Atlantis Holdings and J. Petrocelli Development Associates got the financial assistance they requested from the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency tonight at a special meeting called to deliberate and vote on resolutions concerning their application.
The assistance granted includes: an exemption from real property taxes on a restaurant and five-story boutique hotel proposed for East Main Street and Ostrander Avenue, across from the aquarium-hotel complex; a 10-year extension of the real property tax exemption of the aquarium facility; mortgage and sales tax exemptions in connection with the renovation and construction of the Preston House and the adjoining new hotel property.
IDA chairman Tom Cruso did not reopen the public hearing the board held last week on the application and did not allow any comment from the members of the public who were in attendance.
After Cruso closed the meeting and the IDA board members left the room, Larry Simms of South Jamesport stood up, turned the podium around to face the audience and began making a speech about the IDA’s actions.
He was cut short by IDA member Bob Kern, who told him the meeting room was needed for a meeting of the Riverhead Recreation Advisory Committee.
Simms and audience members then moved into the hallway outside the meeting room, where Simms got into an animated discussion with Atlantis Holdings executive director Bryan DeLuca, who contested Simms’ recitation of facts concerning the company’s tax payments and abatements.
When Atlantis principal Joe Petrocelli walked over to Simms and stood next to him as he argued with DeLuca, Simms turned to Petrocelli.
“Do you like being in people’s faces? Is that what this is about?” he demanded.
IDA executive director Tracy Stark-James asked Simms to calm down.
“You can go for it, Larry,” an unfazed Petrocelli said calmly.
Simms accused Petrocelli of “standing within inches” of him. Petrocelli said he wanted to “calm things down” and provide “accurate information.”
Two Riverhead police officers were soon in town hall to break up the argument. Petrocelli, DeLuca and others from Atlantis then left the building.
Simms continued to speak to the group that remained in the hallway, which included assessor Laverne Tennenberg, former town councilwomen Barbara Blass and Rose Sanders, Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association president Angela DeVito, Northville Beach Civic Association president Neil Krupnick, former Riverhead town board candidate Laura Jens-Smith and other members of the community.
He criticized the IDA for its failure to undertake any actual cost-benefit analysis on applications for benefits and accusing the agency of approving benefits for businesses because it it “self-funded.”
“Just like a shark needs to keep swimming to breathe, the IDA needs to keep handing out benefits to stay in existence,” he said.
Stark-James said the agency does undertake cost-benefit analysis and looks “at the overall picture.”
“Public bodies across the state make decisions to offer incentives to a host of important and worthy community participants and enterprises they wish to attract or retain as vital to the fabric of their community,” Stark James said, noting that senior citizens, farmers and volunteer firefighters are offered real property tax exemptions “with the intent of building a vibrant community and creating an environment from which its residents and businesses will benefit and thrive.”
“If a project is not financed [by the IDA], we may request to review information to support the viability of a project such as personal financials or statements of verification from their financial institutions.
“The agency, however, does consider a project financially viable upon the issuance of a commitment letter from a bank, public/private investor or other lender attesting to the principals’ financial ability to bring the project to fruition,” she said.
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who joined the group in the hallway tonight and debated with Simms the value to the town of the IDA, said afterward she has been assured by Stark-James that the amount of taxes and pilots being paid by Atlantis — testified to by its principals at last week’s hearing as $355,000 — is correct.
If the IDA has determined that Atlantis needs the benefits it requested, and needs the Preston House and new boutique hotel to keep the aquarium in business, then it’s the right thing for Riverhead and should be supported,” she said.
“I would hate to imagine downtown without the aquarium,” Giglio said.
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