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One of Largest Building Projects in U.S. History in Jeopardy


Conceptual Renderings of Destiny USA
Images courtesy Pyramid Companies

Despite a January lawsuit in New York Supreme Court that it hoped would resolve matters, Syracuse, N.Y.-based Pyramid Companies remains locked in a dispute with the city of Syracuse over financing for Destiny USA (rendering above), a massive $20 billion retail, resort, and research complex proposed on former industrial land on the north side of the city.

The argument—revolving around the city’s refusal to accept Pyramid’s financing proposal— has scuttled Destiny’s groundbreaking and, Pyramid claims, created financial pressures that forced it to lay off 90 percent of Destiny’s more than 200-person design and construction team in January.

When Pyramid first proposed Destiny in 2000, the developer modestly planned an 848,000-square-foot expansion of Carousel Center, a 1.5 million square-foot shopping mall. But the program quickly grew to encompass more than 100 million square feet, including 1,000 shops, 80,000 hotel rooms, a 40,000-seat arena, a water park, golf courses, and a technology park that the developers claim will one day overtake Silicon Valley.

Syracuse officials, eager to stimulate tourism, initially welcomed Destiny. In 2000, the city extended a 1988 agreement with Pyramid keeping Carousel Center off property-tax rolls through a payment-in-lieu-of-tax (PILOT) arrangement, and developed a similar PILOT plan, worth up to $200 million, for Destiny. PILOT deals allow private developers to build on public land without holding the title. The city now claims that Pyramid broke its PILOT agreement for Destiny last summer by switching from private financing for the project’sfirst phase to a county bond-sponsored loan package. The new package is worth over $300 million. Other financing is planned to come from private sources as well as county, state, and federal bonds. A fter the city said its PILOT agreement expired at the end of last December, Pyramid sued.

All arguments aside, if plans for the visionary project are fulfilled, its main elements would be located under the world’s largest glass canopy roof, in nine themed zones with names such as the “Marquis District” and “Tuscany.” To date these names are the lone hints at an architectural aesthetic. Destiny’s design team, headed by Pyramid architect Mike Wetzer, has finalized only the designs for its first phase, the expansion of Carousel Center.

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Pyramid’s CEO Robert Congel touts that Destiny will “free humanity” from its dependence on fossil fuels, setting an example by powering itself through photovoltaics, windmills, and hydrogen fuel cells. Mike Lorenz, CEO of the subsidiary developing Destiny, claims it will revolutionize the construction industry, with design and construction occuring in real time using modeling software linked to factories. Building modules will then be erected on site by the same employees who will become the sales associates in Destiny’s stores.

If this approach to construction sounds novel, that’s the point. Destiny is located within a day’s drive of 130 million people, and Lorenz predicts visitors would come not just to shop, but to marvel at the complex’s innovations. But visionary projects often depend on deftly-timed financing, which is now in limbo. And besides the scoffing of incredulous critics, Pyramid has other troubles. Existing Carousel Center tenants filed suit last fall to stop the developer from breaking their leases to build Destiny. In early February that case went before Judge John Centra, who is hearing Pyramid’s suit against the city. At press time, it was not known when Centra would rule on either case.

Pyramid has a reputation for overcoming setbacks, but local residents are suffering from what one observer calls “promise fatigue.” If Destiny ever gets built, skeptics say, it will be far smaller than the developer’s vision.

James Murdock

 

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