “The people closest to the community are in a better position of being able to make decisions about their economic development futures.”

White Plains is the only one of the county’s four largest cities — which also includes Yonkers, New Rochelle and Mount Vernon — to not have its own industrial development board. Peekskill also has its own IDA. Municipalities such as the town of Mount Pleasant and the village of Port Chester also have their own IDA boards. In 2014, there were 109 active IDAs in the state, according to the most recent IDA report from state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

DiNapoli has been a critic of some IDA operations. The state in 2015 passed IDA reforms that created a uniform application process for projects seeking IDA support, a bill developed with DiNapoli. In recent years, several audits from the comptroller’s office found IDAs that were not transparent in how projects were selected for benefits or did not adjust or “claw back” benefits granted companies when job creation or job retention goals were not met.

“The end result is that projects may be granted benefits without sufficient review, or they may continue to receive benefits even when they do not meet required performance targets,” DiNapoli wrote in his annual report on IDA performance for 2014, which was released last year.

Bills in the Assembly and Senate to establish the White Plains IDA never made it to a vote in 2016. Latimer and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, a Democrat representing the 88th Assembly district and sponsor of the White Plains IDA bill in the Assembly, both refiled the legislation this year.

Paulin said that, in the middle of the budget process, it’s hard to say whether this year’s bill has any more of a chance to be considered. “Every year is a new year and every year I urge and push, but it’s very difficult to say,” she said.

Capitalizing in part on its quick train ride into Manhattan for commuters, White Plains is attracting significant commercial and residential development. Among those projects, the city last year approved a $275 million mixed-use redevelopment of the Westchester Pavilion downtown. A $٢٥٠ million luxury apartment development is under construction at 55 Bank St. and another project under review would create a mixed-use makeover of the deteriorated White Plains Mall.

Development may be flocking to the city, but Roach said without an IDA the city has “one hand tied behind our back.”

Developers looking for tax breaks on projects in White Plains — financial incentives in the form of mortgage recording and sales tax exemptions and property tax abatement agreements — now go to the Westchester County Industrial Development Agency. The city has had no problems working with the county IDA, Roach emphasized, but he believes White Plains can be more responsive to its needs through a local agency.

“We can be much more agile in dealing with projects with our own IDA,” he said.

Recent projects the county IDA reviewed in White Plains include the Westchester Pavilion redevelopment. The Westchester IDA awarded its developer, Lennar Multifamily Communities LLC, $14 million in sales and mortgage recording tax exemptions. The county IDA also supported Danone North America’s move to downtown White Plains. The company received $1.273 million in sales tax exemptions for its move from Greenburgh to The Source at White Plains building at 100 Bloomingdale Road.

Both bills to establish the IDA are awaiting review in Senate and Assembly committees. Roach said he hopes the city’s recent record is considered in approving the city for an IDA.

“I believe a case can be made for it,” he said. “If you look at the way we are handling things in White Plains, we have shown we can handle things competently.”

Latimer, who picked up sponsorship of the bill from former long-time state Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer when he took office in 2013, added that he views a local IDA as a matter of fairness for the city.

“White Plains should be able to govern its own development future,” Latimer said. “And to do that it should have its own IDA.”

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About the author

Ryan Deffenbaugh covers energy, education, food and beverage and the Sound Shore for the Westchester County Business Journal. He previously worked for Westchester Magazine and The Citizen daily newspaper (Auburn, N.Y.). He started with the Westchester County Business Journal in March 2016.

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