The biggest and possibly only physical change happening at Irondequoit's beleaguered Medley Centre mall seems to be the grass growing through the cracks in the parking lot.
That shouldn't be the case. By now, Medley developer Scott Congel is supposed to have invested $165 million toward his vision of turning the dead mall into a thriving mix of commercial, hotel, entertainment, and residential components.
The milestone was written into a tax-incentive agreement between Congel, the Town of Irondequoit, the East Irondequoit school district, and the Monroe County Industrial Development Agency. The developer was supposed to submit proof of that investment by the end of April, but he failed to comply. Officials from each entity have written Congel asking for the information, but "we've had no communication at all," says John Abbott, deputy superintendent of the East Irondequoit school district. (Congel did not immediately return a call seeking comment.)
If Congel doesn't submit the paperwork, or if the paperwork shows he's invested less than $165 million, he'll face a penalty payment. The East Irondequoit school board slapped Congel with a $550,000 penalty last year after district officials determined he fell short of the $90 million milestone spelled out in a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement. Congel hasn't paid and disagrees that he owes the money, Abbott says.
COMIDA officials didn't pursue any penalty payment last year. They agreed with Congel's assertion that he'd invested $93 million in the Medley Centre project.
COMIDA officials didn't answer a question about whether or not they believe Congel is making progress on Medley Centre. A county spokesperson said COMIDA officials are waiting for a response to their letter. The COMIDA letter also tells Congel that he owes the county agency more than $2 million in fees related to the PILOT agreement — a separate commitment from the investment milestones.
To be clear, Congel has consistently made required annual payments to the town, school district, and COMIDA — so he's been following through on one major part of the agreement.
"Even though it looks like we're in a holding pattern, it's better than nothing right now," says Irondequoit Supervisor Mary Joyce D'Aurizio.
But the fact that Congel's missing agreed-to investment milestones is not encouraging, especially since future milestones are increasingly demanding. Next year, the first set of job creation requirements kick in: the project is supposed to generate 150 jobs by then, 50 of which are to be full time.
Also by next year, Congel is supposed to have invested all of the $260 million he committed to under the PILOT agreement. If he misses that mark, D'Aurizio says, it'll be a troubling sign.
Officials say the Medley site has been stagnant partly because Congel has had difficulty getting financing for the project. At one point, he did have the money lined up, they say, but the lender backed out. Officials say Congel hasn't been able to find new financing, though he's working on it.
Town, school district, and county officials are in a tough position. They can't let Congel flout a legal agreement, so it's important to follow through on agreed-upon penalties, Abbott says. If they don't, they'll signal to Congel and other developers that they can do whatever they want without consequences, he says.
But if Congel doesn't pay the fees and penalties, that could be grounds for terminating the PILOT agreement. And some officials don't see that as a particularly attractive or wise option. They say if they go that route, the town, district, and county could lose more than they gain.
"If he walks away and that place goes dark, we'll receive no taxes," D'Aurizio says.