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OLYMPIC EFFECT: And the winner is ...

Olympic bid, venue plan hang on state funding competition

December 3, 2015
By ANDY FLYNN - Editor ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - URI sounds like a health condition, but it's really an acronym for the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, which sounds like a government program devised in Albany because it is.

It's also a high stakes competition, one that could benefit the Olympic Village and the entire Adirondack North Country Region for generations.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has challenged seven of the upstate Regional Economic Development Councils, including the North Country REDC, to a URI challenge, pitting economic development proposals against one another for three top prizes worth $500 million each. The winners are expected to be announced on Dec. 10.

Article Photos

Combined track for luge, bobsled and skeleton at Mount Van Hoevenberg
(News photo — Andy Flynn)

On its list of 2015 priority projects, the NCREDC has placed a $6 million plan to create the Adirondack/Thousand Islands Sports and Events Commission to use an Olympic Winter bid for the 2026 or 2030 Games in order to create sustainable Olympic venues and a Global Center for Sports Excellence. The cost would be split: $4.5 million coming from public URI funds - if awarded - and $1.5 million from private investment.

The sports commission will have representatives from seven counties, including town and village officials, the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, for-profit sports organizations, former Olympians and environmentalists.

"We had to come up with an organization that would lead this, and we had to be regionwide," McKenna said.

The sports commission, which is not completely formed, would be based in Saranac Lake.

While the end game of the bid proposal sounds like the Olympics, it's really about sustainable economic development for the long term, according to NCREDC members Jim McKenna, president of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism in Lake Placid, and Cali Brooks, executive director of the Adirondack Foundation in Lake Placid.

"It's going to drive regional economic development in this particular sector," Brooks said.

The Adirondack/ Thousand Islands Sports and Events Commission would hire consultants to develop the plans for an Olympic bid, venue improvements and a Global Center for Sports Excellence.

"We don't pretend to know the answers to make this all happen," McKenna said. "We cannot bid on the Games right now. If people want to start talking about that and using that as a tool for solving a lot of issues in our region, then we have to get a plan together to do that, and we have to get a plan together by people who are in the know."

McKenna has already been in contact with some potential consulting firms. During a recent trip to Lausanne, Switzerland, he met with officials from TSE Consulting, which specializes in working with Olympic host cities and national governing bodies of sport. The firm has an office in Indianapolis as well.

"We have to get the best in the world here to help us plan this out because planning this out the right way will encourage private sector money to the table," McKenna said. "We've identified those consulting groups that if the state goes with our program, we have it already in motion to start."

In order to draft the 2015 priorities, the NCREDC created committees to represent economic sectors in the North Country: agriculture and green energy, advanced manufacturing and innovation, and tourism and community centers. McKenna and Brooks were co-chairs of the committee for tourism and community centers.

"Those three economic sectors were not just picked out of thin air," Brooks said. "They really were identified over the past four years of the Regional Economic Development Council process as the primary sectors in the North Country that could have a real opportunity for growth through the Upstate Revitalization Initiative."

In addition to the sports commission/Olympic bid proposal, some of the local projects on the NCREDC's state funding priority list include: Schroon Lake Hospitality, A Destination Transformed ($2.2 million); Village of Tupper Lake Potable Water Supply & Water Distribution System Improvement ($1,555,450); Adirondack Community-Based Trails & Lodging System ($560,000); Adirondack Health Medical Fitness Center in Lake Placid ($3 million); ANCA's Energy Capital Project for Essex and Franklin counties ($1.181 million); Village of Tupper Lake Premium Wood Pellet Fired District Heating System ($2.9 million); and Promoting and Sustaining Tourism & Resiliency in Adirondack Blueway for Essex and Franklin counties ($920,000).

"Everybody in this whole region says tourism is one of their growth tools, but it was very clear to us over this time period that the same challenges we have in some of our Adirondack towns with current infrastructure - current hotels, current downtowns - was the challenge," McKenna said. "We developed many different programs in the URI to deal with that."

All of the NCREDC priority projects funded through the URI are required to have private matching funds.

What happens if the NCREDC does not get the $500 million from the URI?

"We have a backup plan," McKenna said.

The NCREDC has submitted consolidated funding applications for its 2015 priority projects - as was recommended by the state for the URI competition - so they are part of the regular stream of grant funding through the state.



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