Green Hills Protests Tax Breaks For Development Of New City Grocery Store

Green Hills Farms Market used space in its weekly circular to raise questions about the Syracuse Industrial Development Agency (SIDA) (as well as the NY State Healthy Food, Healthy Communities Fund) for approving tax breaks for the developer of the Valley Plaza in an attempt to bring the Tops Markets supermarket chain to the Southside of Syracuse.

Their concerns:
1) Established businesses like theirs aren’t getting tax breaks.
2) The developer and Tops Markets are receiving tax breaks even though they are not local concerns.
3) Tops Markets’ tax breaks allow the chain to sell products at artificially low prices–funded by the taxpayer and local companies.

My response:
1) Green Hills Market is not located in the city of Syracuse, nor is the area in which they operate considered a “food desert.” Therefore, they are ineligible for assistance by either SIDA or the Healthy Foods/Healthy Communities fund. It is interesting to note that almost all grocery stores in the Syracuse-area operate outside city limits–drawing customers from both city and county. This is a good marketing strategy, but also a problem for poor folks with limited transportation options. The nearest full service supermarkets for Southsiders are in Nedrow for Green Hills, Dewitt for the Tops at Nottingham Plaza or Westvale for the Price Chopper and Wegman’s. The Green Hills circular gives short shrift to the grocery shopping needs of Southsiders with limited transportation, forced to either travel great distances on public transportation or rely on problem corner stores selling unhealthy food at marked up prices. Fortunately, the city has shown an admirable dedication to finding a grocery store willing to locate on the Southside.

2) For too many years, the tax deals approved by SIDA went exclusively to projects in Armory Square and the University Hill–while the economic development needs of low income neighborhoods have been ignored. Yes, Ellicott Development and Tops Markets are not local businesses–but they have strong ties to our community. Tops Market’s locating in Valley Plaza will help generate interest for other businesses to also locate in the plaza, a place that has more than half of its storefronts unoccupied. In fact, a clothing retailer has already agreed to locate to Valley Plaza along with Tops. The fact that Tops alone will create between 80-100 unionized jobs with good pay and benefits is a good argument for the credit. Additional jobs and sales tax revenue will also be created.

3) Green Hills argues that tax benefits will allow Tops to undercut competitors on prices. I believe this stems more from concern about the Healthy Foods/Healthy Communities grant that Tops is looking to receive, rather than the relatively small amount ($100,000) that Tops will receive on an exemption from sakes tax on construction for the physical remodeling that the store does on its own inside the old P & C store building. The state grant is only available to grocers willing to locate or expand in areas not served by grocery stores and with a high percentage of low income families. But this grant is not limited to major corporations liker Tops Markets. In fact, the first recipient of this statewide grant was Conklin Reliable Market–described as “a second generation, family-run market that serves a low-to-moderate income area with few fresh food options in the Southern Tier.” No one from the local community was willing to stand up for the Southside community and operate a full-service grocery store–despite the evidence of a community that has assets, but few businesses to patronize within their own community.

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