Money will address Seneca County Board of Supervisors at Tuesday’s meeting in executive session
After the abrupt announcement from Seneca White Deer, Inc. that they would cease tour operations at the former Seneca Army Depot in Romulus, and the follow-up announcement from property owner Earl Martin that tours could resume with new management in the near-future – SWD President Dennis Money is addressing some misconceptions about the working relationship between his organization, and Martin’s management team.
Seneca White Deer, Inc. leased the property at the former depot from Martin, who acquired the property in a controversial deal with the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency. The Agency, who owned the property after the U.S. Army ceased operations on the land, was eager to unload the property to someone interested in developing it.
Throughout that time, Dennis Money, and the Seneca White Deer, Inc. organization vowed to protect the rich history at the property. They provided off-and-on tours before the sale of the property over a period of nearly 15 years, and then when sold to Martin – worked with him to develop a licensing agreement to feature regular tours on-site.
The rare herd of white deer, history of the depot, and natural habitat were among the top-reasons for continuing a tour effort at the site.
Tourism officials in Seneca County and around the region were outwardly supportive of Seneca White Deer’s initiative.
While the brunt of a press release from Martin, authored by Keith Tidball, addressed conservation concerns at the former depot – a more concerning portion has Money speaking out.
He plans to address the Seneca County Board of Supervisors about the issues surrounding the agreement Seneca White Deer had with Martin.
“Earl [Martin] has continued to tell me he wanted us to be successful, but with a 20 page license agreement totally in his favor and an obscene rent rate, and we couldn’t rely on his words,” Money said on Tuesday before the session.
Money says that rent for Seneca White Deer’s portion of the depot property was $10,000 per month for the first 21 months of the agreement. He says it added up to nearly 50% of the organization’s total gross revenues.
Tax filings confirm the steep price Seneca White Deer was paying to use the property. These are public documents, readily available due to the organization’s status as a 501C3. “How could any company, organization or business make it when you have to add salaries, utilities, insurance, etc.?” Money asked, while explaining the circumstances that led Seneca White Deer to this point.
Martin addressed the financial difficulties that Seneca White Deer faced running the tourism operation that could ultimately could not meet its expenses.
“Seneca White Deer and Dennis Money believed they had the capacity to run a profitable tourism operation that would provide tourists an opportunity to see the white deer from inside the former Depot,” Martin and Tidball said in Monday’s release. “Thus, Deer Haven entered into a partnership wherein Dennis Money and Seneca White Deer would rent a building being constructed by Deer Haven, as well as lease access to the acreage zoned for conservation, based on Dennis Money’s tourism business plan.”
In September, a PILOT agreement was accepted by the IDA for the property Martin held at the former depot. Money says he worked with Martin on the PILOT agreement, and was promised a ‘significant’ reduction in rent. Instead, rent was only reduced to $8,540 per month in September when it was accepted. “He could never tell me how he justified any of the rent rates,” Money added.
He says Martin has asked for computer files, website data, and applied to take Seneca White Deer, Inc.’s name and trademark for his own use.
After the events of the last several months, Money contends that they serve as a warning sign to not judge a book by its cover.
In that press release on Monday, Martin’s team admitted that they were in the process of finding a new team to handle tours.
“It won’t be the last chance to see them however, Seneca White Deer will no longer be providing that service. There will likely be tours again soon, managed by a different team,” Martin said.
“When [Martin] said he would redo the license agreement but that he would not reduce the rent and the license would only be in his favor, we knew it was time to quit,” Money explained, elaborating on the decision Seneca White Deer’s board made last week. “It was an agonizing decision, but one that felt necessary with all the information in front of us.”
Josh Durso is a lifelong resident of the Finger Lakes. When not overseeing the newsroom he’s hosting Inside the FLX: A weekly program on FL1 Radio. Check out the podcast by clicking here, or by visiting www.InsideTheFLX.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FLXJosh, or say hello by clicking here.