April 19, 2011

BJ’s Wholesale Club Construction Begins Near Ithaca Mall

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Construction on a BJ’s Wholesale Club has commenced on a plot of land near the Shops at Ithaca Mall in the Village of Lansing, according to Martha Robertson, chair of both the Tompkins County Legislature and the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency.

Robertson said that the development was only able to proceed after four separate tax jurisdictions accepted a proposal to direct taxes paid by BJ’s to finance a senior housing project, which will be built adjacent to the store as another part of the project.

The final tax jurisdiction to agree, the Ithaca City School District, passed the proposal on March 31, according to the board’s minutes.

The construction will also expand and enhance an area of reclaimed wetlands, according to Eric Goetzmann, owner of Arrowhead Ventures, the developer for the project.

Goetzmann said the plans for the wetland were under supervision of the Army Corp of Engineers.

The proposal approved by the various municipal authorities is part of a funding plan called payment in lieu of taxes increment financing — PIF — which Robertson said normally entails a new business incrementally paying taxes on the added value of the property.

However, as opposed to most PIF payments, a portion of BJ’s taxes will go toward financing the senior housing, Robertson said. She added that this unique PIF did not amount to financial assistance or reduced taxes for BJ’s.

Robertson said she had originally opposed BJ’s PIF arrangement, but later agreed to it after the Village of Lansing said it would not accept any alternatives, she said. She added that changes to the cost of the housing development also contributed to her decision to support the agreement.

“I had tried to negotiate with the Village of Lansing a different arrangement so that the PIF would not have been necessary,” Robertson said. “We’re in this position because of the determination by the Village of Lansing that they required the senior housing be built at the same time.”

Robertson said she thought a BJ’s could thrive in Tompkins County because of Ithaca’s relatively low unemployment, which means more people are able to contribute to economic growth. Additionally, Robertson said that Goetzmann, who is also the owner of the Triax Management Group, which manages the Shops at Ithaca Mall, had a plan for economic growth.

“He has always had a business model that says if this BJ’s goes in, it will actually attract people from out of our area who will also end up shopping at the shops at Ithaca mall,” she said. “He had an interest it getting this to happen right next to that mall.”

According to a Tompkins County press release, two members of the six-person IDA voted against the PIF, and a third, Will Burbank, abstained from voting. Burbank said he thought the BJ’s would “disadvantage” other businesses.

Goetzmann said that the BJ’s is scheduled to open in mid-December, with construction on the senior house beginning some time during the summer.

Theresa Wynn ’13 said she was not planning on joining BJ’s when it opened.

“I don’t need to buy things in bulk and most of the things . . . I can get at a regular store like Wegmans or Tops or Wilsons,” Wynn said. “It makes sense for the community but not necessarily for college students.”

Original Author: Byron Kittle