Just when we thought things might be shifting into high gear at the Vista Technology Campus, it seems more likely the brakes are going to come on.
You’ll read this week that a deal with the park’s presumed first technology tenant is hardly a sure thing – depending on whom you’re talking to – and that the developer at the park has some choice words for the town agency he’s been working with for several years.
It all comes down to disclosure. Columbia Development President Joe Nicolla tells us because he has to get into details about potential tenants with the Bethlehem Industrial Development Agency to get tax breaks approved, competitors swoop in on his deals before they can gain traction.
Covering the development of Vista, or any project like it, is not an easy task. Developers understandably hold their cards close to their chests in the hope of keeping their best-laid plans confidential until the ink is dry on a contract.
It’s easy to see why Nicolla is upset about having the lid blown off his deals. As we’ve pointed out in the past, there are many places like Vista competing for the same companies. But with all due respect to Nicolla, that’s something he should have thought of before he lobbied fiercely for the involvement of public money and tax breaks at Vista.
No one is forcing Columbia to apply for these rather lucrative property tax abatements. If Columbia is so concerned about how they harm confidentiality, then the alternative is to lobby tenants “straight up” and only deal with the Planning Board.
As much as we sympathize with how difficult it must be to conduct a negotiation when its details are appearing in the pages of the newspaper, and as much as it’s said the town is tough for developers to work with, the public that’s picking up the slack from these tax breaks has a certain right to know what’s going on.
Which brings us to another point, mainly that no one appears to be on the same page here.
Reporter Marcy Velte attended a meeting of the Bethlehem IDA on Friday, July 26, and heard a non-update from that body. Hours later, Columbia Development told us the deal with Breonics has all but sunk into the sea. When we contact Breonics, they were of the opposite impression.
Now we have the IDA calling for updates from a developer that seems unwilling to ever step before it, Columbia wanting double-secret status for its taxpayer-backed projects and Breonics standing in the corner with half a kidney and nowhere to put it. Toss in a bear on a unicycle, and this circus will be ready to hit the road and tour.
Solutions? We’ve nothing that resembles a silver bullet. It would appear there is something of a stalemate. All we know is the word “Breonics” first appeared in this paper in March, and it might just be that ink will end up being the company’s only physical form in the Bethlehem community.
We sure hope not. It is our distinct hope that Columbia will find a way to work with the IDA, and vice versa, or acquiesce that tax breaks are hard to get for good reason. Nicolla has been behind some very successful projects here in the Capital District. We hope he will be able to continue that track record and bring his expertise to bear here in Bethlehem.