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Destiny Hotel tax deal brings wide range of opinions at public hearing

Tom Magnarelli
The opposition to a potential tax deal for a proposed Destiny USA hotel.

Business leaders, government officials and community activists voiced their opinions at a public hearing on a potential tax deal for a proposed Destiny USA hotel in Syracuse. A wide range of vehement supporters and angry dissenters spoke passionately about the project.

Some current Syracuse city and Onondaga County councilors were among those in favor of the tax deal that would be administered by the Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency.

“Jobs, jobs, jobs: that’s the cry that we need,” Van Robinson, the president of the Syracuse Common Council, said.

“The question of whether the benefits to the community outweigh the costs, I think is an easy answer,” Chad Ryan, a Syracuse Common Councilor, said.

“We have a systemic problem of poverty, half our children in the city of Syracuse are in poverty, what we need is economic development and what we need are jobs,” Chris Ryan, a Onondaga County legislator, said.

They were joined by business leaders throughout the area as well such as real estate developers and property owners, from neighborhoods close to Destiny.

The general manager of Syracuse’s minor league baseball team favors the deal as well as the leaders of construction and roofers' unions.

Greg Lancette, the president of the Central-Northern New York Business and Construction Trades Council, said he supports the deal because of Destiny's commitment to hire local workers.

"There are a lot of projects that my members have to leave town to go earn a living for," Lancette said. "It would be a grand idea if we could have local construction workers actually come  home from the Buffalo, Albany and even as far as Ohio region to work on this project here."

Ron Haney from Roofers Local #195 of central and northern New York said he remembers what the location was like before the original shopping mall was built.

"You went and saw all the nasty oil tanks and the smell of a blighted city," Haney said. "What a different out there now. Let's keep it going. My members and their families depend on construction jobs."

Among the opposition, members of the Urban Jobs Task Force said the county agency is undermining the authority of the city’s development agency by granting tax breaks to a city project.

“It undermines the tacit agreement of the last three decades,” Aggie Lane said.

Barry Lentz wants the county to use an online tracking system for job hiring on these types of projects so there is a record of who is being hired and where they come from.

"Transparency creates success," Lentz said. "Without it, we are reduced to a speculative rather than informed database conversation."

Rich Puchalski of Syracuse United Neighbors was enraged that another tax break may be granted to Destiny developer Bob Congel, who has already received hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits on a 30-year deal for the shopping complex.

“It’s time for Bobby Congel to pay his taxes like the rest of us!” Puchalski shouted.

But despite these objections, the county development agency board will likely vote on the twelve-year and nearly $7 million tax deal for the hotel at its next meeting on April 12.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.