By Seth Daniel
As the FBI building on Maple Street prepares for occupancy this coming month, City Manager Tom Ambrosino warned the City Council on Monday night that the owners of the building would likely be asking for a significant Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) agreement.
“There will be a pending TIF for the FBI building that has been under discussion for a very long, long, long time with the City,” said Ambrosino, noting that he inherited such discussions. “It surprises me that hadn’t been taken care of yet, but it hasn’t. You will want to engage on that one because it will be a very, very big TIF.”
The FBI only leases the new building on a long-term basis from the property owner and developer, ACS Development, particularly Patricia Simboli.
Ambrosino told the Record it will be a significant TIF and discussions have only really started between the two despite the nearly-completed project.
“The proposal was originally 10 years at 50 percent, but that looks like now to only be a starting point,” he said. “They might be looking to lengthen out the time period and get some number higher than 50 percent. The discussions are very preliminary at this point.”
TIF agreements only allow the developer to get a tax break for a certain period on new value added to the project, meaning that there are never existing taxes that are lost. However, because the FBI building is an extremely high-value structure – whose value hasn’t even yet been set by the City assessors – that was built on a parking lot, any tax break on new value would be extremely significant revenue.
That news came just as an unexpected struggle erupted on the Council Monday in regards to two TIFS that came back to the body in order to correct typographical errors. TIF agreements for the new Broadway Hotel on the Chelsea/Revere line and for the relocated Rosev Dairy on Eastern Avenue had been approved by the Council in June and by the state last week. However, the Council was asked to clean up a typo on the approval document in what was expected to be an open and shut request.
However, Councillor Roy Avellaneda protested the move, and asked that the matter be placed into committee for further study. He said there were very few details on the TIF, especially for the Broadway Hotel, and he felt maybe it was a rush to judgement to approve it.
“I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night knowing I didn’t do the job I am supposed to do and I am elected to do,” he said. “Last June we were really busy…There was a lot of stuff coming at us. Maybe this one slipped under because so much was going on. To me, this means I have a second bite at the apple that I didn’t take last time. We are only taking a second look at this. We are going to set the course for how we’ll do this going forward. We’re different than 20 years ago when we had to beg and plead for people to come here.”
He indicated that maybe the hotel is financially on good footing and doesn’t need a tax break, saying perhaps the City is only padding the profits of the hotel company.
That was a significant piece of conversation as the developer is Christine Thomas, a Chelsea resident from the New Hampshire company that has partnered with the City on numerous hotels in the last several years and has enjoyed a very pro-business City Council. Most of the TIFs requested by Thomas’s company have been enthusiastically approved, and the questioning on Monday night could have sent the company a signal.
Councillors Judith Garcia and Damali Vidot also agreed with Avellaneda, joining him in voting against the TIFs this time around.
“I don’t see what the urgency is,” said Garcia. “I don’t see any problems with being more informed and doing my homework a little more and asking some additional questions.”
City Manager Tom Ambrosino told the Council that the City had made promises, and the hotel developer was waiting on the approval of the TIF to begin construction on what is a difficult and contaminated site – a site that the previous administration urged them to develop.
“This developer went forward on a very difficult site at the insistence of the City,” he said. “The City should stick to its word. This really only involves a typographical error that I’m here asking you to correct. It’s not different at all that what you already approved back in June.”
Councillor Leo Robinson and Council President Dan Cortell agreed.
“In June, we had ample time to ask any questions,” said Robinson. “This was introduced and went to a second reading. Some neglected to ask these questions and that’s too bad they did. I think it’s too bad we’re here at this point.”
Both TIFs were eventually approved by a vote of 8-3, with the above mentioned councillors taking a hard-line stance on the matter.
The unexpected squabble sets up a larger discussion for the FBI agreement, which will be requesting far more money, and now in an environment that doesn’t seem as unanimous for such breaks as it once did.