Atlantis seeks another tax break for ‘aging building’

Atlantis Holdings, which owns Long Island Aquarium and the adjacent Hyatt Place East End, is seeking a new tax break from the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency.

This time, Atlantis is requesting sales tax exemptions on a two-part project that involves general repairs to the aquarium and renovations at the hotel, as well as buying a combined heat and power unit, which serves as both a heater and an absorption chiller, depending on the season.

Sales tax is only collected by the state and county and does not impart Riverhead Town or School District property taxes.

The repairs include renovation of the Hyatt’s rooms, lobby and Sea Star Ballroom facility. 

The aquarium is just coming off having received IDA abatements two years ago. 

In January 2016, the IDA voted to grant the aquarium and hotel an additional 10-year abatement and authorized new abatements for restoration and construction of The Preston House & Hotel, which were built by Atlantis and aquarium co-founder Joe Petrocelli. 

The aquarium had also received a 10-year partial property tax abatement prior to the one in 2016. 

Those abatements covered partial property tax, as well as sales tax used for construction materials and mortgage recording tax. The new application requests abatements only on sales tax for construction materials. Atlantis still pays taxes to special districts, such as sewer, water and garbage.

“The rising operational costs of utilities, health care, insurance, wage increases, and deteriorating buildings, are all impacting the business,” said Bryan DeLuca, executive director of Atlantis.

“We are the largest tourism and economic contributor to downtown Riverhead,” he told the IDA Monday. “We provide a world-class aquarium and education facility. We provide a home for the not-for-profit rescue center. We provide overnight accommodations for travelers and tourism and we provide eateries that people come to by boat to visit. I would say we are the economic generator the town expected us to be.”

The aquarium researched various types of absorption chillers, such as fuel-cell and solar power, and concluded that the CHP unit, which runs on natural gas, was the most efficient. The aquarium’s chillers, which are needed to cool the water to a certain temperature for the animals there, have been running on electric power. 

Mr. DeLuca said a difference of five degrees could lead to an animal’s death. 

The electric CHP is very expensive, he said. 

The new unit is anticipated to save $180,000 to $200,000, and the savings on the sales tax is anticipated at about $250,000, according to Mr. DeLuca.

The aquarium’s utility bill for this year has been about $600,000, he said. 

The first part of the request also called for general building and roof repairs as well as energy-efficient pumps. 

“We have an aging building in a harsh, salt-air environment,” Mr. DeLuca said. “It’s like a battleship. It keeps rusting.”

“We’re all about salt,” Mr. Petrocelli added. “Salt is everywhere.”

The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research & Preservation, the aquarium’s animal rescue center that responds statewide, is expensive to run and has to go off-site for a veterinarian, Mr. DeLuca said.

“Some of the animals are getting older and larger and harder to transfer,” he said. “One of the sea lions is 380 pounds.”

IDA members agreed to schedule a public hearing on Atlantis’ request for Jan. 7. 

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