COMIDA grants incentives to mall project


A planned expansion at Marketplace Mall won't just be retail space, it'll be a tourist destination. At least that's the argument that the mall's owner and Monroe County Industrial Development Agency are advancing.

The mall's owner, Wilmorite, plans to re-use the former Bon-Ton space for an as-yet-unannounced purpose. Wilmorite will also build a new anchor building on the former DSW site combined with an adjacent vacant area. Dennis Wilmot, Wilmorite's senior vice president of leasing and development, says the company has lined up a major new tenant — a retailer — which isn't operating anywhere else in upstate and will draw customers from outside of the Rochester region.

And that, says Wilmot and Judy Seil, COMIDA's executive director, is what makes the project a tourist destination. A state law passed earlier this year prohibits retail projects from receiving economic development subsidies, but there are exceptions to that rule. Tourism destination projects are one of those exceptions.

So that's the premise under which the project will receive tax incentives through COMIDA. During a meeting this afternoon, the agency's board approved a 20-year tax agreement for the project. The mall currently pays approximately $2.8 million in property taxes, which are divided among the town, county, and the Rush-Henrietta Central School District. Under the approved agreement, the mall's owner will pay $2.9 million the first year, with that amount going up by 1 percent each year over the life of the agreement.

Rush-Henrietta school district officials objected to the incentive agreement. But Wilmot says that the deal means that the district will actually receive larger payments than it's currently getting. 

IDA critics say that retail projects shouldn't receive incentives and tax breaks because they are market-driven businesses. The businesses compete for customers, they say, and subsidizing one business could give it an advantage over another. This afternoon, Wilmot insisted that the new businesses coming to Marketplace — whatever they are — will not "cannibalize" other businesses.

Wilmorite projects that the mall project will create the equivalent of 170 full-time positions over the next three years.