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The Empire Zone strikes back


The Medley Centre project in Irondequoit isn't held in high esteem by the public. Neither were the state's Empire Zones — businesses in these designated areas were entitled to tax incentives. Even state officials agreed the zones were so flawed the whole system had to be junked.

But combined, Medley and the zone program make for one glorious display of New York's often ironic economic development system.

Medley Centre was designated an Empire Zone in 2004 when it was purchased by Bersin Properties LLC. It remained an Empire Zone when developer Scott Congel bought the mall and its parent company — Bersin — a few years later.

From 2004 to 2011, Bersin Properties LLC received $3.3 million in property tax credits, which it used to reduce its state tax bill. The company received credits of $493,427 for 2011, $322,813 for 2010, and $616,966 for 2009, according to state records.

Bersin Properties will keep getting the credit through 2017, though the amounts will get progressively smaller after 2013, says Laura Magee, a regional spokesperson for Empire State Development, the state's economic development arm. The credits are determined by a formula written into state tax law.

The credits have been large enough to offset Bersin Properties' obligations under a local payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement.

Basically, Medley's developer, Congel, is making regular, annual payments under the PILOT agreement and then, in a way, getting reimbursed via state tax credits.

In an e-mail, Magee wrote that the state let the Empire Zone expire in 2010 "because there were inefficiencies, a lack of accountability, and it did not yield as much private investment and job creation as it should have."