In rare interview, Destiny USA owner discusses mall security after city hall meeting

Local News

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — In a rare and exclusive interview, Destiny USA owner and CEO of Pyramid Management Companies, Steve Congel, spoke with NewsChannel 9 about the considerations to improve mall security.

NewsChannel 9’s Andrew Donovan was the only reporter outside Mayor Ben Walsh’s office during a meeting with Congel on mall security that also included Syracuse Police Chief Kenton Buckner and Onondaga County District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick.

When asked what he says to people who don’t feel safe at Destiny USA, Congel says, “We want everyone to feel very comfortable to come there. We spend a great deal of time and money on providing a safe environment out there.”

Many shoppers didn’t feel safe on Black Friday, when a suspected gang member shot another near the mall’s food court.

Congel says, “It was an isolated incident between two known parties. That incident could have taken place as easy on any corner within the city as it did in the food court on Black Friday. You have to appreciate there were tens of thousands of people in the mall when that incident occurred. I think our security force and Syracuse PD did an amazing job reacting to it instantly.”

Thousands of customers had to be evacuated, while others were locked into stores as part of the mall’s active shooter protocol. Some have since complained they weren’t communicated with as to what was going on.

Asked about those criticisms, Congel responds, “It all occurred in a relatively short period of time considering the scale of the building and quantity of people involved. I think they did a great job in evacuating the building in an orderly way. It’s difficult to communicate with people on a real-time basis to communicate what’s going on. You have to be careful you don’t send the wrong messages out if you don’t know what’s going on.”

Of the meeting, Mayor Ben Walsh tells NewsChannel 9, “It’s his property. It’s his money and he has to spend it in a way that he thinks is most effective. I was given the impression he values our perspective.”

There are several facets to the security review, including the number of police officers, how much they’re paid, and what hours they work.

Mayor Walsh says, “There were no specific decisions made that will change what’s happening at the mall today. But there was substantive conversation, and there were potential changes that were explored.”

Since the shooting, Destiny USA has already called in more officers and, for the first time, probation officers, who can most easily spot gang members and know the limits of their probation.

Onondaga County District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick says, “The gang bangers are going to get the message very soon that if you want to create mischief, Destiny is not the place to do it.”

Mayor Walsh says he brought up the idea, but no decision was made about a Syracuse Police substation visible to shoppers, similar to the one at Eastview Mall near Rochester.

Walsh says, “There was no firm no’s or yes’s, so it continues to be among many options that we’re exploring to ensure the mall is safe.”

WATCH: Andrew Donovan’s extended, unedited interview with Pyramid CEO Steve Congel

For more local news, follow Andrew Donovan on Twitter @AndrewDonovan

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