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                                                                      J. Michael Forsyth

                                                                      5516 N. Manlius Street

                                                                      Fayetteville, New York 13066

 

                                                                      May 15, 2000

 

          Re: proposed Carousel Mall expansion

 

Gentlemen:

 

          I am writing this open letter to urge you not to approve the proposed Carousel Mall expansion, and in any event, not to rush this through without time for the careful scrutiny that it deserves.  I have lived in Onondaga County for twenty-nine years, was a Syracuse home-owner for twelve years, have been active in various community organizations, and am past president of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce.  I also happen to have been a registered Republican since age eighteen, and hope that you will not make me ashamed of that connection.

 

          If Mr. Congel and the Pyramid Companies wanted to be true entrepreneurs, and finance the project entirely with their own money and whatever they could convince individuals and private sector entities to invest, I would not be writing this letter.  Personally, I think that the Carousel Mall is already two or three times as big as any mall should be.  I am not keen on the effect on traffic (consider picking up and dropping off holiday travellers at the inconveniently relocated train and bus stations while traffic arteries around the mega-mall are clogged with shoppers).  I would rather shop closer to home or by catalogue than in the present mall, let alone a bigger one.  I happen to think that much of the proposed project is a pipe dream that will never happen (will swimming and wading pools really be built to be shared by guests at the luxury hotels and the public?).  But those are my beliefs and preferences, and they should not stop Congel and Pyramid from investing their own money if they believe that the project is economically feasible and that there is a market for it.

 

          But this is not the case.  Do market forces justify the expansion of the mall?  If they did, I submit that the Fayetteville and Penn Can Malls would still be going concerns, and that the vacancy rate for retail space elsewhere would be much lower.

 

          The PILOT scheme would make the taxpayers captive investors in the expanded mall.  In past PILOT arrangements with other developments, the payments in lieu of taxes were spent on what would usually be public sector improvements owned by the municipality, such as streets, sidewalks, curbs, streetlights, sewers, etc.  According to the Syracuse Newspapers (whose editors have endorsed the project), this proposed PILOT scheme would pay for mall-owned improvements such as mall parking lots and garages which other mall developers pay for themselves.  The taxpayers, by picking up the slack on the tax revenues given up under this plan, would effectively be paying to expand the mall and improve Pyramid's property.

 

          These taxpayers include people like myself who prefer not to patronize a monster mall, and merchants outside the mall who do pay real estate taxes on their places of business, whether directly or through tax-paying landlords, and who must pass this cost of doing business on to their customers.  The former will receive no benefit from what is effectively a subsidy paid by them to Pyramid, while the latter will suffer a direct detriment, in the competitive disadvantage they face, having to include real estate taxes in their price structure, while mall tenants will not.

 

          Pyramid is demanding that the present ten-year-old PILOT plan be extended for the duration of the proposed thirty-year plan, so that the biggest mall in the USA will go forty years without paying real estate taxes.  Will it ever pay?  What is the life expectancy of a shopping mall/water park/aquarium?  How much vacant twenty to forty-year old commercial property do we already have in this county, whether in the withering suburban malls or along Erie Boulevard?  My suspicion is that in thirty years, the Carousel Mall will be as vibrant as Suburban Park, the Salina Street Sears Roebuck Store, the Fayetteville Mall and Midtown Plaza are today.  When it's finally time to pay some taxes, Congel and Pyramid will have taken their profits and been long gone.

 

          Will there be some great benefits to the public, some advancement of the commonweal, to justify this subsidy to a private real estate developer?  I am highly skeptical of a study claiming that a million tourists a year come to Syracuse to visit the present mall.  I suspect that many come here for other reasons, such as family, sports, conferences, conventions and concerts, and visit the mall incidentally to their stay.  I highly doubt the attractiveness of a shopping mall as a primary destination for overnight travellers.  Even if this is true, I would have to think that a million is pretty near the saturation point, and that an expanded mall would far pass the point of diminishing returns.

 

          Diminishing returns would apply to area residents as well as out-of-towners.  How many people will triple their mall visits simply because the mall has tripled in size?  They are probably already spending more than they can afford.  Besides, does Onondaga County really want to be known as the home of the biggest monument to conspicuous consumerism, the greatest temple of Mammon, in the United States?  That is a matter of values.  Let Congel and Pyramid pay the bill and take the risks for their values.  Don't force three generations of taxpayers to subsidize them.

 

          Another touted benefit is the creation of jobs constructing the addition.  I have heard anecdotally of many sub-contractors on the original Carousel construction whom Pyramid first refused to pay on various pretexts, then offered to pay a fraction of the contractual amount.  I am told that many small businesspeople, with payrolls to meet and other expenses that could not await the result of litigation, took the lesser amounts.  The talk among tradespeople is that local firms know better than to bid on another Pyramid Carousel project.

 

          Another claimed benefit is the creation of permanent jobs at the mall.  These would be chiefly sales clerks, stock people, fast food workers, janitors and other positions that are generally low paying and with a limited future.  Do we really need a forty year tax subsidy to create these jobs?  For at least two years I have been hearing and reading about a labor shortage for these types of positions, and have certainly seen enough "help wanted" signs around Central New York.  We have more than enough low-paying jobs.  We need more jobs of a sort not provided by the mall, or more people desperate to take even low-paying jobs, perhaps as second jobs.  The mega-mall, by increasing the relative tax burden borne by area residents and by pandering to excessive and irresponsible consumer spending, may help provide the latter.

 

          This brings us to the biggest so-called benefit to be expected from the expanded mall: an increase in sales tax revenues.  A sales tax is the most regressive of taxes because people with lower incomes spend all or nearly all their money on what are seen as necessities and are taxed on their spending, while those with higher incomes need spend only a fraction, and pay no sales tax on money that they do not spend.  New Jersey is more enlightened than New York with respect to sales tax on clothing, probably the mall's biggest stock in trade.  New York City and various upstate counties have done well to follow that example at least temporarily during high volume shopping times, such as back-to-school, by suspending the sales tax on clothing.  If there is a state-wide trend away from sales tax, it is certainly a socially progressive one that should be encouraged.  It would not be forward-thinking for Syracuse and Onondaga County to trade off a large part of their commercial real estate tax base for the prospect of increasing regressive sales tax revenues.

 

          In summary, this is a proposal to use an enormous long-term tax subsidy to make the rich richer at the expense of those with lower incomes.  Sad to say, this has been happening in New York for the past ten years, and certainly doesn't require more help from the taxpayers.  The proposed expansion would put other merchants at a competitive disadvantage, and might very well finish off a few area malls that are presently viable.  Others have commented cogently on the failure of this plan to provide for development of our potentially very valuable waterfront.

 

          One of the most disturbing things is the imposition by Mr. Congel of a one-month deadline to take or leave a proposal that our grandchildren not yet born would be paying for.  This either bespeaks tremendous arrogance on his part, or confidence that "the fix is in".  I expect better of my lawmakers and leaders.

 

                                                                      Sincerely yours,

 

 

 

                                                                      J. Michael Forsyth



Sandra L. Baker

20 Sunset Terrace

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Bernard Kraft

49 Bayberry Circle

Liverpool, New York 13090

 

William H. Meyer

8046 Crockett Drive

Cicero, New York 13039

 

William E. Sanford

Longbranch Road

Liverpool, New York 13090

 

Kathleen A. Rapp

437 Jewell Drive

Liverpool, New York 13088

 

James P. Murphy

35 Fennell Street

Skaneateles, New York 13152

 

Clyde Ohl

101 Wooded Heights Drive

Camillus, New York 13031

 

James A. Corbett

122 Lake Country Drive

Syracuse, New York 13209

 

Vicki Baker

4432 South Street

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Terry R. Pickard

7844 Cahill Road

Manlius, New York 13104

 

Martha E. Mulroy

4968 Cornish Heights Parkway

Syracuse, New York 13215

 

Dale A. Sweetland

8305 Route 80

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Robert D. Warner

1478 Gunbarrel Road

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T. Brendan Whelan

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Thomas E. Smith

3737 Black Brant Drive

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Sam Laguzza

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Edward F. Ryan

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Sidney Oglesby

821 Comstock Avenue

Syracuse, New York 13210

 

Lovie L. Winslow

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Syracuse, New York 13224

 

Kathleen O’Hara

705 Velasko Road

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Mark A. Stanczyk

228 Brattle Road

Syracuse, New York 13203

 

William T. Kinne

321 E. Seneca Turnpike

Syracuse, New York 13205

 

Althea F. Chaplin

202 South Avenue

Syracuse, New York 13204

 

James DiBlasi

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