Abatement recommended for new Auburn office building

August 10th, 2018

By Mark Murdock | KPC Media - The Star

A request for a 10-year tax abatement by Team Quality Services received a positive response Tuesday.

The Auburn Common Council’s abatement committee voted unanimously to send a favorable recommendation for the phase-in to the full council.

The first reading of a resolution for the abatement is expected at the next meeting of the council Aug. 21, with a public hearing and the second reading to follow at the Sept. 4 meeting.

Team Quality Services plans to invest $2.5-3 million to move its United States corporate headquarters to downtown Auburn at the former site of the Auburn House of Pancakes at the corner of 7th and Jackson streets. The company also has headquarters in Canada and Mexico, president Chris Straw told the abatement committee.

The company was granted a building placement variance by the Auburn Board of Zoning Appeals at its July 24 meeting. The old building will be razed, and Team Quality Services will have its offices on the second floor and a lobby on the first floor of a new building. The rest of the first floor will be leased for retail use.

Straw said the company has outgrown space it has been leasing at S.R. 8 and C.R. 19 west of the city since moving from Fort Wayne in 2003. The 23 people working there would be moved downtown, with a plan to raise the number of local employees to 40 over the next five years.

“It’s a great project for downtown Auburn and will bring talent downtown,” said Anton King, executive director of the DeKalb County Economic Development Partnership. “It will bring more footsteps downtown and more business.”

“It’s an exciting plan for us as a company, but also, I was born and raised here in Auburn,” Straw said. “If there could be a double win for everybody here, with our company and our employees trickle into the city of Auburn, that’s something I’m proud of.”

TQS has many customers in the automotive, oil and natural gas industries. Much of its business is done in an industrial corridor stretching from Toronto to Mexico City. TQS employs nearly 200 people across North America, Straw said.

“We’re a liaison between the guys who make things and where they ship them to,” Straw said. “We are their quality representatives at their facilities.

“While our headquarters is here in Auburn — it’s where we do our payroll, invoicing, customer service, and we’re building an inside sales team — most of my employees are across the nation and in Canada and Mexico.”

Councilman Mike Walter was present for the hearing, but is not on the abatement committee.

“We’ve never given a tax abatement for a retail project before,” Walter said.

“This is not a retail project. It’s an office building,” Councilman Kevin Webb of the abatement committee said. “There will be spots available for (retail), but the main purpose is the corporate offices. If it was 100 percent retail, it would be an issue.”

Councilman Wayne Madden questioned the length of the abatement. Mayor Norm Yoder and City Attorney Erik Weber said 10-year phase-ins have been granted in the past.

“I think six or seven years, like we’ve done before,” Madden said. “I think Chris would be comfortable with that. I commend Chris for bringing business downtown. That’s good vision for where the future is in Auburn.

“I commend you for taking down a building that’s been there for a number of years, and putting up what I’m sure will be a very attractive building.”

“I appreciate that you’re going the extra mile, tearing down a building that’s probably dangerous,” Webb said. “This is the only reason I’m OK with a 10-year abatement.”

In other business, Yoder said the new interlocal agreement between DeKalb County, Auburn and Garrett for Central Communications would likely come before the council for approval at the next meeting. County commissioners and the Garrett city council also must give their OKs.

Language is being changed in the agreement to state clearly that employees of Central Communications are county employees and must adhere to the county employee handbook.

Walter asked if money would be placed in the 2019 budget for planning of a new pool or water park, possibly at Memorial Park.

“We used to have a swimming program and we spent money on it,” Walter said. “Where is that money going? Could we have some of it in the budget for planning for a new swimming program?”

Walter said he wasn’t sure what the amount should be, but that some money should definitely be made available for the planning. His inquiry did not receive a response.