New York Developer Aims to Build Green Mega-Mall

A developer in Syracuse, N.Y, wants to create an environmentally friendly mega-mall. Matt Hackworth of member station WAER reports.

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And he could spend a lot of time working in Syracuse, New York. That's where a developer wants to turn a shopping mall, an ordinary shopping mall, into the nation's largest shopping mall. It's a $25 billion project. It'll feature more than one million square feet of retail and entertainment space, an indoor water park and two golf courses. All, we're told, will be powered entirely by renewable energy. Environmentalists question just how green a mega mall can be. Here's Matt Hackworth of member station WAER.

MATT HACKWORTH reporting:

The Carousel Center Mall in Syracuse is among the top 25 shopping malls in the US for sales, and its stores require a lot of electricity.

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HACKWORTH: Deep in the guts of the mall, behind a major chain shoe store, mall general manager Rob Schoeneck leaves the drone of Muzak behind to show how millions of kilowatt hours of electricity come into the complex off the US electrical grid.

Mr. ROB SCHOENECK (General Manager, Carousel Center Mall): Here's our main feeds coming in through those conduits.

HACKWORTH: How much power does the mall use?

Mr. SCHOENECK: About, you know, 55 million kilowatt hours per year.

HACKWORTH: That's enough to power almost 13,000 homes a year. But when the mall expands to become the Destiny USA resort, developers don't want to consume any electricity from outside sources. The plan is to use biodiesel generators, solar panels and other methods so the complex will be self-sufficient. Even hydroelectric plants will operate from rivers of snow melting off the complex's roof. Destiny USA Executive David Aitken says the original plan didn't include green technology until developers met with scientists who specialize in it.

Mr. DAVID AITKEN (Executive, Destiny USA): We began a very open evolution of our concept to say we can create a project that will be successful financially, or we can make a difference, and we actually found we could do both.

HACKWORTH: But in its quest, the plan has suffered setbacks. Even Syracuse's Green Party opposes the Destiny project, and the party's candidate for mayor in the last election helped make it a key issue. Howie Hawkins says it's pointless to build what he calls a mega mall powered by sustainable energy.

Mr. HOWIE HAWKINS (Green Party Mayoral Candidate): Despite its hype about powering it with renewables, its basic character is anti-ecological because it depends on sprawl and consumerism that exploits cheap labor and natural resources the world over.

HACKWORTH: And there are other concerns. The project plans to use eminent domain laws to gain 900 acres, but it would force nearly 30 businesses to move. There are financing squabbles with the city of Syracuse, and skeptics inside and outside government who doubt Destiny will ever be built. But advocates like Rick Fedrizzi say it's important to move ahead with the project. Fedrizzi is president of the US Green Building Council, and he says huge complexes like Destiny USA will be built no matter how they consume energy.

Mr. RICK FEDRIZZI (US Green Building Council): If those will be built anyway, wouldn't it be better to build those to have the ability to use 50 to 70 percent less energy, 50 percent on average less water? I just think it sends a real positive message about where we're heading and what our priorities are.

HACKWORTH: A priority for Destiny USA executives now is to finalize financing for the project. Its green technology aspect can raise the overall cost of construction by as much as 30 percent, but the cost can be recouped in savings over time. Developers are hopeful they'll benefit from more than a billion dollars in bonds from a new federal green technology program. A federal panel will decide if Destiny USA meets the green technology standard, even though it's surrounded by parking lots. For NPR News, I'm Matt Hackworth in Syracuse, New York.

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