CAROUSEL CENTER (DESTINY USA)
Park Street and Harborside Drive
Syracuse, New York

The development of Syracuse's massive mega mall, which was originally known as CAROUSEL CENTER, was a long and arduous process. Plans for a goliath shopping center, first announced in July 1987, were met with a tidal wave of opposition. Controversy, lawsuits and litigation followed.

The Syracuse-based Pyramid Companies, headed by entrepreneur Robert Congel ["con-jul"], proposed to build the 1 million+ square foot retail hub on land in the so-called Oil City area. Surrounded on two sides by refineries, and on another by Onondaga Lake, the 57 acre site, situated 1.3 miles northwest of downtown Syracuse, required a massive hazardous waste clean up effort in order to comply with safety standards.

Lawsuits thwarting the mall-building effort were eventually thrown out of court and ground was broken for the project in May 1989. Syracuse-based Dal Pos Architects had been brought in to design the structure. 

The 7-level shopping venue would consist of two main retail levels. A basement ("Commons Level") would feature two parking garages and a middle section dedicated to retail. Rising from the center of the center would be a 4-level tower, with the SkyDeck observation lounge and banquet facility on its top floors. The 4th floor (third level above ground) would feature a 12-screen Hoyt's multiplex.

CAROUSEL CENTER was to have six anchor spots. As of March 1989, four of these were leased, with the potential stores being New York City-based Bonwit Teller, New York City-based J.C. Penney, Rochester, New York-based Sibley's and New York City-based B. Altman. 

Financial problems at the B. Altman chain resulted in it being removed from the final line up. Syracuse-based Chappell's was recruited, in July 1989, to fill the upper level space. Canton, Massachusetts-based Hills came on board to lease the lower.

Bonwit Teller was also facing bankruptcy. Through a drawn out process of bids and refusals, Pyramid Companies finally acquired the nameplate in April 1990...barely saving its mega mall from opening with a vacant anchor space.

J.C. Penney, concerned about the possibility of the mall losing both of its upscale department store draws, considered pulling out of the project, but eventually decided to remain in the retail mix.

The Sibley's chain merged with Pittsburgh-based Kaufmann's in February 1990. The Sibley's space at CAROUSEL CENTER was originally planned to encompass 125,000 square feet. The prospective store was expanded by 71,000 square feet. This delayed its opening, as a Kaufmann's, one month past the official dedication of the mall.

White Plains, New York-based Steinbach was signed on as a Second Level anchor in July 1990. Woburn ["woo-burn"], Massachusetts-based Lechmere ["leech-meer"] was enlisted, in August 1990, to fill the First Level spot underneath.

A gala black-tie, 100-dollar-per-plate, dinner was held in the Bonwit Teller store October 13, 1990, celebrating the completion of the mall. On October 15, the belated CAROUSEL CENTER was officially dedicated. This auspicious event had been delayed on three occasions.

The final anchor line-up was as follows; a 2-level (64,000 square foot) Bonwit Teller, 2-level (158,500 square foot) J.C. Penney and 2-level (196,000 square foot) Kaufmann's (which opened November 15, 1990). Junior anchors were a 1-level (63,000 square foot) Lechmere (opened in 1991), 1-level (63,000 square foot) Steinbach, 1-level (80,000 square foot) Hills and 1-level (80,000 square foot) Chappell's.

There were approximately one hundred and twenty-five inline stores, out of a fully-leased one hundred and seventy. These included Filene's Basement, Lechter's Housewares, Heid's Hot Dog & Ice Cream, Spencer Gifts, Jo-Ann Fabrics, Warner Brothers Studio Store, Bombay Company, Williams-Sonoma, Zales Jewelers, Arthur Treacher's Fish & Chips, Cajun Cafe and People's Pottery.

As expected, CAROUSEL CENTER put the hurt on several established shopping malls in Greater Syracuse. The most effected were CAMILLUS PLAZA / MALL (1964) {5.2 miles southwest, in Camillus} and PENN-CAN MALL (1976) {5.9 miles northeast, in Onondaga County / Cicero}. SHOPPINGTOWN (1957) {5.6 miles southeast, in Onondaga County / DeWitt} persevered, at least for a time.

New York City-based Lord & Taylor agreed to occupy the mall's potential sixth anchor spot in March 1990. Their 2-level (118,000 square foot) store was dedicated October 28, 1994. With it, the construction cost of the 1.4 million square foot CAROUSEL CENTER had reached 250 million dollars, making it the most expensive building ever constructed in Onondaga County.

Anchor stores came and went over the years. The first to fade was Chappell's, which was rebranded, by York, Pennsylvania-based The Bon Ton, in January 1995. On Level 1, Hills was rebranded, by Rocky Hill, Connecticut-based Ames, July 22, 1999. This space was divided in half after Ames' shuttering, in August 2002. Sports Authority took up shop, in the southern half, in 2004. 

On the opposite end of the mall, Lechmere was shuttered in November 1997. Its First Level area was divided into two store spaces. These were occupied by DSW Shoe Warehouse (late 1999) and Kaufmann's Furniture Gallery (mid-2000). 

DSW moved to another location in the mall in 2004, with Circuilt City taking its place in November. This store was shuttered and replaced, by Ultimate Electronics, in August 2010. After the "Macy-ation" of the Kaufmann's chain, in September 2006, the Furniture Gallery was shuttered.

Steinbach, on Level 2, pulled out in May 1996. Its replacement, HomePlace, opened in August 1996 and closed in September 1998. A partition was then placed. Best Buy opened, in their half of the area, in November 1998, followed by Bally's Total Fitness.

Bonwit Teller, the remaining charter anchor, was the final operational store in the chain. It bit the dust March 9, 2000, with a Stockholm-based H & M (Hennes & Mauritz) specialty store replacing it late in the year. By 2002, this store had been downsized into the building's first level.

The Third Level cinema was expanded, into a 14-plex, in 1994 and 19-plex in 1996. Regal Entertainment absorbed the Hoyt's chain in 2002, with the cinema taking on the name Regal Cinemas Carousel Mall 19. In 2005, the complex was renovated into a stadium seating venue. Two auditoriums were lost in the conversion into the Regal Mall Stadium 17.

In 1997, a massive expansion of CAROUSEL CENTER was made public. Originally known as the Empire Project, and later as DestiNY USA, it would have encompassed nearly 5 million square feet and have redeveloped several acres of oil refinery storage tanks and rust belt industrial installations southeast of the existing mall. 

CAROUSEL CENTER, itself, was to be doubled in size, becoming the nation's largest shopping center and bumping Minnesota's MALL OF AMERICA down to the number 2 position.

In addition to retail, DestiNY USA would include a 90,000 square foot salt water aquarium, 500,000 square foot multi-field indoor sports and recreation complex, a glass-enclosed Winter Garden with Erie Canal replica, 15,000 seat amphitheater, 100 acre domed park, twenty thousand hotel rooms, three golf courses, a performing arts center and many other amenities.

A photo op groundbreaking was held in October 2002, which commemorated the start of construction on the first phase of DestiNY USA; the Grand Destiny Hotel. This was scrapped after it was revealed that the city would not extend tax breaks for a hospitality-oriented expansion. The addition would have to be strictly retail.

The DestiNY USA project hit other snags. Controversy erupted over all of the tax breaks given to Pyramid Companies. Doubts also arose about claims made concerning its potential impact as a major Upstate New York tourist draw. 

In addition, the Macy's and Lord & Taylor parent companies were none too pleased about changes to their stores and alterations of their leasing arrangements via eminent domain. J.C. Penney and eleven other mall tenants were also unhappy with various aspects of the project.

These wrinkles were somewhat ironed out. A bona fide groundbreaking, for a first phase mall expansion, took place in March 2007. A 3-level (840,000 square foot) addition, built in the mall's south parking lot, was to house Arendi, a section of stores with a real time / online shopping concept. This would utilize computerized merchandise displays, computer-activating ID badges and iPhone technology. 

However, work ground to a halt in June 2009, when financing for the 540 million dollar project was withdrawn by Citigroup Global Markets. The half-completed structure sat idle for 2 years as a courtroom battle raged. Citigroup contended that Arendi was a failure because no tenants had been actually signed. A deal was worked out in March 2011, releasing 40 million dollars in construction funding.

Soon after, details about the eminent completion of the project were released. The high-tech Arendi concept was being abandoned. The mall expansion would be a combination of high-end outlet stores, restaurants and entertainment venues. 

A listing of future tenants included Saks Off Fifth, Dick's Sporting Goods, BCBG Maxazria, Michaeil Kors, Hugo Boss and Salvatore Ferragamo, as well as restaurants such as The Melting Pot, Cantina Laredo, Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill and a Gordon Biersch brewery pub. Two of the entertainment-type venues were the Revolutions bowling alley, game arcade and bistro and Aja nightclub.

The H & M store was relocated from the old Bonwit Teller anchor box, to new quarters in the expansion area, September 22, 2011. This new store encompassed 20,000 square feet. The next operational tenants in the expansion area were Hartmann Luggage and Lenox China, who opened their doors November 16, 2011. Los Angeles-based Forever 21 assumed the old Bonwit Teller / H & M structure and opened a 2-level (60,000 square foot) store April 13, 2012.  

An official mall re-dedication was held August 2, 2012. At this time, the official name of CAROUSEL CENTER, and its addition, was changed to DESTINY USA. One hundred stores and services were eventually recruited to fill the expansion area of the massive destination-type shopping hub. 

Today, DESTINY USA houses approximately three hundred store spaces and encompasses 2,250,000 leasable square feet. 

Sources:

"Carousel Center" and "Destiny USA" articles on Wikipedia
www.carouselcenter.com
www.syracuse.com
www.labelscar.com
http:www.syracusethenandnow.com
Syracuse Post-Standard
https://nccnews.expressions.syr.edu
www.allbusiness.com
www.cinematreasures.org