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SU bookstore project risks losing its controversial tax break

The Syracuse Common Council is inching closer to approving a proposed tax break for a new bookstore and fitness center.
Cameron Group, LLC.
The renderings of a bookstore and fitness center planned for Syracuse University.

The construction of a new college bookstore on the Syracuse University Hill is in danger of losing its tax break if construction doesn’t start in the next month.

The university and the developer it selected, Cameron Group, won over Syracuse’s city council and industrial development agency (SIDA) for approval of the deal in August 2012.

But since shovels still haven’t broken ground on the project a year later, the city’s economic development agency this week voted the project in default of its contract. The developer has another 30 days to begin work.

This isn’t just a shot across the bow, said agency chairman Bill Ryan.

"This is not something that came out of nowhere," he said. "We’ve had conversations, particularly with the university to say, 'get your guy going here' and that has not occurred. So no, this is not a kick in the pants. This is for real."

The deal was controversial and took years to win over lawmakers. Syracuse University would lease the tax-exempt land it already owns to the developer, who would in turn rent the new bookstore and fitness center to the school for 30 years. During that time the developer would pay a reduced tax rate to the city.

Lawmakers scoffed at the idea of giving such a lengthy tax break to a project in an economically vibrant part of the city like University Hill. The school and developer said the project wouldn't be financially doable without it.

Under the deal, the developer had to break ground by Aug. 21, a year after its approval.

"There comes a point where, I think we say, either you’re going to do this project or you’re not," Ryan said.

A message left with the developer was not returned.