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Build it and they will come ... again

February 19, 2015
Editorial , Lake Placid News

Thirty-five years ago, during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games, Lake Placid had the only bobsled and luge runs in North America.

By 1988, Calgary had built a bobsled/luge run for its Olympics, followed by Salt Lake City in 2002 and Vancouver in 2010. While competition for hosting world-class winter sporting events continues to increase, only the cities that find ways to upgrade their facilities will be able to cash in on these prestigious international competitions and stay relevant in the Olympic movement.

From what we can tell, Lake Placid isn't ready to give up its Olympic legacy, and we hope it never will. This region has sent athletes to every Winter Olympics since the first one in 1924, and it is known as an incubator for Olympians. This village - host of the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Winter Games - is also home to a U.S. Olympic Training Center and USA Luge. This town lives and breathes the Olympics.

Article Photos

Republican Sen. Bob Dole, of Kansas, visited Lake Placid and its Olympic venues in 1979. Behind him is the luge run for the 1980 Olympic Winter Games. The 1932 bobrun at Mount Van Hoevenberg was upgraded to include a new refrigeration system at a cost of more than $4.1 million and followed the configuration of the lower mile of the 1.5-mile run used in the 1932 Olympic Winter Games. In addition, a new 1,000-meter refrigerated luge run was built at a cost of $5.8 million. In order to host the 1980 games, government agencies paid millions of dollars to construct venues. The state of New York provided about $63 million for alpine, cross-country and biathlon skiing facilities, and the federal government paid $67 million for the ski jumps, speedskating oval, arena, luge run, parking facilities, dressing rooms and storage facilities (in 2001 dollars). That does not include the $60 million spent to build the athletes’ village, now the Federal Correctional Institution, in Ray Brook. The figures above were provided by two reports: the Final Report of the XIII Olympic Winter Games and the November 2001 U.S. Government Accountability Office report titled “Olympic Games: Costs to Plan and Stage the Games in the United States.” The 1980 luge run was dismantled in the spring of 1999 in order to build the existing combined bobsled/luge/skeleton run for the Winter Goodwill Games, held in February 2000. State and federal governments pitched in millions of dollars toward the $20 million project.
(File photo — Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee)

Yet history shows us that the Olympic games, and their economic benefits, have not been handed to Lake Placid on a platter. Lake Placid wasn't preordained by God, Albany or Washington, D.C., to become an Olympic city, but thanks to the hard work and perseverance of our forefathers, that is now the village's identity. Community boosters built something from nothing.

We can either choose to remain in the Olympic movement or let it slip away, relegating it to the history books. Again, nobody is going to hand us upgrades for our venues simply because they love us; we'll have to work hard to attract them.

In this space on June 18, 1999, we published an editorial titled "Build it and they will come" about the new bobsled/luge/skeleton run, which was a prerequisite for hosting the Winter Goodwill Games in February 2000. The editorial was written after Lake Placid was named to host the 2003 World Bobsled Championships.

"We couldn't ignore the disrepair of the bobsled and luge runs; no international federation was willing to hold a race on either one of them," we wrote. "In fact, the World Bobsled Championships were last held in Lake Placid in 1983."

The luge run was demolished after 20 years of service. The "new" track - at 15 years old - continues to be the focus of international competition, hosting the luge and bobsled/skeleton World Cup races this winter. Lake Placid also hosted the FIS Freestyle Skiing World Cup this year at Whiteface Mountain and the Olympic Jumping Complex. But international competitions for other sports, such as ski jumping, will not be considered for Lake Placid unless upgrades are made.

So what upgrades are we talking about? We're not sure. Is there a list? There should be.

We agree with North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi when he says Lake Placid is at a crossroads and needs a dose of good old-fashioned community activism like we had to attract the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. It took decades to get the 1980 games, with the first discussion in this space on May 9, 1947 for the 1952 games.

"We have everything. Let's make use of it! Let's bid for the Olympic Games!"

In the Jan. 3, 1964 issue, the Lake Placid News called 1963 "the year of the 1968 Olympic bid" because the community was consumed with raising money and drafting plans to bid for the 1968 Olympic Winter Games, which were eventually awarded to Grenoble, France.

The Jan. 23, 1964 issue was filled with stories about the bid, including the presentations and bios of the delegates who traveled to Innsbruck, Austria, to make their case for Lake Placid a day before the 1964 games began. Many were members of the Lake Placid Sports Council, which no longer exists. The delegation included Lake Placid Mayor Robert Peacock, North Elba Supervisor William J. Hurley, village attorney and Lake Placid Ski Club President Norman Hess, village Trustee John Wilkins, Whiteface Ski School manager Karl Fahrner, Lake Placid Merchants Association President J. Vernon Lamb Jr., Art Devlin, Stan Benham, Ron MacKenzie, Luke Patnode, James Sheffield, J. Bernard Fell, State Conservation Commissioner Harold Wilm, Fred Fortune, Bob Allen, Sid Cox and Al Eccleston.

The group was impressive, and we haven't seen anything like these delegations from the 1960s and 1970s since the 1980 Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee disbanded.

The main reason we don't have that level of community activism - in regard to improving venues and attracting competitions - is because people sincerely believe it's the sole responsibility of the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, which was established after the 1980 games. We don't think so.

ORDA has a board of directors and a newly configured Community Advisory Panel, and the state continues to spend millions of dollars each year to maintain and upgrade the facilities, but that's not enough. Officials in the village, town, county, state and federal governments should work with stakeholders such as the New York Ski Educational Foundation and national governing bodies such as USA Luge to write a list of goals, make an official assessment of the venues and come up with a game plan to upgrade the facilities based on those goals.

In the 2014 joint comprehensive plan for the village of Lake Placid and town of North Elba, here is Goal 5:

"Lake Placid's recreational facilities and sports venues will be of the quality, quantity and design to serve national and international competitions along with athletes in training, residents and visitors of all ages throughout the year and support a healthy, vigorous lifestyle in the community."

In order to achieve that goal, the plan lists one objective:

"Ensure that the Olympic facilities and sports venues are maintained and continually updated to meet the highest international standards in order to attract year-round training and competitions."

To implement that objective, the plan calls for two measures:

1. Continue to apply for Regional Economic Development grants for funding to plan and implement the updating of all Olympic facilities.

2. Establish a delegation of key stakeholders (local government officials, ORDA executives, OTC management, NYSEF and school officials) to advocate for funding and support from the state and federal governments, corporations and nonprofits.

We all know upgrades have to be made to the venues. Now we need a community delegation and a written plan. Only one question remains: Who will take the lead on this project?

Words are not enough. It's time for some action.



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