Finance Committee unanimously supports Beacon Cinema tax agreement
PITTSFIELD — After hearing an outpouring of support for Beacon Cinema owner Richard Stanley's investment in the downtown, the City Council's Finance Committee on Monday recommended a renewed Tax Increment Financing agreement for the North Street building.
The five-year tax reduction pact, which would take effect at the end of the current nine-year TIF agreement on June 30, will now go back to the full council for consideration.
Stanley, who developed the six-screen cinema in a building he restored nearly a decade ago, and his representatives provided financial figures that showed the theater has posted deficits for the past five years, while he has met investment and employment goals in the original TIF.
The developer traced a portion of a recent theater admissions decline to luxury seating installed just over a year ago at the Regal Berkshire Mall Cinema 10 complex. The new seating in Lanesborough "was a move we didn't expect," Stanley said, and one that "caught the fancy of the public."
Along with a project debt refinancing plan with local institutions and the proposed tax forgiveness agreement on a portion of property and personal taxes over the next five years, Stanley said he intends to upgrade the Beacon's stadium-style seating to the same style of luxury seating.
He said his investment would total more than $500,000.
"It is certainly clear that is the only way to make the Beacon survive and prosper," he said.
Mayor Linda M. Tyer, who is proposing the new TIF for the building, described it is "one of the anchors of the downtown," which along with the Berkshire Museum and the Colonial Theatre, bring visitors and residents to the North-South street business district.
She added that, despite the recession of 2008-09, the once distressed building at 47-55 North St. was restored and now also has several other business tenants. The renovation and investment by Stanley more than met the stated goals under the current TIF agreement, she said.
Those included an investment of at least $11.9 million and an employment goal of 25 full-time-equivalent workers. The mayor said in her proposal that the actual investment was $20.26 million and there were 31 full-time-quivalent employees as of December 2015.
In addition, the projected tax forgiveness through fiscal 2021 would total $41,978 in real estate tax and $30,252 in personal property tax, according to paperwork submitted to the council. In comparison, the projected total real estate tax that would be paid is estimated at $225,191 over five years, and personal property tax to be paid is estimated at $72,276 over the five years.
The proposed TIF agreement calls for real estate and personal property taxes to be forgiven at a declining percentage over five fiscal years, dropping down to 10 percent in the final year.
Also speaking in support of the TIF agreement Monday were Jesse Cook-Dubin, president of Downtown Pittsfield Inc., the organization's executive director, Kristine Hurley; Kate Maguire, artistic director and CEO of Berkshire Theatre Group, and Jonathan Butler, CEO of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.
Figures provided during the meeting showed that the facility posted deficits ranging from $38,000 to about $300,000 over the past five budget years, and the originally projected annual theater admission totals for the project of around 200,000 reached only as high as 138,000, but fell to 118,000 after Regal installed the luxury seating at the mall.
Stanley said his admission figures, with six screens compared well to the 10 at the mall complex before the luxury seating was installed by the Regal chain.
Councilor at large Kathleen Amuso said she was initially reluctant to approve a tax reduction while the city is facing a challenging budget season, but the figures provided and the support of other businesses convinced her to vote in favor.
Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi said he also had doubts, but the cinema's positive impact on the downtown in terms of attracting business traffic makes "forgiving a little over $72,000 [in taxes] over five years a wise investment."
"I have not found any reason not to support this," said Ward 1 Councilor Lisa Tully, adding that approving the TIF is a way "to symbolically show support for all the downtown businesses that support this [agreement]."
The committee unanimously recommened that the full council support the new TIF.
Stanley also owns the Triplex Cinema in downtown Great Barrington, which is credited with helping to revive that business district.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.
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