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How will Syracuse's Destiny USA impact Rochester-area gem Eastview?


Tom Tobin, Democrat and Chronicle
Malls like to carve out territories, to draw spheres of shopping influence.

The Rochester region’s major malls, all owned by Wilmorite Corp., serve defined vicinities that include distinct communities. Some overlap is inevitable, but it is foreseen.

When the malls are farther apart, as in the Rochester area and the Syracuse area, the spheres of influence would seem to be clear cut. And that has pretty much been the case for the 1.3-million-square-foot Eastview Mall in Victor and the 1.5-million-square-foot Carousel Center in Syracuse, signature shopping centers separated by 73 miles and able to operate without a lot of competitive infringement.

That may change. Pyramid Management Group last week began rebranding the 21-year-old Carousel.

Destiny USA is the somewhat immodest new name for Carousel. It represents an 850,000-square-foot expansion to create the sixth largest mall in the United States. The mall, once it is done around the end of the year, expects to attract 29 million visitors annually, second only to the Mall of America in Minneapolis.

The three-floor expansion includes a mix of regular retail, outlet-type discount stores and a floor, not yet done, given over to bars, restaurants, a snazzy bowling center and an electric go-cart track. Regal Cinemas, already present at Carousel, will build two new theaters accessible from the third floor of the expansion.

Among Destiny USA’s exclusive clothing retailers are Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th, Salvatore Ferragamo and XSRE. Nineteen new shops opened last week and 19 more are “coming soon,” said Pyramid spokesman David Aitken.

“Seventy percent of the (new) space is committed from a square-footage perspective,” Aitken said. “We are going to continue to announce brands on a regular basis. We expect to be in a very solid position by the end of the year, adding to the strength of the existing brands.”

Most of the Destiny stores are of the chain variety and many already have a foothold in the Rochester area, including the restaurants P.F. Chang’s China Bistro and The Melting Pot, and the Eastview children’s boutique Janie and Jack.

Other Destiny retailers also are familiar to Rochester shoppers, including Five Below, Eddie Bauer and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Pyramid expects to get a major sales bump from the drawn-out rebranding effort as people check out the expanded mall and stores that are new to the region, such as the Tex-Mex chain Catina Laredo and Destiny’s third-floor nightspots.

“We have a projected trade area of 2.5 hours and the potential of reaching 5.5 million people on a regular basis,” Aitken said.

Little of that seems to faze the Wilmorite team or the management staff at Eastview led by general manager Mike Kauffman, who continues to work on an $80 million upgrade of the mall that began four years ago.

Kauffman said that Eastview’s secondary market — the Rochester area is its primary trade area — already includes Syracuse and he doesn’t expect a long-term drain on Eastview’s customer base.

“We’ve had a preview of this over the past four or five years,” Kauffman said, referring to the time it has taken to get Destiny USA to the rebranding point.

“There will be some crossover but we see it being pretty minimal. Our direction has been toward the more upscale shoppers and we don’t see Destiny going in that direction particularly,” Kauffman said.

The retailers that will have a foot in both malls see not a loss of customers but an influx of buyers to the entire upstate region, as those from eastern New York and the Southern Tier — joined by the famous traveling Canadians — sample all the available retail.

“Our company thinks it’s a win-win,” said Sharon Brooks, a manager with Janie and Jack.

Clearly, those most likely to be torn between traveling to either Eastview or Destiny reside in the counties that lie roughly halfway between Rochester and Syracuse near the Thruway — Wayne, Seneca, Ontario and others.

But it’s not a tossup, said Mike Manikowski, executive director of the Ontario County Office of Economic Development. The two malls, despite their encompassing reach, seek to appeal to different kinds of shoppers, he said.

“There’s some similarity but it’s not across the board. Eastview is really going for the more upscale shopper,” Manikowski said, pointing to the planned opening next year of a Von Maur department store at Eastview. “Von Maur is a high-end retailer and it is so unique, really in my view the Wegmans of department stores” and a destination store in its own right.

Tourism officials in central and western New York are anticipating an uptick because of Destiny USA, the continuing improvements at Eastview, highlighted by Von Maur, and Waterloo Premium Outlets, already a draw for Canadians.

Cynthia Oswald, president of the Livingston County Chamber of Commerce, is among those seeing a benefit. “The motor coach trade aimed at shoppers could bring more tourists to such places as Letchworth State Park,” she said.

That Destiny USA will fit in more than overwhelm Eastview and other Rochester malls is due, in a way, to a shortcoming — Destiny never met developer Robert Congel’s original, outsized ambition to build hotels and water parks and create a sort of Syracuse version of the Disney experience.

Pyramid got tax breaks and federal loans based on the company’s “green” construction, and those incentives remain in place though this particular Disney experience will end when the $540 million mall expansion is finished.

“If you look at the record, you’ll see the tax breaks were awarded based on what we said could be built,” Aitken said. Pyramid said Citigroup pulled the financing plug, but others contend the exorbitant plans were always fanciful.

For some upstate residents, the question isn’t the impact on Eastview or other large malls but the effect on small retailers in the Syracuse area.

“How many local guys do you think we will kill with this?” a Web commenter named “inexcess” said in response to one of many stories on Destiny USA. “I will certainly go there and probably will eat there a lot as well. But that means I will not visit or frequent my usual local stuff as much anymore.”