B U F F A L O N E W S
Martin’s Fantasy Island is getting $74,000 in tax breaks to help the Grand Island amusement park pay for two new rides, despite the strong objections of County Executive Chris Collins.
The Erie County Industrial Development Agency on Monday voted, 12-1 with one abstention, to approve the sales tax break for the new rides, a month after tabling the request when Collins raised questions about the need for the incentives.
Since then, nothing changed Collins’ reluctance to grant what he termed as an unnecessary tax break for an $850,000 improvement project that would have proceeded with or without the taxpayer incentives. But the county executive also was unable to persuade any other IDA board members to join him in opposing the tax breaks.
“In my opinion, they’re going to put these rides in regardless,” Collins said. “What company wouldn’t like a freebie, and this is a freebie. I call it an inappropriate freebie.”
The Fantasy Island project was not on the IDA’s agenda for its Monday meeting, but board member Lawrence Meckler brought the project up for consideration, in a move that Collins said took him by surprise.
The agency’s policy committee, at the board’s request last month, reviewed the Fantasy Island project to determine its impact and whether it met the agency’s eligibility guidelines.
The committee determined that it qualified for incentives as a tourist destination that draws 57 percent of its customers from outside Erie County, including 27 percent from Canada. The IDA also has granted incentives for two previous ride installation projects at Fantasy Island, setting a precedent for aiding that type of investment.
Collins said past precedent shouldn’t be a guiding factor for a project that is not expected to create any new jobs at the park, which employs 605 workers, most of them part-time employees earning an average of $2,500 per season.
“I don’t know where two wrongs in the past would justify these expenditures,” said Collins, who was the only board member to vote against the incentives. Board member Alfred Luhr abstained.
Meckler, however, said it was not a mistake for the IDA to support the Fantasy Island projects, both now or in the past, because the amusement park brings visitors to Erie County from outside the region. “To take any action that doesn’t foster that is not good for this community,” said Meckler, executive director of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.
Fantasy Island, which has made investments in the park averaging about $2 million a year over the last 14 years, needs the tax breaks to remain competitive with other amusement parks in Canada and Western New York, said Alfred T. Culliton, the IDA’s chief financial officer. The park paid $341,000 in sales and property taxes last year.
The incentives will help Fantasy Island install a vertical swing and a circus menagerie ride, boosting the total number of rides at the 80-acre park to about 100. The park attracted 348,160 visitors last year, up 4 percent from 335,600 in 2006.