Syracuse mall eyes Canadian cross-border shopping

An upstate New York mall is expanding to become one of the largest in the United States, and it's operators are hoping new looser rules for cross-border shopping will help draw more people from Ontario and Quebec.

Duty-free limits loosened today to $200 for 24-hour trip, $800 for 48-hour trip

An artist's impression of the new Destiny USA mall, which will be home to more than 250 brand stores. (Photo courtesy of Destiny USA)

An upstate New York mall is expanding to become one of the largest in the United States and its operators are hoping new looser rules for cross-border shopping will help draw more people from Ontario and Quebec.

Starting today, Canadians returning from a 24-hour trip can spend $200 at the duty-free shop, four times the current $50 limit. For a 48-hour absence, shoppers can legally cross the border with $800 worth of goods, double the current limit. The changes were made as part of the 2012 federal budget.

Canadians already spend about $60 million annually at the Carousel Center in Syracuse, N.Y., a huge shopping complex at about 1.5 million square feet.

Danica Kaltaler of the Syracuse Visitors Bureau frequently visits events in Ontario to promote Syracuse. (Evan Dyer/CBC)

But the shopping complex is rebranding itself as Destiny USA and undergoing a massive 850,000-square-foot expansion with 265 different branded shops, an IMAX theatre, a go-cart racing track, a bowling alley and a nightclub.

The operators will open the newly enlarged mall in August. 

They expect almost 30 million annual visits, making it the second-most visited mall in the United States after the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minn.

Canadians are big part of business

Canadian shoppers are a big part of the mall's business, according to mall spokesman David Aitken, accounting for about 12 to 15 per cent of all expenditures.

Cross-border shoppers are highly desirable for mall operators because they are people who come motivated to buy. While the average U.S. mall visitor spends $105 a trip, the Carousel Center shopper spends $151 and spends on average an extra hour shopping, according to mall management.

Canadian malls have responded to the challenge posed by increased cross-border competition by expanding their operations as well.

The Bayshore Shopping Centre in Ottawa is adding an additional 160,000 square feet to a complex that is already 700,000 square feet in size.

"If we're going to lose something to someone else, it won't be without a fight," said mall general manager Denis Pelletier.

Both malls are making an effort to be environmentally friendly, with both going for high levels of LEED certification, which requires a great deal of effort in recycling. The mall in Syracuse, for example, will actually collect rain off its roof and use only that for all purposes except drinking water.