6/06/2005

Destiny: eminent domain, imminent construction? Syracuse (NY) Post Standard, 5/15/05

This is the kind of week when we're reminded of that coinage by Alan Greenspan: Are things really moving, or is this just "irrational exuberance"?

Only time will tell (but that's the rock group Asia, not Greenspan). On to last week's news:

Imminent dispute
A member of the Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency said Thursday he opposes using eminent domain to acquire private land for the proposed Destiny USA Research and Development Park in Salina.

Gregg Kidd said Destiny should pay for the value of their properties and the cost of moving.

"That would be the path of least resistance," Kidd said. "That would be my hope. And in my opinion, it's kind of the right thing to do."

Destiny developer Robert Congel has asked the agency to condemn private land to make room for the park. The 29 businesses that could be forced to move have objected.

Robert Baldwin, chair of the agency's board, said the businesses should be treated the same way Destiny is treating the county resource recovery agency - for which Destiny has promised to pay the moving expenses.

Why it matters: The OCIDA board has seven members. One seat is vacant, and two members said they won't vote on Destiny-related matters because of conflict-of-interest issues. That leaves four voting members.

But if four votes are required for OCIDA to act, the relutance of Kidd and Baldwin to use the agency's eminent domain powers could doom efforts to acquire the land that way.

In the dark
OCIDA Thursday took its discussion of the proposed research and development park behind closed doors.

The board of directors met for close to an hour in executive session. Chairman Robert Baldwin cited attorney-client privilege as the reason for closing the session. He said the board discussed with its special counsel potential conflicts of interest involving some board members.

The Open Meetings Law requires board like OCIDA's to meet in public. For particular exceptions - including discussions involving attorney-client privilege - public boards may go into private session.

But according to Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Department of State's Committee on Open Government, boards lose their attorney-client privilege when they invite third parties into discussions.

And Thursday, Baldwin invited three county legislators into the meeting.

Freeman says if they were included, the meeting should have been opened to anyone.

It wasn't.

Why it matters: Open meetings law shouldn't be something boards choose to observe when they want and ignore when they don't find it convenient.

On Thursday, nearly 25 representatives of businesses that might be forced against their will to move waited in the hall while the board discussed the project that might ruin their businesses.

State law, according to Freeman, says they should not have been excluded.

Starting . . . but slowly
Two months ago, the Destiny developers predicted there would be 100 new high-tech jobs in Syracuse by early June, courtesy of three technology companies setting down roots here.

The companies - ThoughtWorks, Interregnum and WISeKey - expect to have at least 25 workers in Syracuse by June.

Space has been a limiting factor, said Bill Euller, a vice president at ThoughtWorks who oversees the company's work on Destiny.

So this week Carousel Center's skydeck was prepared to become office space for up to 100 workers, said Michael Lorenz, a Destiny USA executive.

Destiny has leased 4,000 square feet at the Syracuse Technology Garden, downtown. That space should be ready to use in about a month, said Nasir Ali, vice president for new venture development at the chamber.

Why it matters: Nearly five years after Destiny was proposed - with a sense of urgency by the developer so work could start within months - and after a groundbreaking that, it turns out, did not represent the start of anything in particular, there's a certain boy-crying-wolf quality about announcements of progress.

To be fair, this is a complex project. That the jobs haven't come as fast as was hoped two months ago doesn't mean that they won't come.

Garbage in, garbage out
Destiny's developers might pay millions to buy land, relocate and build a new trash transfer station for Onondaga County, to make way for the Research and Development Park in Salina.

The Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency insists that Destiny pay to relocate the Ley Creek Trash Transfer Station on Seventh North Street.

Destiny executive Stephen Congel, in an April 7 letter to County Executive Nicholas Pirro, said the developer will reimburse "the costs associated with the relocation of a replacement facility."

Why it matters: Think this is a likely model for deals between the developer and the private businesses in the park's footprint, too?

The 'blue' period
Destiny USA planners have given the city hundreds of pages of engineering plans and could be weeks away from getting permits to begin construction of a $340 million, 848,000-square- foot addition to Carousel Center.

City departments responsible for reviewing the site, architectural, structural and mechanical plans are well into that review and have held six lengthy meetings with Destiny officials to discuss the details, city officials said.

"Were very pleased and very appreciative of the mutual collaboration," city Corporation Counsel Terri Bright said Wednesday.

Why it matters: Perhaps more important than the blueprints themselves is that "mutual collaboration" that Bright talked about.

Another example of the cooperation - Congel has not given the city a list of tenants for the expansion, but Bright said the city is not requiring the list because the bank lending Congel the $340 million for the expansion will require that information.

"If the bank is willing to loan $340 million, that's good enough," she said.

This cooperation stands in contrast to the continuing dispute between the city and the developer over Empire Zone acreage at the Syracuse Inner Harbor and to the tenor of earlier talks about the expansion.

Around the nation
This is a summary of news from outside Central New York that touches on the Destiny USA project.

From the gray lady. The New York Times last Sunday published a story about Destiny's desire to use government eminent domain powers to compel 29 businesses to move from land that would be used for the third phase of the research and development park in Salina.

There's not much more to say. The article aired the Destiny vision, the more everyday concerns of the businesses that might be asked to move someday and the questions about when it's proper for government to use its eminent domain powers and when it's not.

The article didn't break any ground that hasn't been covered in these pages.

But it is the Times, after all.


Syracuse Post Standard: www.syracuse.com