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Armstrong to seek tax break for more land at Northpointe at Slate Lick

| Monday, July 29, 2013, 1:06 a.m.

The Armstrong County Industrial Development Authority plans to seek a 10-year tax abatement for an additional 124 acres of the Northpointe at Slate Lick business park.

The area would be designated a Keystone Opportunity Expansion Zone, or KOEZ, a state designation that means businesses that locate there don't have to pay most state and local taxes.

“It's a tremendous incentive,” said authority Executive Director Michael Coonley. “The incentive isn't placed on just one taxing body. All parties are coming together to say, ‘We want to encourage development here.' ”

The South Buffalo Township supervisors have approved the expansion.

Armstrong County and the Armstrong School District still must approve it before the authority can submit its application to the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

Legislation passed last year allowed the creation of 15 KOEZs, each between 10 acres and 350 acres.

The authority is applying for one of the new zones. Coonley said the application must be submitted by Oct. 1.

The newly designated area would include land recently cleared to create construction-ready sites on 45 acres near the Technology Center II building, he said.

About 29 acres of the business park in South Buffalo have been designated Keystone Opportunity Zones since it opened in 2001. But the 10-year tax break has expired for most businesses there.

“Those companies are paying taxes,” Coonley said.

Northpointe has 11 buildings, including the most recent, Tech Center II, which opened about two years ago. Ten companies, in addition to Indiana University of Pennsylvania and the Penn State Electro-Optics Center, have offices there. About 500 people work in the business park.

Other projects included

The development authority plans to include in the KOEZ application Freeport Area and Armstrong school districts' school buildings that are expected to be vacated in the next several years.

Armstrong plans to close Ford City and Kittanning high schools and the Kittanning Junior High after it opens a new school in Manor Township.

Freeport Area plans to shutter its kindergarten center and the junior high in Freeport after the district's new middle school is completed.

“Reusing school facilities is notoriously difficult, and this could provide a nice incentive to reuse a school facility,” Coonley said.

Ford City Council has said it is interested in obtaining the building from the school district so it can become a KOEZ or be developed in some other way.

Armstrong School Board President Joe Close agreed that the tax abatement might improve the district's chances of selling the buildings.

“We aren't getting any money on them anyway, so if you can hold out a few more years they might have the potential to produce some income,” he said. “Typically, a lot of schools sit around. And the longer they're there (empty), they cost us money.”

Don Rehner, Freeport Council president said the KOEZ designation sounds like a good idea.

“One of the concerns we have with the closing of the school buildings is that they sometimes can be a difficult item to market,” he said. “So anything that could possibly make the building more marketable would make sense to us.”

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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