Steve Turk took the next step in pitching a resort for the former Plesser property in Ohioville on Monday, June 4 at a county Industrial Development Agency (IDA) hearing held at New Paltz High School. He explained why Wildberry Lodge & Spa can’t get off the ground without a tax-break package. Specifically, Turk is seeking to pay no sales tax during construction (estimated at about $1,225,000), a waiver of the mortgage recording tax of $225,000 and a net reduction in property tax of $9,743,071 over 15 years. The schedule for the payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) would require paying only the tax on the undeveloped land for the first five years of operation, 25% of the additional tax for the next three years, 50% for two years and a gradual increase over the last five of the agreement until the tax on the full assessment is paid in the 16th year.
IDA chairman John Morrow noted that much of what is being sought could be obtained via state real property tax law § 485-b, which lays out business investment exemptions, but Turk said later that he was seeking relief through the IDA — which carries with it restrictions and requirements not found in state law — because he wants to show that he’s intending on investing in the community, as a local business owner.
The promise of jobs created is explicitly expected in these applications, and the Turks — Steve and his wife Shelley are equal partners in the project — expect to employ 145 people at the resort. Per the application, that includes ten managerial or professional positions paying in the range of $44,000 to $80,000 annually, 25 classified as “skilled” who will earn $36,000 to $40,000, 72 semi-skilled workers who will be paid anywhere from $25,000 to $30,000, and another 52 unskilled employees whose gross pay will range from $15,080 to $24,000. Steve Turk spoke about the number of high school and college students that get their start at Rocking Horse Ranch, a Turk property in the Town of Lloyd, and several speakers during the hearing spoke effusively about the opportunities this project would provide for younger workers.
During the building phase, 182 construction workers will be kept busy, keeping them off unemployment for the two to three years the project takes to get completed.
Three-quarters of these jobs should be on the books during the first year of operation, with the remainder being hired during year two. IDA clawback provisions ensure that any tax breaks awarded are backed up by such promises bearing fruit; otherwise, the money must be paid back.
In its present iteration, Wildberry Lodge & Spa would have 140 hotel rooms, a fitness center, spa, restaurants, conference rooms, catering, a demonstration kitchen and outside amenities including a butterfly conservatory and open-air theater. Much of the 57.3-acre property would be left as open space, with the 138,000 square feet of building space being concentrated closer to the roads. To facilitate traffic, a roundabout would be installed at Paradies Lane, where county officials have been eyeing eliminating the left turn onto Route 299 for some time. While it’s not laid out specifically in the application, part of the project would involve upgrades to town sewer district #6, which has long been an expensive headache for Ohioville residents.
A number of people spoke in favor of the project, which is a departure both from PILOT discussions and deliberations about this particular parcel of land. They included Chamber of Commerce officials, the project architect, people with ties to the Turks and their businesses and New Paltz Town Supervisor Neil Bettez. Others raised questions, including more existential ones about why tax breaks should ever be awarded, but also queries specific to this project: what might these jobs pay, will there be sufficient mass transit for employees and how might new federal tax rules impact deals like these.
The hearing was closed, but written comments will be accepted until 5 p.m. on June 8, with IDA members deliberating on the application at their June 13 meeting. That will be back at their regular time and place, 8 a.m. in the county office building in Kingston.