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GUEST COMMENTARY: All the Olympic venues are under utilized

March 19, 2015
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

I agree with Ed Weibrecht's basic points (in the March 13 guest commentary) that Whiteface is under utilized, we need more cooperation between ORDA and ROOST, and we should bolster our Olympic and environmental heritage.

Fundamentally, all the venues are under utilized. As an example, according to Snowsport Industries of America, approximately half as many people cross-country ski as do alpine. Thus, while Ed's right that Whiteface is way under utilized, the Mount Van Hoevenberg cross-country center is more so to a far greater degree.

In part, the problem is marketing. Another is the venues are out of date. Nine other cross-country centers in the East alone have snowmaking. We have none. In the days of climate change, it's as vital to have snowmaking at cross-country ski centers as it is for alpine. People planning ski vacations want a guarantee there will be snow.

During the governor's winter challenge, Cuomo touted the $10 million he budgeted for ORDA, but that does not touch the amount needed to bring the venues back to international levels, a price closer to an additional $50 million. That may sound like a lot, but it's a bargain. Building the combination bobsled-luge track for the Vancouver Games cost approximately $140 million. Thus upgrading our venues now is an extremely cost-effective investment.

Why does upgrading the venues matter? Venues attract coaches, coaches attract athletes, and together they attract events. Events generate publicity and people, and that adds up to a big economic impact. Biathlon is a growth sport as in nordic combined and jumping for women, along with all freestyle sports.

What's needed? Snowmaking for cross-county and biathlon along with 7 km of intertwining trails that meet FIS standards and new targets; an upgraded refrigeration system and lodge for the Oval; at the Arena a fixed roof, new scoreboards, and an expanded and better insulated USA Rink with more seating and locker room space; safety netting at Whiteface and investment in the freestyle park; doubling the size of the pool at Intervales, a trampoline building, a new 70-meter jump, refrigeration on the in-runs of all the hills coupled with reshaping the in-runs and landing hills; plus an year round-indoor practice start track for luge, bobsled and skeleton. Further, all the venues should be upgraded to enhance the visitor experience.

What's also needed, as Ed pointed out, is increased cooperation, but not just between ORDA and ROOST. So too, as an example, we need cooperation between ORDA, the U.S. Olympic Training Center, NYSEF, National Sport Academy, Northwood School, North Country Community College and Lake Placid Central to develop and implement a shared strategic plan for recruiting student athletes and coaches instead of competing with each other as is too often the case.

We as a community should develop non-traditional strategic alliances to get visitors and athletes coming to Lake Placid. The governor brought many elected officials from across the state to have great time enjoying winter sports on March 8. Did he and they all leave with a packet outlining what is needed to upgrade the venues and why it is to the economic benefit of the region and state to do so? Further, inline skaters have the basic skills to become cross-country, short track and speeding skating athletes while skate boarders represent potential freestyle skiers. All these elected officials can open doors to talent that could be training here.

You can be sure if Bob Peacock were mayor, every one of them would have left with a Lake Placid pin he personally took from his lapel and pinned on theirs, had information extolling our virtues and needs in hand, and before the week was out would have been called asking how can we work together.

I believe that's the kind of collaboration Ed is calling for across the board in all aspects of economic development. ORDA cannot lobby the governor and other state and national officials. We can and should. The deplorable state of the venues represents a failure of town/village/community-ORDA cooperation, collaboration, and using their strengths to best advantage. Our chances of landing grants and athletic competitions will go up when the community and ORDA work together.

The fact that the governor did not articulate a goal of getting all the venues up to international standards underscores that he has not heard the need from us in a clear and concise manner as he is passionate about the North Country. The time to make that pitch is now before the state budget is passed.

NSA's payroll is down over a million dollars. We are at risk of losing the OTC and its 40 plus employees. We have lost coaches, events, hundreds of athletes and multi-millions of dollars of publicity to Park City and elsewhere. We could easily lose hockey to places like Glens Falls where people are considering creating a hockey academy. We used to be the center for figure skating and speed skating among many other sports.

Yes, we should collect a bed tax from every visitor who is staying at a hotel, camp ground, B&B or in a private rental. We must market to Montreal, Toronto, New York City, New Jersey, Albany, Syracuse and Buffalo. If ROOST's budget were divided equally, that would be less than $250,000 per those seven regions. We need more cash. More we need to figure out how to make all visitors feel special, especially people of color that make up half the state's population but are what, 5 percent of our audience?

Telluride, Colorado, located far from any urban area, is successful because it sells the environment, its mountain, and a variety of world-class events on a year-round basis. Right now we are extremely well-positioned to recapture our place as the center for training winter athletes and hosting national and international events for professional and amateur athletes, as well as in the arts, wellness, and hospitality, but only if we set egos, concerns about who gets credit, and some bad history aside and focus our energies on our shared goals. Do that and the next time Ed is in a hospital, the many caregivers he meets will be waxing poetic about their experiences and asking his advice on where to dine.



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