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Sun sets on
the Empire Zone

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — June 25, 2010 — “This is most likely our swan song,” said County Manager David Fanslau as he began last week’s meeting of the Sullivan County Empire Zone Administrative Board (ZAB).
The 24-year-old Empire Zone program sunsets at the end of this month, to be replaced by the far more narrowly focused Excelsior Jobs program (if the State Legislature can agree on a new budget).
Fanslau confirmed that no new businesses will be accepted into the program after June 30 by the local ZAB, though benefits for the 100 existing participants will continue.
At least one more entity can be added to that list. Mona Lisa of Monticello, better known as Tommy Ting’s initiative to bring a Bitter End-type music club to Monticello, squeaked in ahead of the deadline.
The board had concerns about employment (Ting listed just five workers in the first year) and parking (Broadway and nearby municipal lots may not have the space to hold upwards of 300 cars, based on the number of people Ting projects will visit his offerings at a time).
Board member Eileen Haworth Weil had a reservation not related to Ting’s project, wondering if certification approvals should be given on any projects anymore, “given that the EZ program is sunsetting because it’s fraught with problems.”
“This has not been an effective economic development program for the state,” she remarked.
However, Fanslau said the county will receive extra revenue from the state by including Ting’s project, and he thus advocated for approval.
“Yes, but we’re also state taxpayers,” Weil responded.
Fanslau shot back that the local ZAB is not approaching things from a state perspective, but Weil concluded that “that is a rather microscopic view of it.”
In the end, save for Weil’s “no” vote and an abstention from Steve Drobysh, a banker who has had professional involvement in Ting’s project, Mona Lisa was approved to be included in Empire Zone benefits.
Ting, however, is still awaiting a separate approval from the Empire State Development Corporation’s board, which will provide a $1.7 million Restore NY grant to the Village of Monticello to be paid to Ting as he completes construction.
That decision is expected in July.

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