Something’s Missing in Mall Accord

When the County, Robinson Township, and the Montour School District signed off on a tax increment financing deal way back when (the feasibility study for the site was in August of 1999 and the time of approval was December 1999; even the mention of the "Kaufman’s Department Store" seems like a relic) they probably never thought going to court would be the way the mall and its peripheral development would arrive at the assessed value needed to retire the TIF bonds on time.

But that’s just what happened as the taxing bodies and the mall agreed to boost its assessment from $76 million to $108 million and retroactively for tax years 2010, 2011, and 2012 so to ensure the assessment throws off enough property taxes to pay the debt. It was mentioned in the article that the $108 million value will last until the "bonds are paid off". While the taxing bodies like the deal because it will accelerate the payoff they must be wondering (unless it is spelled out in the deal) what happens to the assessment once the payoff is over; after all, the TIF is sort of a "deferred gratification" model of development: some or all of a new development’s incremental taxes are diverted to pay off debt for that new development’s infrastructure or public costs and then, once the debt is retired, all of the incremental taxes flow back to the taxing bodies who agreed to the diversion in the first place.

Lots of questions, but this deal does not address a big one: why is the mall and its "peripheral development" still not producing the direct job count that was promised in the feasibility study?

By 2005, the study predicted that 5,455 direct jobs would have been produced by the anchors, the mall, three outlots, and the peripheral development. When the Allegheny County Redevelopment Authority completed its TIF evaluation in 2008 it showed the projected job count of 5,455 from the study and placed its current estimate at 3,811; about 1,644 jobs short of projections. The Authority noted "…180 acres remains undeveloped within the TIF district. Commercial activity on these parcels would bring the job creation figures closer to the projections". The same job count and rationale was repeated two years later in the Authority’s 2010 evaluation.

Perhaps the total has improved from the measurements the County took in 2010. That would be a positive for the taxing bodies that participated in the TIF and for the boosters of the project. The issue is that the feasibility study projected that 578 jobs would be produced each year from 2001 through 2005 on "peripheral development" on which "construction…will proceed immediately and continue until full buildout over the next four years (2005)". What happened?