02/10/15 1:00pm
02/10/2015 1:00 PM
Blackman Plumbing on West Main Street is looking to expand. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Blackman Plumbing on West Main Street is looking to expand. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

After plans to expand its Riverhead location in 2010 stalled, Blackman Plumbing on West Main Street is once again looking to build a new 40,000-square-foot building.

On Monday, two Blackman representatives appeared before the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency to describe the project and schedule a public hearing sometime in the next two months.  (more…)

12/20/13 6:59am

IDAscreenThe work of the Industrial Development Agency came under intense scrutiny during last year’s elections. The IDA, its executive director and board members were criticized in these pages and elsewhere for giving out scores of property tax abatements to big box stores and international corporations that didn’t need such help — and the breaks were putting an undue burden on the rest of us. Or so the narrative went.

We now find the narrative not to be entirely true. At this time, there are no big box stores in Riverhead Town that receive tax abatements, we report this week. And although names like Hilton and Marriott adorn two projects that received some form of IDA benefits, the hotels themselves are owned by a local businessman who makes a strong case for the economic benefits they bring to town in the form of visitors’ spending time here, and therefore money. When it was built, Tanger Outlets received IDA assistance on sales tax only, and not property tax breaks, and it’s now the town’s highest taxpayer — contributing more than $4 million a year.

To sum up staff writer Tim Gannon’s reporting, the total amount of taxes that will be “lost” in 2014 comes in at $1.68 million.


That seems like a small price to pay for bringing economic development and jobs to the Enterprise Park at Calverton, helping establish recreational opportunities in the form of a bowling alley on Route 25 and rebuilding a downtown with a hotel and aquarium, a renovated theater and dozens of new stores and apartments. Consider also that, according to IDA executive director Tracy Stark-James, the total assessed value of the 18 properties currently receiving property tax breaks in town was about $2.4 million before the IDA incentives were granted.

Those assessed values now total $18.3 million. One day those taxes will be paid in full.

These are long-term investments, not designed to be the easiest of pills for taxpayers to swallow now.

And it seems the IDA board is picking worthy projects to support.

There is room for improvements, especially when it comes to transparency on the IDA’s website, riverheadida.org, which offers no detailed information as to who is getting property breaks in town, for how much and when those breaks are scheduled to fall off. This is information that should be at everyone’s fingertips. The IDA should take care to update these numbers annually; that doesn’t sound as if it should be so hard. As of now, the site’s “projects” page features only a Google map of Riverhead.

The last IDA budget uploaded to the website is from 2012 and the “corrective measures” from a 2012 financial audit are nowhere to be found.

Overall, the IDA appears to be fulfilling its mission of attracting businesses and helping existing businesses expand. But these board members are deciding where taxpayer money is being directed and the decisions they’re making need to be clear and accessible to the public.

Here’s a simple New Year’s resolution for them: Update the site.

11/05/13 7:48am
11/05/2013 7:48 AM

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | (L-R) IDA executive director Tracy Stark-James takes notes as Skydive Long Island owner Ray Maynard and Barbara Schiano speak to the IDA board Monday night.

Plans to build a two-story tall indoor skydiving tunnel are a little bit closer to taking flight.

The proposal — a new building to house the unique attraction at Skydive Long Island in the Enterprise Park at Calverton — will be subject to a public hearing over requested tax incentives in December, after members of Riverhead’s Industrial Development Agency expressed support for the proposal, with one member of the board calling the plan a “home run.”

COURTESY PHOTO | People skydiving in a vertical wind tunnel.

COURTESY PHOTO | People skydiving in a wind tunnel.

“That’s a really great project,” said IDA executive director Tracy Stark-James at the board’s meeting Monday night in Riverhead Town Hall. “It’s truly a regional draw.”

Skydive Long Island owner Ray Maynard and Barbara Schiano, his wife, told the board their planned attraction would not only allow skydivers to practice jumps in a safe environment, but would also draw tens of thousands more into town during the typical skydiving off-season to experience the indoor wind tunnel — without having to get in a plane.

“There are many people who just go to these indoor wind tunnels to experience freefall who never go skydiving,” Ms. Schiano said.

Skydive Long Island would build a four-story tall building to house the 18-feet high, 14.5-foot wide vertical wind tunnel, which would use giant fans to lift customers into the air.

“It’s going to bring a lot more people to the town,” Mr. Maynard said, adding that the nearest indoor skydiving attractions were in New Hampshire and North Carolina.

Mr. Maynard also said that, while tunnels are used by professional skydivers to train, the general public could buy time inside the tunnel with an instructor in 2-minute blocks. Up to six experienced skydivers could use the tunnel for practicing formation diving.

The project — estimated to cost between $4.5 million to $5 million — would also feature glass running windows along the side of the tunnel, allowing onlookers to see in. It would take up to a year to build the structure, Ms. Schiano said.

Skydive Long Island — which has been in operation out of Calverton since 2000 — is asking for three types of tax incentives: a sales tax exemption, a mortgage tax exemption and a deal on its real property taxes, Ms. Stark-James said.

The sales tax exemption would apply to all construction material purchases, from building supplies to lighting fixtures for the new building.

Skydive Long Island has already secured partial funding for the project through the U.S. Small Business Administraiton, which doesn’t require mortgage tax to be paid. The local mortgage recording tax exemption would apply to the remainder not covered under the SBA and would eliminate the usual 1.05 percent tax.

The final incentive is to reduce the real property tax assessment, Ms. Stark-James said. The IDA’s standard property tax abatement reduces the assessed value of the new additions to the property by 50 percent; the assessed value of the property excluding the new additions is unaffected, meaning taxes on the existing property wouldn’t change. The property would gain an additional 5 percent on its assessed value each year until it hit the full 100 percent of its value, Ms. Stark-James said.

For example, if a property were worth $50,000 and another $10,000 in assessed value were added, the property’s abated assessed value would be $55,000 in the first year of the abatement, increasing by 5 percent each year until it reached the full $60,000.

While the 50 percent initial abatement is the typical IDA offer, Ms. Stark-James said Skydive Long Island was planning to request more of an abatement from the IDA. While board members didn’t reveal whether they would support the incentives, all expressed admiration for Mr. Maynard, a longtime local business owner.

The proposed incentives will be open for public comment at the IDA’s next meeting in early December. In the meantime, Ms. Schiano said the company is working on getting the necessary zoning permits to build the new attraction.

“This is going to be another iconic attraction [for Riverhead],” she said. “There’s nothing like it in the area.”

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09/07/13 8:00am
09/07/2013 8:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The Riverhead Free Library was one example touted by Thomas F. Cruso of the good the Riverhead IDA has done.

On behalf of the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency board of directors, this piece is written to correct statements recently published in the op/ed section of the News-Review. The agency believes it is important to disseminate accurate information about its operations.

• The agency has not induced any big box stores to open on Route 58.

• The agency, by law, is selective on what businesses it can and will induce.

• The executive director is not paid based on what tax abatements are granted.

• The agency is not supported by governmental subsidies.

If you are a patron of Riverhead Free Library or have been a patient at the newly remodeled and improved Peconic Bay Medical Center you have first-hand experience how a Riverhead IDA project can benefit our town. Yes, the expansion of the library and renovation and enlargement of Peconic Bay Medical Center were made possible through financing granted by the Riverhead IDA.

The more recent projects on Route 58 that are receiving real property tax abatements include a cancer care center, bringing innovative and state-of-the-art radiation therapy not currently available; the bowling and recreation center on Route 25, which was a blighted parcel for several years; and the first hotel to be built on Route 58.

These projects, respectively, received five-, seven- and 10-year abatements. Two older projects, an emergency veterinary clinic and a retinal care center, are fully on the tax rolls at the end of next year. Tanger Outlets has never received a real property tax abatement. Tanger received only a sales tax exemption for building materials and is now the highest taxpayer in Riverhead Town.

In keeping with the vision of the current administration, downtown has been the focus of the agency’s attention. Without agency assistance, the town would not have the Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center, Summerwind Square, the Dark Horse restaurant and apartments, the renovated Suffolk Theater, Ralph’s Italian Ices, Blue Duck Bakery and Papa John’s, as well as the soon-to-be-revitalized former Woolworth Building.

A world-class hotel, the Hyatt, and an exhibition center were a new project connected to the former Atlantis Marine World Aquarium, now known as the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center. Surely, no Riverhead resident can question that the aquarium has been the catalyst for downtown’s revitalization, as well as the source for public infrastructure improvements to downtown that typically result from all IDA projects.

The “100 percent abatement” terminology leads the public to believe that businesses are not paying taxes to the town. On the contrary — and unlike with the Suffolk County IDA — standard Riverhead IDA projects continue to pay their current tax bill on the property, plus half of the increase in the taxes beginning the year after the company makes improvements to the property, which increases assessed value. The agency’s standard policy gradually increases taxes over a negotiated period of time. (The standard is 10 years.) Additionally, by law, businesses pay all the other ad valorem taxes on their tax bills, as set by Riverhead Town. There are instances, particularly in downtown, where the agency has used its authority to grant greater benefits to a project in an effort to ensure a project’s viability.

It doesn’t take statistics to prove that the inducements are working. Nevertheless, the public can be confident that the agency is held to strict reporting requirements by New York State.

Additionally, the agency provides other services to the community. The agency initiated and hosts the East End Employment Expo, Workforce Development Symposium and other free events and seminars open to the public. In October, the agency will tackle the highly charged subject of health care by coordinating a health care symposium with Peconic Bay Medical Center and the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce.

Riverhead residents should know that many factors go into the decision to induce a project and negotiate a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement. The current administration appointed a new board that, over the last two years, has worked diligently to negotiate shorter benefit periods while still remaining competitive. The board members each reside, work and pay taxes within the Town of Riverhead. All board members are volunteers who do not receive a stipend for their efforts. There is no personal gain for the board to grant tax abatements.

We trust this information has provided the public with some facts and clarified the inaccuracies currently being written about the agency. We work hard to uphold the integrity and character of the agency for Riverhead and do not wish the public to be misled.

If you have questions regarding Riverhead IDA projects, please contact us.

Mr. Cruso is the chairman of the board of directors for the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency. He is writing on behalf of the entire board.