TUPPER LAKE - The town board here accepted an $80,000 bid from the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism to develop a destination and marketing plan for Tupper Lake.
ROOST placed the sole bid on the town and village board's joint request for proposal for a destination marketing organization. The draft of the request was developed by the Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce and later agreed upon, with some slight modifications, by both boards.
The town's approval isn't necessarily a green light for ROOST to get to work, though. That board's resolution to accept the bid, which passed unanimously, is contingent upon an even-split payment agreement with the village board. That means any grant money obtained by either municipality would be taken off the top of the total cost of the ROOST contract.
ROOST's bid was on the village board's Tuesday night agenda.
"I want to avoid a catch-22 situation of who bats first here," town Councilman John Quinn said. "It is a joint request for proposal, and I think we ought not to delay this any longer. We could pass something to the effect that we're ready to go ahead and be equal partners."
Town Supervisor Patti Littlefield agreed with Quinn and noted that money used to pay chamber Events Coordinator Michelle Clement's salary could be redirected to pay ROOST. Clement announced last week that she would not renew her contract with the town and the village, and chamber President Adam Boudreau told the Enterprise the chamber would not seek a replacement for Clement's position.
"The town contributes $15,000 annually to the chamber, and that money would no longer be there because the chamber is revamping the way they're doing their fundraising and operations, so that money would go back to the town and could be used to fund this project," Littlefield said.
The town also contributed $15,000 annually to fund the chamber's events coordinator position.
The Piercefield town board agreed last month to contribute $5,000 annually for the next three years to funding a destination marketing plan.
Developing a plan
Prior to accepting the bid, ROOST President Jim McKenna outlined what Tupper Lake could expect from hiring his organization.
"The destination workbook goes through and it identifies what a community has for tourism, but more importantly it recognizes what needs to be done to grow tourism," McKenna said. "Marketing is not the answer to tourism. Marketing is part of the process, but it isn't what's necessarily going to make an area successful. It's more about positioning yourself so that you're putting off the right type of messages so that other potential people coming to your destination are going to start telling your story for you."
McKenna explained that a marketing plan and a destination plan are two distinct things. A destination plan focuses on things tourists look for in an area, like lodging, shops and restaurants. A marketing plan focuses on communicating about those facilities to people.
Drawing tourists to an area is an obvious bonus, but McKenna stressed that the main goal of destination and marketing plans is to improve life for residents in a community.
"The reason we do tourism is not for the benefit of the tourists; it's for the benefit of the residents," McKenna said. "Sometimes our population bases aren't enough to support the kind of businesses we want to have in a community. If you do tourism properly, visitors can provide a demand for businesses that residents can then enjoy. Tourism is not the end-all. If you want to grow the region and bring people in, they want to look at certain amenities a community has like a good school system, art programs and grocery stores. Tourism is a good growth model for the (Adirondack) Park because it can be utilized as a means to get somewhere else."
Like other towns throughout the region, Tupper Lake is rife with opportunity for recreational activities like hiking and paddling that people leave large, metropolitan areas to enjoy.
"The number-one reason people visit is outdoor activities, and number two is the ability to enjoy relaxation, dining and shopping," McKenna said. "If you don't have that number two, you can have the best views in the area but you're not going to get repeat visitation or a situation where people will spend money. That's why our organization, back in 2000, started focusing on infrastructure."
McKenna explained that ROOST is not new to the destination and marketing game. Tupper Lake is literally surrounded by municipalities that have contracted with the organization, such as Saranac Lake, Hamilton County and ROOST's home county, Essex.
The key is to use what Tupper Lake already has and build on it to transform the town into a place tourists flock to, a process McKenna called "destination building." He noted that ROOST's research shows that 70 percent of visitors to Essex County come between May and October and that lodging typically accounts for 30 percent of a visitor's expenditures.
Letting people know where things are in Tupper Lake is also important. McKenna said Tupper Lake's website needs to be compatible with mobile devices, and he said he also thinks there is an opportunity to make the site stand out from others in the Adirondacks.
"The Tupper Lake site is fine, but it's more of a business site than a tourism site," McKenna said. "We think there is a big opportunity to make the site look significantly different from other sites in the Adirondacks right now.
McKenna's presentation was well received by members of the town board and others who attended the meeting.
Councilman Mike Dechene applauded the town, village and chamber boards for working together on the request for proposals, and said that kind of cooperation needs to happen more often to get Tupper Lake moving forward.
"People ask what we're going to get if we spend this kind of money, but we already know what doing nothing gets us," Dechene said. "We've already been down that road, and we can't keep doing it."
Dechene also commented on the need to upgrade the town's website to make it compatible with hand-held devices.
"If it isn't adaptable, you don't see the whole page on your screen," Dechene said. "This is what everybody uses. That's the world, and I think we need to stay up with the world."
Councilwoman Cathy Lefebvre and Councilman Rick Skiff both agreed that the time for Tupper Lake to move forward is long overdue. Village Trustee Leon LeBlanc, who attended the meeting, also agreed.
"I think it's time we do move forward and spend a few bucks," LeBlanc said. "In the long run it's going to come back."
Village Trustee Rick Donah also attended the meeting and said the community should get behind hiring ROOST.
"I pulled Jim (McKenna) aside, and I told him that I'm just so concerned about the assets we have in Tupper Lake," Donah said. "He said, in his way, that that's part of this process. You identify your assets, and you identify what you need to fix and change and develop. We all understand the challenges; we don't need to outline those. We need to reengineer that tourist economy here. You have to have a real discussion on how you get there. It makes perfect sense, and I think the community should get behind it."
Both Donah and LeBlanc said they hoped the village board would get behind the contract so ROOST can get to work.