After asking for a tax break, Mansour Ghalibaf has changed his mind for Conz St. Project
By Dusty Christensen
NORTHAMPTON — The city is no longer considering granting a tax break to the owner of Hotel Northampton to build a new hotel on Conz Street after the hotelier reportedly asked that the proposal be withdrawn.
Last week, the City Council’s Finance and Community Resources committees were set to discuss whether to grant Rankin Holdings, which owns Hotel Northampton and the Fairfield Inn & Suites on Conz Street, a tax break to build a new hotel and two retail buildings on the former Daily Hampshire Gazette property.
But Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra withdrew the tax-break proposal ahead of that meeting, saying in a letter to city councilors that the company’s owner, Mansour Ghalibaf, asked that it be withdrawn.
Sciarra didn’t offer any further details in her letter, and she did not return a message left with her office Friday. Mansour did not respond to an email Saturday.
The tax break under consideration was known as “tax increment financing,” or a TIF. It’s when a municipality gives a developer a break on the tax difference between the property’s current value and its improved value in future years. The idea is to divert some of the increased tax revenue the municipality will receive in order to subsidize the project in its critical early stages.
During the City Council’s full meeting on Feb. 2, Sciarra pitched the TIF proposal as part of the city’s larger economic development plans. She said the hotel-and-retail project is a “significant redevelopment” that will boost tax revenue and hotel-room inventory in the city. She also said that Ghalibaf wished he had secured a TIF when he had built the Fairfield Inn & Suites.
“He really impressed upon us that this would be important for him,” Sciarra said.
According to Sciarra’s letter, however, it seems that Ghalibaf has changed his mind.
During the previous full City Council meeting, councilors seemed supportive of the TIF proposal, which would have come with a guarantee that Ghalibaf would make capital investments in the property and create jobs in the city.
Several councilors did mention “labor concerns” raised by community members and inquired about other stipulations that could be placed on the TIF, such as requiring union labor in the project.
In a Feb. 2 letter to the mayor and City Councilors, the Western Massachusetts Area Labor Federation reminded the elected officials that in 2015, Ghalibaf fought the efforts of his Hotel Northampton employees to unionize. He brought in anti-union consultants to hold captive-audience meetings with the workers, and ultimately managed to defeat the union drive.
In their letter, the Western Massachusetts Area Labor Federation’s leadership urged the City Council to make any TIF tax breaks conditional on Rankin Holdings agreeing to a “card check” agreement — when an employer agrees to recognize a union when a majority of workers sign union cards instead of pushing them to voice that desire again in a federally run election. The letter also suggested that councilors impose the conditions that the company remain neutral in any future union-organizing drives and that it use local, union labor to build the development.
The labor federation leadership also noted that the City Council passed a resolution in 2012 supporting the right of workers to organize. In a statement to The Shoestring, WMALF Executive Director Lydia Wood said that union organizing is a “fundamental right” that employers violate when they engage in union busting.
“We are strongly opposed to the city giving tax breaks to any employer who refused to respect their employees basic right to form a union,” she said.
City councilors ultimately sent the proposal to both the Finance and Community Resources committees so that they could hear from labor groups and others about the proposed tax break. That meeting, however, was never held after Ghalibaf asked for the TIF proposal to be withdrawn.
Dusty Christensen is an independent investigative reporter based in western Massachusetts. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dustyc123.
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