Pyramid loses round in Albany tax fight

By Rick Moriarty

Thursday, January 4, 2001

A state Supreme Court judge in Albany has issued a ruling that could hurt Syracuse-based Pyramid Cos. in a long-running tax dispute over Crossgates Mall.

Judge Raymond E. Marinelli ruled Dec. 30 that two of the company's affiliates, Pyramid Crossgates Co. and Pyramid Management Group Inc., could not use at trial their own income and expense statement to try to prove that the town of Guilderland overassessed the 1.7 million-square-foot mall. Marinelli said he took the action because Pyramid had failed to comply with requests by the town for financial information related to the mall and disobeyed three court orders - one dating back to 1996 - to provide the information.

Attorney Debra Chini Sullivan of the Syracuse-based Hancock & Estabrook law firm, which is representing Guilderland and its school district, said the judge's ruling was a victory for the town and could speed up the seven-year-old tax case.

Pyramid has 30 days to appeal. Pyramid Cos. partner Bruce Kenan said Wednesday he had not seen the ruling and could not comment on it. Under state law, towns have a right to request information related to a business's income and expenses when the business challenges its tax assessment.

Pyramid Crossgates Co. has challenged the assessment on Crossgates every year since 1993. The judge's ruling related only to the challenges involving the tax years 1993-1994, 1994-1995 and 1995-1996.

The company wants Guilderland's assessment of $118 million for the first two years cut to $29.6 million, and its 1995-1996 assessment of $190 million reduced to $115.9 million. The town raised the assessment in 1995 after Pyramid expanded the mall.

Pyramid is seeking $5.35 million in tax refunds for the three years in question. Combined with its more recent assessment challenges on the mall, the company is seeking refunds totaling about $12 million.

The company provided an income and expense statement in the fall of 1995. Shortly afterward, the town requested access to the company's financial records so it could verify the accuracy of the statement.

Auditors hired by the town also wanted a look at Pyramid Management Group's finances and contracts with other Pyramid shopping centers because the firm maintained the mall's financial books. PMG refused to provide the records and appealed a 1996 state Supreme Court order compelling it to do so.

The state Appellate Division upheld the court's order in 1997.

In his ruling, Marinelli agreed with the town that the two Pyramid firms had failed to provide the documentation the town needed to complete its audit. Pyramid owns the Carousel Center mall in Syracuse.

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