The New Times’ steadfast skepticism about Destiny USA have proven prescient
Look up in the sky. It’s an indoor golf course. It’s a re-creation of the Erie Canal. It’s a four-star hotel. It’s Al Gore’s favorite shopping plaza. It’s Destiny USA. Turns out, actually, it’s a bowling alley. Sorry.
After all the noise and all of Bob the Builder’s attempts to keep the paperwork a big secret, we learn that the concrete hulk on the edge of the lake has tenants lined up for just a tiny portion of its space, and that the behemoth has none of the fantastic features that made us once again place a bundle of our hopes on this latest Congel enterprise.
Remember the marijuana-plant shaped dancing columns? The Tuscan village? The Energy Independence Mall? At least give him an “A” for inventiveness.
Earlier this month, time was running out on the deal that gave Bob Congel a series of tax breaks for the expansion of Carousel Center into Destiny USA, and Mayor Stephanie Miner agreed to give him one more extension—until Dec. 7—to put up or shut up.
Everyone involved believes that it will be near impossible for Congel to complete the project (whatever that means) by then, and so the weather forecast for Dec. 7 is chilly with 100 percent chance of lawsuits.
As you talk to people about the Destiny project, everyone has an opinion, sometimes formed of their last interaction with an elevator at Carousel, sometimes by memories of when oil tanks greeted visitors to our town, sometimes disgust at the high jinks of the mall owner, who alternately professes that this center is his gift to his hometown and then puts it up for sale.
State Sen. John DeFrancisco has called this a boondoggle from the beginning. Former City Auditor Minch Lewis has long advocated for the deal, saying that the city has nothing to lose. My own view is that it was never a good idea to give away the store in exchange for retail. Retails outlets are places people go to spend money, not make money. The jobs it creates are not worth sacrificing tax money for.
Enough already. Come December, expect that the mayor will move to put the property back on the tax rolls. The developer will sue to reverse the decision, just as he sued Citibank to force them to keep lending him money after the financier concluded that the project was no longer viable. It will take years of wrangling that will only benefit lawyers to finally conclude the matter.
The bigger picture in all this is that Syracuse has gotten over Bob the Builder. For 20 years we have behaved like a shy, not-very-popular high school girl waiting to be asked to the prom. Syracuse has acted as if no one else would want us, so we’ll go with whoever comes along. Sometimes we’ve played the part of the abused spouse, willing to put up with false promises, with lies, with all manner of bad behavior. We’ve acted as if we deserved this mistreatment, these excuses, and these misrepresentations.
After the exodus of heavy industry beginning in the 1980s, we thought little enough of ourselves that we were willing to give up the goods in exchange for promises. Well that’s over. We’ve got a lot going for us, and this same old dance doesn’t turn heads the way it once did.
We’ve got a downtown housing boomlet. We have seen a large engineering firm and a major architectural firm move in to downtown from the suburbs. Ditto our public TV station. Syracuse University is transforming itself from a city on a hill unto itself into an educational entity blanketing much of the city. The Near West Side Initiative, Say Yes to Education, the development going on all around St. Joe’s, a vibrant housing market on Tipp Hill—with all this going on, and a population that has finally stabilized, we don’t have to cotton to Bob anymore.
Thanks just the same. We already have a bowling alley.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in the Syracuse New Times. He can be reached at edgriffin@ twcny.rr.com.