|By Howard Frank, Pocono Record,
Stroudsburg, Pa.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 16, 2013--Camelback Mountain Resort plans to invest $145 million to expand its facilities with an indoor water park, 453-room hotel, restaurants and conference areas.
But resort officials say it will be difficult to finance the project unless the three local taxing authorities -- Pocono Mountain School District, Monroe County and Pocono Township -- approve a beneficial taxing district.
"We shouldn't be saying no to any project that wants to invest that kind of money in our community and create that number of jobs when we are running an unemployment rate over 9 percent," said Michelle Bisbing of the Pocono Mountains Economic Development Corp.
Monroe County commissioners Wednesday approved a Tax Increment Financing District for Camelback's expansion.
Wednesday night, Pocono Mountain school board also approved the TIF.
Construction is expected to be completed by Christmas 2014. Once completed, the expansion is projected to create 934 full- and part-time jobs, according to Bisbing.
The TIF is an incentive that helps finance public infrastructure improvements needed to attract new projects. It takes the additional tax revenue generated by project improvements and steers it to various infrastructure upgrades.
It is the same tax benefit that Kalahari Resorts has sought for its massive water park and hotel at Pocono Manor. Monroe County and Pocono Mountain School District are already on board, and Tobyhanna Township will hold a hearing on Kalahari's TIF on June 3.
"The economic impact this project has on the county and school district is significant," said Camelback president and principal owner Arthur Berry III.
That impact includes new revenue for other businesses through additional food, shopping, recreation and fuel purchases made by visitors to the hotel and water park.
By its third year, the project is expected to generate more than $1 million annually in hotel tax revenues, which are shared between the county and the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau.
All three taxing authorities will benefit from higher property tax revenue on the improved properties at the termination of the TIF designation.
And all three taxing authorities will share a one-time transfer tax fee of $1.5 million when the deal is closed.
The $13.1 million TIF will generate almost $9 million for infrastructure improvements net of interest, fees, insurance and other expenses.
The proposed term of the TIF district is 20 years, although the economic development corporation's projections suggest it could be paid off in as little as 13.
Pocono Township must still approve the TIF designation. It will hold a hearing on Camelback's proposal June 15.
"What the county faces," county Commissioner John Moyer said, "is the Camelback property paying the same amount of tax going forward as it does now until the project's TIF is paid off, and then a significant spike in the amount of taxes that are collected by the county and school district."
All current real estate taxes paid to the township, county and school district on property within the TIF zone are still paid to those entities, as if nothing happened.
But any additional, incremental taxes generated by development within the zone are set aside in a TIF fund.
Moyer compared the project to outdoor retailer Cabela's on Interstate 78 in Hamburg. That was a TIF project too.
"The exit was just a turnaround before becoming a booming area," he said.
Proposed infrastructure investments include improvements to Interstate 80 exits 298 in Scotrun and 299 in Tannersville. Route 715 changes may include road widening, turning lanes and new traffic signals, Bisbing said.
Other off-site improvements include an extension of water, sewer and electrical service.
Berry disputed the idea that tourism generates minimum-wage jobs.
"We have a lot of part-timers but we are not minimum wage," he said. "We don't have any positions that are minimum wage."
Moyer said expanding the county's employment opportunities was just a matter of knowing what the area attracts.
"It is who we are. If there was a developer looking to bring 700 high-tech Silicon Valley employees to come here, I'd be out front on it," he said. "We've been a resort area for 100 years, and we expect it to be one for the next 100 years."
School board vote
Pocono Mountain School Board voted 8-1 Wednesday night to approve the TIF for Camelback. Ricky Smith voted against the TIF, but did not give a reason.
"We should do what we can to have (Camelback) invest that capital here, rather than looking at other opportunities across the country," board member George Strunk said.
"This is about a business that has been investing in our community for decades and wants to expand," Strunk added. "It doesn't cost us anything, It's a long-term investment in our tax base and a short-term investment in our workforce."
Board president Meg Dilger said, "Our current businesses are reduced, so when we can take in a new business, we should embrace it."
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