Why should I object to the Carousel PILOT Agreement?
Because it is unfair the people of Syracuse and Onondaga County. The PILOT agreement benefits the Pyramid Company at the expense of local taxpayers, who must cover the lost property taxes. It will have a negative impact on our community, financially, socially, and environmentally.
The mall expansion will change the face of the city, sacrificing the potential of downtown communities for a developer's profit. The expansion will increase costs (sewer, police, other services), but under the PILOT agreement, all these costs will be borne by the city and county. Downtown and suburban retail establishments will suffer, and we will see more "ghost stores" in neighboring areas. Arteries feeding the mall would have to be enlarged, resulting in higher costs to the county and state for roads and upkeep. Traffic would explode (they expect tens of thousands of visitors per day), disrupting traffic both North-South and East-West. The sewer system would be stressed further, resulting in higher costs and continued pollution in the lake.
The current mall is 10% of the city's tax base. Under the new PILOT, it will continue on tax free, along with massive additions. Can we really afford to give away that money, when schools and services are in such need? The theory is that sales tax revenue will more than make up for the lost property tax - this is not supported by all models, or by past history.
Won't Pyramid be making payments?
They will make payments in lieu of taxes - the source of the acronym "PILOT." But these payments are significantly lower than the assessed real estate tax rate, and ALL THE MONEY WILL GO TO IMPROVEMENTS ON THE MALL SITE. Not one cent of Pyramid's money will go to the general fund. Additional expenses incurred because of the mall expansion will be paid by the city. In this way, the PILOT payments just increase the value of Mr. Congel's property - the city gets none of it.
They told me that there is no risk to the taxpayer with this deal - that we are protected. Is that a lie?
There are risks associated with the mall expansion. Your representatives are gambling that the optimistic sales tax projections will come through, that mega-malls will continue to bring in revenue, and that the bonds will be paid. Nothing is assured.
The assumption that mega-malls will be the wave of the future ignores other forms of growth. The PILOT locks us in to yesterday's standards, and we may be unable to evolve with a changing economy. Think of the retail/technology changes that have occurred in the last 10 years - imagine what the next 30 will bring.
If we end up with a huge, dead mall on our hands, will the proponents still be viewed as "progressive?"
It is frightening that some politicians are willing to gamble our future on such a risky venture.
But I heard that the mall would bring in lots of tax revenue. Isn't that right?
A consultant group, ERA, gave glowing reports of large amounts of sales tax revenue the city and county could receive. However, other experts come to different conclusions. They point to mistakes in ERA's calculations, and estimate a very different return on the city's investment.
The ERA report counted the sales tax revenue of the existing mall when it calculated the benefits from expansion on the mall. Its calculated increase didn't take into account the expected tax exemption on clothing, and it did not include the real estate tax that the current mall would pay if the new PILOT is not adopted.
A decade ago, when the original PILOT was approved, there were similar projections of windfall sales tax revenue. They have not materialized, and the city has sacrificed property taxes - quite a bad deal for everyone except Pyramid. Are we ready to make the same mistake again?
But won't the new mall create jobs?
Yes, new jobs will be created by the mall expansion. The bulk of them will pay close to minimum wage, and few will have benefits. The projected incomes are so low that if the jobs are taken by adults, it may increase the percentage of people living below the poverty line.
In addition, many of these "new" jobs will be relocated jobs. As people who work in retail in surrounding areas find their places of employment closing, they will have no choice but to relocate to Carousel.
I like the idea of an aquarium. Do you object to that?
The aquarium is included because legally, a retail project can't qualify for a PILOT unless it is a tourist destination. PILOT agreements are intended to bring high-paying industrial jobs to the state, not to subsidize the retail industry.
With the aquarium in the mall, people who want to visit the aquarium will have to be at the mall site. Compare this to the city harbors of Boston and Baltimore, and the sites for their aquariums. They are on open, and people can come and go as they please. This is a much better set-up for a public attraction.
What will be its impact on downtown?
The mall will be a self-contained world with shops, restaurants, and hotels. We believe people who come to the mall will make their purchases there, hop back in their cars, and drive away again, leaving a struggling downtown. It will take a toll on Armory Square, and have a negative impact on new businesses struggling to survive. In addition, it is standard practice to sign exclusive contracts with the stores in the mall, meaning they will never open a downtown branch.
What about the environmental impact?
The mall enlargement and its visitors will tax the sewer system and exacerbate the sewage treatment problems we are already experiencing. Most of the visitors will come by car, contributing to the air pollution in the area, most of which is caused by motor vehicle traffic. As we exceed our legal emissions limits, businesses in the area will be forced to compensate, potentially driving out other industrial jobs.
In addition, the mall will take land that could someday make beautiful parks. Imagine the lake clean (don't scoff!) and surrounded by park lands and bike trails. Imagine a safe place for your children to walk and play. Let's not pave over those possibilities.
Isn't it a done deal?
NO! Both the Common Council and the Onondaga County Legislature have to approve the tax deal. The Common Council will probably vote on the PILOT on December 18th.
What can I do?
Call your representatives, both city and county. Let them know that you do not want them to destroy the future of our city.
Who sponsored this FAQ sheet? Are you affiliated with a political or economic organization with special interests?
This information has been supplied by Citizens for a Better Syracuse. We are a coalition of concerned residents fighting to rebuild our city through sustainable growth and sound practices. We come from all political backgrounds, and are not affiliated with any economic or political organization.