By: Kyle Robertson
Local residents, lawmakers and activists packed the second floor legislative chamber of the Tompkins County Courthouse in preparation for a vote with big implications for the City of Ithaca.
The act in question would grant tax abatement to the proposed Ithaca Marriott, located on the southeast corner of the Ithaca Commons. Initially, the company in charge of development, Urgo Hotels, would pay a small fraction of taxes on the property. The amount would increase annually until they pay full taxes in 10 years.
Construction on the 159-room hotel could have begun in the next few months, but some county lawmakers believe the tax cut offer was necessary to convince Marriott to build in Ithaca — as opposed to other places.
Most residents also spoke in favor of the project, on the grounds that it lures more people from out of town to stay in Ithaca. This would provide more income for the tourist trade and give local businesses a boost.
One resident was Vicki Taylor, associate director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance.
“Here’s a business that has taken a difficult parcel of land is generating credible benefits to the community,” she said. “Sure, this business will make profits, and lenders require that they do, but we will see these benefits in our local economy. I would hate to see this opportunity for our community lost because 156 percent of minimum wage is not good enough. I would hate to see more people shopping on Route 13 and in Lansing at the mall because we couldn’t make this happen and the hotel gets built there.”
Commons businessman Peter Parks also commented on the benefits of accepting the Marriott.
“It brings in additional revenues that something else might not be able to do, Parks said. “It provides stability and strength for the Commons project redesign.”
Not everyone in the audience was satisfied with the hotel plan. While Urgo developers promised to pay housekeeping staff at the Marriott 156 percent of minimum wage and expressed a desire to promote workplace diversity, residents like Brian Eden pointed out that tax exemptions can be a slippery slope.
“Local businesses that haven’t received abatements haven’t asked for them and have contributed to the community,” he said. “What kind of message are we sending when we’re going to write a check for like, $4.6 million? It’s the wrong message to send.”
Others, such as one man representing the Ithaca Plumbers and Steamfitters Union, expressed concerns over whether local workers would be able to reap the benefits of construction.
“A job of this caliber needs to be built by local labor, and I’ve found people who are skilled enough to do that,” he said. “The front page of the Ithaca Times said, ‘Construction,’ and a lot of that construction is being built by out of town contractors and out of town employees, and it would be nice to see local people employed here in Ithaca.”
In the end, county lawmakers voted in favor of the tax abatement plan. The project, worth nearly $32 million, is set to begin within three months.