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GUEST COMMENTARY: Who are we in Lake Placid? What is our identity?

March 13, 2015
By ED WEIBRECHT - Mirror Lake Inn , Lake Placid News

We are a two-time Olympic village in the heart of the beautiful Adirondacks. We continue to be a destination for international, World Cup, collegiate and other sporting activities.

We have an authentic Olympic village, a small-town Main Street, USA ... but we don't market and promote ourselves on these strengths. Eric Heiden in 1980 was the most individually medaled Olympian in a single year's Olympics ever, and then, of course, there's the Miracle on Ice. Visitors can skate on both ice surfaces. We have the most wonderful winter, summer and year-round opportunities for visitors to enjoy, and yet they are all underutilized. Whiteface Mountain has, at best, one-half of its potential skier visits, and there's plenty of vacancy in our community in the spring, summer and fall.

Last year I had the occasion to spend more than two weeks in a top-end medical facility in New York City: one week in a hospital surgical unit and one week in a premier rehabilitation facility.

During that period of time, I had conversations with and made acquaintances with 40 to 50 professional individuals ranging from premier surgeons, various doctors, residents, medical students, physician's assistants, nurses, nurse's aides and physical therapy staff members at various levels - all a perfect market demographic for our community.

During these conversations and due to the nature of my spinal surgery, the distance we have to travel home became a topic of conversation, where I was repeatedly asked, "Where do you live?" Of the 40 or 50 individuals I spoke with, only ONE had ever heard of Lake Placid, and his response was, "Didn't they have an Olympics there or something?" In fact, Olympic athletes sponsored by the state Olympic Regional Development Authority have better name recognition than did Lake Placid.

These individuals came from a vast and diverse geographic area including Westchester County, Brooklyn, the Bronx, various communities in Queens and Long Island, parts of northern New Jersey and, of course, Manhattan.

As a business owner and major contributor to our bed tax, I found this experience disconcerting.

Was my little survey statistically valid? Probably not, but coupled with the fact that during our drive home at 4:30 p.m. on the afternoon of Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014, you could roll a bowling ball down Main Street or find an on-street parking space anywhere you wanted, it is cause for reflection.

Between the Lake Placid Convention and Visitors Bureau and ORDA, I estimate we must be spending more than $1.5 million to $2 million a year on marketing. I hear a lot about studies telling us about all the wonderful benefits we're getting, but as a close observer, I don't see these benefits. The Mirror Lake Inn is doing very well (best year since the record year, 2008), but in my opinion that's mostly a result of our own internal programs and promotions.

We enjoy pretty good business, but a lot of that appears to be good busy-ness. Bed tax and sales tax going up - that happens when you "churn" a lot of business regardless of whether or not it is profitable.

We seem to have lost our way or our focus on what's important. Studies have reported to show "Olympic" is no longer an important identity or drawing card for us. Is this because a consumer is no longer drawn or interested in "Olympic," or is it REALLY because we haven't adequately capitalized on our unique heritage? I am convinced it is the latter. Our Olympic legacy or heritage is something few communities can match, and yet we don't aggressively capitalize on it or promote it. If we're going to promote making your "perfect day," let's do it as making your perfect day in the Olympic village of Lake Placid.

In my opinion, a lot of the problem is that ORDA and the Convention and Visitors Bureau don't work together, year round, for the common goal of promoting the community, for the benefit of the whole region. There's a current effort to try and help other communities maximize their tourist potential. This is a noble effort, but the best way to facilitate that end is to capitalize on our Olympic heritage and legacy. Shift the focus from other resort communities in the eastern U.S. back to the Adirondacks and its Olympic heritage. The spillover effect will benefit all the communities in the region.

Currently as we celebrate the 35th anniversary of the 1980 games, there's a lot of talk about our need to improve and upgrade our venues. This is necessary, but in order to engage state and federal money, we have to show the governments that we know where we are and where we are going - that we are focused. It's hard to expect the state and federal governments to put Olympic-oriented money in our area if we can't demonstrate to them the importance of our Olympic heritage to us and that we are united and focused with a common plan and mission. "Build it, and they will come" is not that mission.

Youth hockey is a wonderful asset and economic benefit to this community, but I'm concerned that we have started to take it for granted. What would happen if organizations like CAN/AM were enticed away from our community? Only a fool would say that could never happen. What would fill that hole for this region? Particularly since most of our room inventory is underutilized and is about to increase by another 200 rooms in Saranac Lake. Whiteface Mountain could fill some of that hole, but not at its current rate of 200,000 skier visits per year. This is about one-third of the skier visits at places like Okemo, Sunday River, Holiday Valley and Killington. A 50 percent increase in skier visits to Whiteface would be a huge economic benefit to the community and a great hedge against, God forbid, the loss of some of our wintertime hockey business, and we would still be substantially below the ski areas mentioned above and other ski areas like Hunter and Windham.

We can all try to find reasons to justify why we aren't doing better, but I think it would be better to spend our energy on determining what we have to do to become better and make the outside world aware of who we are and what we are. Does the outside world realize that it takes less time to get to Whiteface and Lake Placid than it does to Killington from Manhattan?

Ed Weibrecht lives in Lake Placid and is the owner/operator of the Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa in Lake Placid.



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