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Victory Center tax-break study OK’d |

Victory Center tax-break study OK’d

Erik Siemers
| Sunday, June 20, 2004 12:00 a.m

Sometime in spring 2006, Washington County could be invaded. Thousands of people, their sights set on discount shopping, an indoor/outdoor water park and other entertainment could make South Strabane one of the region’s biggest tourist destinations.

Now, if it could just get financing.

Developers of the Victory Center at The Meadows racetrack say the project can’t be done without tax-increment financing, which uses what otherwise would be county, state and school tax revenue generated by a new development to pay back funds used to build the infrastructure around the project. Washington County officials have yet to approve the plan.

South Strabane supervisors and Trinity Area school board members in the last month have agreed to support a study to determine whether a TIF deal is the right way to finance the Victory Center, planned to have 120 acres of outlets, along with a town center and other retail, hotel and entertainment components.

An indoor/outdoor water park attached to a hotel, similar to Erie’s Splash Lagoon, could be included.

The study is non-binding, and officials from all three taxing bodies would use information from the study to determine whether it would be the right move for each of them, said Bill McGowen, executive director of the Washington County Redevelopment Authority.

“We’re going to get estimates of how much it would cost to do the facility and do the infrastructure and the whole shooting match from the Victory Center folks,” McGowen said. “We’ll take that data and say, ‘Is this reasonable• Does this make sense• Then, if it is OK, how much property taxes is that going to generate for the three taxing bodies?'”

Randy Mineo, a partner at developer Praxis Resources, said the project estimated at around $300 million “won’t happen without a TIF.” That’s largely because the land-moving cost at the 540-acre site alone is in the $15 to 20 million range, not counting the rest of the infrastructure or the cost of the land, he said.

Mineo won’t identify individual tenants. He said it will be up to each business to make its own announcements.

The project is what Mineo calls a “super-regional draw,” attracting visitors from as far as 150 miles away. Victory Center’s attraction could balloon should the state Legislature legalize slot machines, a potential feature of The Meadows harness racing track across Racetrack Road.

But first, Praxis must determine an estimated infrastructure cost to present to the county redevelopment authority. Once that happens, the authority can make progress on the TIF study, McGowen said.

Officials from South Strabane and the Trinity Area School District both stressed they have yet to support a TIF for the project. But the study is the first logical step in determining its viability.

Trinity Superintendent John C. Springston said an exploratory committee has formed to discuss the TIF idea, but no meeting has been convened.

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