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New York’s recently enacted budget makes it harder for local industrial development agencies to award tax breaks for retail projects.

Or so it says.

The new rules are pretty easy to get around. The state carved out three exceptions. A project has to be a tourist destination, the good or service is not currently provided in the area or the project is in an economically distressed area.

A 20,000-square foot grocery store planned for the University of Rochester’s College Town has applied for sales tax breaks of $180,000 on its $2.7 million project. Which exception is COMIDA using? College Town is clearly not a tourist destination. College Town is also not in an economically distressed area, as the Strong-Highland area is one of the city’s most desirable.

COMIDA’s analysis of the application says the “project qualifies because it will provide a product or service to the area that otherwise would not be available.” I’m not sure how all of the doctors at Strong and students at U of R have been able to survive since the Mt. Hope Wegmans closed. There’s a Tops 2 miles away, as well as a CVS and dollar store within walking distance. What’s more, the University of Rochester has a food store on campus, called the Hillside Market. Check out the picture of Hillside below and tell me that doesn’t look like a grocery store.

Hillside Market

Hillside Market

I’m sure the grocery store will be a welcome addition, but at 20,000 square feet, it’s no Wegmans. It will be slightly larger than the Trader Joe’s in Pittsford.

Already, IDA’s are figuring out how to bypass the rules. A Costco in Syracuse and a Dick’s Sporting Goods in Batavia were deemed tourist attractions.

It’s important to remember why the state wanted to rein in retail tax breaks. These projects are not economic development tools. They create low-wage jobs, often would have happened anyway and create an unequal playing field.

Update: Mayor Tom Richards says the neighborhood has been clamoring for a grocery store and the project fits the bill.

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