Promotors say it will be one of the most spectacular green building projects in the world ... but some detractors at the national Greenbuild Conference see it as an auto-centric, anti-community, white elephant.
What they're referring to is Syracuse, New York's, ambitious Destiny project, being developed by real estate mogul Bob Congel, founder & managing partner of the Pyramid Companies, a major mall developer.
At Wednesday's Greenbuild Conference in Chicago, a panel of project boosters -- including Congel (on far right in photo) and Syracuse Mayor Matthew Driscoll (second from left) -- laid out the case for this mega-project.
Destiny is being called a "destination retail city." That is, it's planned as an enormous 75 million square foot retail, hotel, and entertainment complex intended to draw visitors/shoppers from well beyond the immediate Syracuse area.
It's location is outside the city's downtown -- expanding on the existing Carousel shopping mall (see photo below). One way to view it as a mall on steroids -- perhaps along the lines of the Twin Cities' Mall of America.
But what makes the project interesting -- besides its unique blend of private, city, state, and federal financing -- is that it's being designed to incorporate a full panoply of green building practices, such as using recycled industrial materials as part of its construction, and having its own 22 MW renewable-energy power plant.
This is in keeping with Mayor Driscoll's vision of Syracuse as "Green Capital of the World." At the Conference, the Mayor spelled out a series of "aggressive" steps the city has already taken to reduce energy consumption, including an ordinance that requires all municipal buildings to be LEED-certified.
Dan Tomson, Managing Director of Citigroup Global Markets (second from right in photo of panelists), which is instrumental in putting together Destiny's financing, said that "we believe in combatting climate change with market-based solutions."
But the project financing relies on a number of state and federal financial "sweeteners," including $228 million in federal, tax-exempt green bonds designated for energy-conserving projects, plus a huge brownfields tax credit.
At the Greenbuild Conference, Congel also announced the latest addition to the Destiny project, a $450 million dollar, 1342-room hotel and conference center, which would make it the largest hotel in New York outside of New York City. (See illustration at start of this post; the hotel is in the foreground).
Congel described how he came up with the design concept for the hotel: "We needed to get an icon type of thing. I wanted to have it look like grass growing up 600 feet." The hotel, which Congel said would meet LEED-platinum standards, would also "change the skyline not just of Syracuse, but of the United States."
So what's not to like about what would be one of the largest green projects in America? One concern raised at the Conference by Ken Kortkamp (on right) a San Francisco-based engineer is the "auto-centric" nature of the project. As Kortkamp commented, "you're not creating a community, let alone a sustainable community." Others also questioned the absence of any residential component of the project, and its dependence on visitors coming by automobile.
In response, Mayor Driscoll said the project "will be a trigger to development elsewhere in the city" and would help fight sprawl. The challenge for Syracuse, he added, will be "how do we take this project and help benefit the rest of the city." For Congel, the project will "create the demand that other private developers will take care of." In terms of transportation, Congel also mentioned the possibility of designing a monorail system as part of the project (hopefully connecting with the Syracuse airport and downtown).
For an economically depressed city like Syracuse, Destiny offers an attractive vision. But will the visitors arrive in the number expected? And will Destiny deliver benefits to the rest of the city, including its downtown?
Update posted on 11.26.07: An interesting post on the Veritas et Venustas blogabout the transportation-related factors in "green buildings" -- something that came up in questions about the Syracuse project:
"Designers and builders expend significant effort to ensure that our buildings use as little energy as possible. This is a good thing—and very obvious to anyone who has been involved with green building for any length of time. What is not so obvious is that many buildings are responsible for much more energy use getting people to and from those buildings. That’s right—for an average office building in the United States, calculations done by Environmental Building News (EBN) show that commuting by office workers accounts for 30% more energy than the building itself uses. For an average new office building built to code, transportation accounts for more than twice as much energy use as building operation."