Councilors searching for answers
Syracuse Common Councilors on Monday said they wanted answers about the sudden declaration that the Destiny USA project has reached its final phase. The councilors got some answers, but as YNN's Bill Carey reports, the answers weren't necessarily the ones they wanted to hear.
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SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- It was a year ago and Destiny USA was nowhere near being completed. A deadline loomed and city officials granted Destiny an extension to finish the work. Without the extension, the city could have invoked a penalty of putting the entire mall on the property tax rolls, bringing in a little over $6 million a year.
But officials worried that such a move would force a shutdown of financing, an end to the work and a potential court battle. They granted the extension.
Common Councilors are not so sure that wasn't a mistake.
“Clearly it seems to me that it would not be in the developer's interest to leave an unoccupied, uncompleted shell that cannot be leased out,” Syracuse Common Council Majority Leader Lance Denno said.
The extension gave Destiny time to finish the expansion which, based on agreements with the Syracuse Industrial Development Agency, ended the threat of property taxes for the mall for the next 30 years.
Councilors claim that six years ago, attorneys gave them a different answer. That if the project did not move forward into future phases, property taxes could be assessed. The attorneys say that all changed when the expansion was finished, meeting the agreement's minimum requirements.
“The board, at that time, understood that 800,000 square feet was all he was required to build. And that's all they ever got a performance guarantee on,” said SIDA attorney Susan Katzoff.
Lawmakers now complain that Destiny will pay only a $210,000 annual payment to the city to use for Lakefront Development. In turn, they were told that the real payoff for the mall was always intended to be sales tax. Instead of $6 million in property taxes, the potential annual take of sales tax for the entire mall is expected to be $28 million a year.
The city government is slowly coming to the realization that it no longer has much leverage over the Destiny USA project. That any future development, beyond this expansion of Carousel Center, will be beyond its reach.
Still there is lingering anger over what city officials claim are promises made and promises broken.
“Where is the Tuscan Village? Where is the river that's running through? Where is the green? Where are all the things? That's, to me, where the outrage should be,” SIDA Chairman William Ryan said.