A delayed destiny
For the first time since its inception, the fate of the proposed Destiny USA project rests not on local government or court rulings, but on developers’ ability to deliver on a promise six years in the making.
After moving at a sluggish pace since the idea first appeared on the public scene in 2001, The Pyramid Companies’ proposed expansion of the Carousel Center into a tourist destination including hotels, golf courses and the largest mall in North America had many of its major obstacles lifted within the past several weeks.
The Syracuse common council approved three Destiny-related motions on Sept. 25 that have been a chronic presence in recent months.
Then, the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division voted 3-1 on Sept. 29 to uphold the Syracuse Industrial Development Agency’s use of eminent domain within the Carousel Center.
The court decision allowed SIDA to revoke prominent leasers’ ability to veto expansion to the mall, a right stated in the leases. The ruling further clears the way for Pyramid to sell city-issued bonds and begin construction on the Carousel site.
The leasers, such as J.C. Penney and Macy’s, have 30 days from the date of the decision to appeal. The Carousel Center is in Syracuse’s second district, near the city’s border with the town of Salina.
‘A very positive momentum was gained last week,’ said David Aitken, a Destiny USA team member. ‘All of our resources are focused on selling the bonds and commencing construction by the end of the year. While we’ve been through some challenges, we’re moving forward.’
The common council spent most of the summer at odds with Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll after he circumvented the council and, with the aid of the Driscoll-appointed members of SIDA, triggered a 30-year tax deal with Pyramid founder Robert Congel in July.
The common council opposed that tax deal in June, but in September’s second common council meeting, most of the board members had seemingly changed their minds.
In a change of heart, the council approved, 8-1, a lucrative tax deal for Pyramid. Under the deal, Syracuse receives the majority of the tax revenue, sharing the rest with Onondaga County. The deal lasts through 2022 and has an option for a 12-year extension.
Another 8-1 vote accepted $60 million in up-front SIDA fees from Pyramid. The sum is a show of Pyramid’s commitment to the city after a lawsuit by the common council to block the mall project went in favor of Destiny, Aitken said. Of the $60 million, $53.4 million will go to the city of Syracuse. Onondaga County will receive the rest.
‘It’s awful tough to sit on the council and decline $60 million,’ said Patrick Hogan, Syracuse common councilor.
At-large councilor Stephanie Miner was the only member to oppose the motions.
When offering tax breaks, the council should consider whether the public receives something fair in exchange, Miner said. In her view, that is something Syracuse failed to do when passing Pyramid’s tax deal.
‘Apparently Destiny has everything it needs,’ Miner said. ‘But it’s made tremendous promises to this community. They promised there’ll be nothing like it in the world. They can build big box retail space and still not deliver on their promise. I don’t think they’re going to come close.’
The council also unanimously decided to pay attorney John Cirando, who represented the council during its attempt to block Destiny. In exchange for the council passing the tax breaks and accepting the SIDA funds, Driscoll agreed to pay Cirando’s $40,000 legal fee, Hogan said.
With those items out of the way, the council should not have a Destiny-related vote in the foreseeable future, Hogan said. At least for Hogan, whose district includes the proposed Destiny site, having the project off the agenda is a welcome change. He is glad to turn his attention to other issues such as education and increased extra-curricular activities for children.
‘We’ve got a lot of other issues,’ Hogan said. ‘I think everybody is looking forward to getting back to business as normal.’
If the past is any indicator, Destiny will still be on the councilors’ minds even if it isn’t on the agenda. Destiny will still be there, maybe for the long-run, regardless of what other important issues the council faces next.
‘It’s been going on for so long and there’s been no progress on it,’ Miner said. ‘There’s been a lot of promises and hot air and fake ground breakings, but no progress.’
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