We would like to ask your help with an issue of great concern for all the taxpayers of our community. Please take a minute to read this message and think carefully of our children's future.
The Onondaga County Legislature is considering the PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) agreement for the Carousel Mall Expansion. Most of you are aware of this, but there are probably many of you have questions and concerns with the granting of this PILOT to Pyramid for 30 years. We are being asked to give up at least $300 million in property taxes. There are some potential scenarios where we as a community may make back this investment in the form of sales tax revenue, but there are numerous potential scenarios where we lose this money and possibly much more. Many steps are being skipped that would reduce these risks. There is no certified financial statement of Pyramid (usually a routine step in any deal of this size) to make sure Pyramid will be able to come through with what they have promised. There are few meaningful performance guarantees to specify what we get for our $300 million. There is no sound analysis made public that makes sure there are no lurking hidden costs. No taxes have been paid on the current PILOT agreement given to the developer ten years ago. These taxes are coming due to the county in the 2005. These taxes should be paid before the new proposed PILOT is considered. The original PILOT should NOT be extended!
Our calculations, based on the assumption that the current PILOT agreement being continued and not replaced with the proposed new one, show that we may lose as much as $433,000,000 over the period from 2000 to 2030.
We strongly believe that at the very least, the first PILOT agreement should be paid off before another PILOT is given. We also firmly believe that the developer should give a full financial disclosure and commit to a legal agreement that he will complete all three phases of this development.
You may recall that two years ago, the developer put the Carousel Mall up for sale. This was at a time when the Mall was beginning to lose many of their retail tenants and in fact, many malls across the US were beginning to fail. No buyers came forward to purchase Carousel Mall. The taxes on the first PILOT are coming due in 2005. Now the developer wants the taxpayers of this county to generously add on that amount to the new PILOT (giving them 45 years before paying taxes on this amount)!
The developer will make payments in lieu of taxes, 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 the developer's property -- the city gets none of it.
The developer has projected 25 million people per year will visit the mall. This would mean that 68,493 people would drive 34,000 cars per day (average 2 per car) . Try to imagine the traffic congestion, especially during peak shopping periods and the additional traffic of P & C stadium, the Regional Market and the Transportation Center all in the same general area.
A huge glitzy Mega-Mall cannibalizes all the other malls and retailers in the region and eventually our neighborhood shops and malls become ghost towns and we lose the taxes in our local towns and villages. This hurts everyone and eventually, we as taxpayers not only lose these taxes, but since we are not collecting taxes from the developer for 30 years, we have to absorb this amount and make up the difference ourselves. We also have to assume that there will be additional costs of Fire and Police protection. So, despite the fact the developer says it won't cost us anything, you can see clearly this is simply not the truth.
The developer is presently facing many lawsuits and has fought to have his taxes reduced for his malls in many other cities. At present, some of his partners are suing him for mishandling their money from other malls, and have hired David Boies, the attorney who won the case against Microsoft last year and also was involved with settling the Florida Election problems. Obviously, the partners intend to win this case against the Pyramid operations.
There are so many serious flaws in this deal and the media have been very biased in favor of the mall expansion. This is probably due to the fact that they will reap great monetary benefits from the advertising generated by this mall and have not reported the facts which are very negative to approving the PILOT.
We are asking you all to either write, call or send an e-mail message to the county legislators, and especially the legislators who represent your district. If you don't know who they are, visit the direct link to their contact page on the county website or browse the County website: www.ongov.net. This information will give you all the names and addresses, home and work phone numbers, fax numbers and e-mail addresses. You may reach all the county legislators at firstname.lastname@example.org, but be sure to state at the top of your message that you want copies given to each legislator.
It would be really great if you could pass along this information to your friends and family and ask them to call, write or e-mail their legislators also. The stakes are very high, and we need to be sure the county legislators know that the majority of their constituents are opposed to this deal the way it is presently offered.
Time is at a premium here. The developer has drawn a line in the sand with a "take it or leave it" ultimatum. This is not the way to negotiate a fair deal and would never be accepted in the business world without more careful evaluation. We should not allow a developer to force a proposal of this magnitude on us with his personal time table. One might assume that he is in a very desperate situation and expects the citizens of Onondaga County to bail him out.
Please, DO take the time this weekend to contact the county legislators and let them know how you feel about this. We need to consider how very much our schools and neighborhoods need help. Also, we should be trying to acquire more industry and technology to develop in our community, as other cities throughout the state have been doing. The agencies responsible for community development have not performed their tasks very well, or we would be growing as our neighboring cities have in the past few years. We need to tell them we want them to create a better "vision" for our city and to read the Forbes Magazine article from last summer, "Willis Carrier's Ghost." It is also on our website for anyone to read.
Pat Masten, member of
Citizens for a Better Syracuse