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Binghamton negotiating new tax deal for downtown Boscov's store

Boscov's is one of downtown Binghamton's most recognizable businesses.
Justin Kerr Scheckler
via Flickr
Boscov's is one of downtown Binghamton's most recognizable businesses.

When the Boscov's department store first came to downtown Binghamton, it made the national news.

Why? Because the way then-mayor Juanita Crabb went about wooing the store was so novel. She romanced Boscov's, sending flowers and balloons to the company's Pennsylvania headquarters, on a daily basis.

The firm finally relented in 1984, signing onto a set of tax breaks from the city, in exchange for locating in downtown Binghamton.

Now, Binghamton mayor Matt Ryan's office has confirmed that the city has begun negotiations for a new deal.

No word on whether or not he's put in a call to the florist.

A downtown anchor

When Boscov's first came in, it represented a $50 million investment and created 500 new jobs.

Ron Sall has worked at a menswear shop in downtown Binghamton since 1961. Now head of the Downtown Binghamton Business Association, he says he thought the original decision to cut a deal with Boscov's made sense.

"It's supposed to be a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes [deal] that benefits a business coming in, so they can get started, employ people, pay sales tax, pay rents, pay utilities, and allows them to do it through a gradual process so [the business's costs are] not all front-loaded," Sall explains.

It was worth it, Sall says, because Boscov's attracted people downtown, benefiting other retailers.

But now Sall says he feels differently. He doesn't want to see the city cut another new deal with Boscov's, because other businesses don't get a similar "free ride."

New context for negotiations

In 2011, Boscov's has paid the city $45,000 so far, and the firm also makes payments to the county and school district as part of its deal. But the agreement hasn't always been profitable - there was a stretch of several years where the city didn't get anything, because of slow sales for the store.

The city and store have renegotiated several extensions to the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, agreement for Boscov's since it expired in 2003. Another extension is set to run out later this year.

Merry Harris is head of economic development for Binghamton. She says she can't discuss any ongoing negotiations between the city and Boscov's, but she says the store is making money.

"They seem to want to be here, and we certainly want to talk to them about what makes sense for them in 2011 ... which may or may not be what made sense for them back in the '70s."

That's because Binghamton is in a very different position today than it was when Boscov's first arrived.

"We're really looking at it not like, 'We're desperate to get you and we've got to do anything.' Which I think, 30 years ago, that kind of was the sense: we really need some kind of anchor downtown," says Harris.

Now many of the downtown businesses that had once hoped for spillover effects from Boscov's are closed, due to competition from big box retailers. There are a number of housing projects planned for downtown, which promise to shakeup the landscape yet again.

Business Association head Ron Sall is optimistic.

"When you have another 800 people living down here, you have 800 people eating down here. You have 800 people spending money down here. You have every reason in the world for a business to make sure their property's maintained, and to stay on top of their game."

It's not clear whether or not Boscov's will be part of that game.  Much of the negotiations between Boscov's and the city will take place behind closed doors. But officials say there will be a public hearing before any papers are signed.

Read the full 1986 article in The Washington Post.

Former WRVO/Central New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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