Groundbreaking Heralds Continent’s Largest Mega Center

Wed April 02, 2003 - Northeast Edition
Mary Gelling Merritt

After months of anticipation and planning, ground was broken in October signaling the start of a construction project that will end in the largest shopping and entertainment complex in North America.

The new $2.2-billion mega center called Destiny, USA, is being built along the shores of Onondaga Lake in Syracuse, NY.

Approximately 3,000 people packed the parking lot of the existing Carousel Center Mall to help developer Robert Congel, managing partner of Destiny, USA and founder of The Pyramid Companies, formally kick-off the first project in the grand plan to turn Syracuse into a shopping destination.

After the ceremonial overturning of dirt, a Junttan-PM20 pile driver began the project by pounding a steel beam into the earth. George Mezey, Pyramid’s construction manager, said each pile will average 220 ft. (67 m) long. The piles will be driven down until they hit bedrock.

The steel beams are just the first step in building a 2,400 car parking garage, which will service the planned 47 story, 1,300 room Grand Destiny resort hotel. The hotel complex is expected to take a year to build.

After all the piles are in place, workers will cap them with concrete. A layer of reinforced concrete will be added to form the foundation. The parking deck of the project will be built of pre-cast concrete.

When finished, the hotel will require 2,200 employees. The developer said Grand Destiny’s rooms will be high-tech and built for fun.

“This shows this is a real development. People will be coming just to see what’s being built,” said Barton Feinberg, Syracuse economic development director .

As spectators grabbed the 2,000 complimentary shovels, Congel introduced to the crowd the politicians present as well as his 17 grandchildren. Congel called his grandchildren the inspiration for the project.

The elected officials who participated in the groundbreaking included U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, U.S. Representative James Walsh, New York Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver and Onondaga County Executive Nicholas Pirro. Each lawmaker had played a role in obtaining government incentives and tax breaks for the project.

Schumer said, “Destiny will do more for Upstate New York than anything since the Erie Canal.”

The City of Syracuse and Onondaga County have given Destiny, USA a 30-year exemption from property taxes. Destiny, USA also will be able to borrow money at reduced interest rates due to a city agency, which has agreed to issue the project tax-free bonds for parts of the construction. New York State is helping the project by promising to build a $25-million tourism center.

Legislation still under consideration guarantees Destiny, USA up to $52 million a year in tax reimbursements under New York State’s Empire Zone economic development program.

According to Destiny, USA’s leaders, Central New York will benefit because the project will create thousands of jobs and shower the area with millions of dollars in new sales tax revenues.

It’s an important event for Syracuse,” said Pauline Janik of Jamesville. “It’s a really important event for the economy.”

Congel pledged to make Destiny, USA environmentally friendly. He wants to promote the use of energy systems that lessen America’s dependence on foreign oil. Destiny, USA is to be powered by solar panels, fuel cells, wind energy, and geothermal heating and cooling systems.

The Destiny, USA project called for the addition of hundreds of stores and restaurants, a re-creation of the Erie Canal, an aquarium, a Mediterranean-style hill town, a rooftop park enclosed in glass, and a huge indoor water park.

The Pyramid Companies has hired the world’s top designer of water parks, Jeff Henry, to create the world’s longest indoor man-made river, along with state-of-the-art rides and themes for its giant indoor water park. Henry built and owns two of the most successful water parks in the nation. Both parks are located in Texas.

“My directive is not just to make the biggest indoor water park in the world, but the most exciting. I’m excited about this opportunity,” Henry said.

Henry’s vision for the Syracuse project includes: a giant Tsunami wave pool; “Master Blaster” uphill water coaster thrill rides; “The Flow Rider;” a moving 2-in. sheet of water for boogie board riders; a lazy river; water slides including the world’s tallest; shallow water amusements for children; and a family inner tube ride.

So far the financing for the water park is still up in the air.