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UP CLOSE: Little no stranger to Placid as new ORDA board member

State Sen. Betty Little, right, has a conversation in February 2016 at the Olympic Jumping Complex in Lake Placid during the governor’s Adirondack Winter Challenge. (News photo — Antonio Olivero)

State Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, is entering a new arena this week as a recently appointed member of the state Olympic Regional Development Authority’s Board of Directors.

Although this Friday, Aug. 7, will mark the senator’s first ORDA board meeting as a member, it won’t be her first time getting involved with Olympic venues and large-scale sporting events in Lake Placid.

Little has spent more than two decades in the state Legislature, first as an assemblywoman from 1995 to 2002, then as a senator. Working with governors George Pataki and Andrew Cuomo, Little has advocated for hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding to revitalize the state’s winter sports venues, including those in Lake Placid. But her love of this village precedes her time in office.

“Before I was elected, we went to Lake Placid a few times,” she said in a phone interview Tuesday, Aug. 4. “We’d go up there for the day. I was not a hiker, but spending a day there, having dinner — we enjoyed being there.”

Little is the mother of six children. One of Little’s daughters, who is now 53, trained as a figure skater and competed in the Empire State Winter Games during her senior year in high school. One of her sons was a skier. Little stays at the Whiteface Lodge in Lake Placid for a few weeks every year, and enjoys attending St. Agnes Catholic Church while she’s here.

Over the years, Little said she’s met some great people in Lake Placid. She mentioned Jack Shea, an Olympic gold medalist in speedskating in 1932 and former North Elba town supervisor, as an example.

As an elected official, Little made appearances at several large-scale events here, including multiple world cups, the 2000 Winter Goodwill Games, the 25th anniversary of the 1980 Olympic Winter Games in 2005 and the 40th anniversary this year, and the Empire State Winter Games. She’s also been involved in negotiations to bring events here, such as the 2023 World University Games and the 2019 International Children’s Games, in which she served as a volunteer.

“There’s just so much there, and so many people totally involved with their community,” she said. “It’s a special place. It’s just been an absolute privilege to represent it.”

Facing a challenge

ORDA closed its doors to visitors in March in an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, and those doors stayed closed for about four months. Like countless other businesses, its venues have seen a significant loss in revenue this year, even as multi-million-dollar construction projects — authorized before the pandemic — continue.

It’s in this uncertain atmosphere that Little is stepping in as one of 12 ORDA board members who will have a say in the authority’s operations.

Little said ORDA is doing the best it can to improve the number of summer activities at each venue — an effort to shore up more revenue year-round — and hailed the work the authority has done at the Gore and Belleayre ski areas.

“Gore Mountain is the economic engine of Warren County,” she said. “It used to be that people felt it didn’t get enough attention, and I think we’ve been able to counter that and improve upon that. People at Belleayre are really happy with all of the improvements that have taken place there. They didn’t have a gondola before, and they’re competing with Hunter and Windham.”

The Olympic Center is also critically important, according to Little — its administrators and athletes spending millions of dollars each year in the greater Tri-Lakes area.

Asked what she’s looking forward to doing while on the board, Little said: “Keeping all of the venues up at all of the locations, helping the economy of the areas that they’re in.”

Little said what happens to the venues in Lake Placid, North Creek and in the Catskills has wide-reaching impacts on each region’s economy.

“With the World University Games coming in 2023, I’ve been involved with those. I’ll be a good connection between the two, I think,” she said.

Little acknowledged that the coronavirus pandemic will pose a significant challenge, not just for ORDA but for the state as a whole moving forward. She’s spoken to many business owners who are making half of what they made pre-pandemic, if they’re making anything at all. In Malone, some businesses — such as bowling alleys — are still closed, she said.

“I think everything is going to be very difficult moving forward,” Little said.

But she believes the number of tourists streaming into Lake Placid this summer proves a point.

“I think this summer is proof of how beautiful and valuable Lake Placid is,” she said. “There’s no horse shows, no Ironman, lacrosse, rugby. They’re coming just because of the beauty, the mountains, the hospitality and the people — and seeing that Olympic spirit.”

Little is retiring as a state senator at the end of this year. She and four others — Elinor Tatum, Diane Munro, Thomas Keegan and Kelly Cummings — will join the following members of the ORDA board on Aug. 7: Bill Beaney, Cliff Donaldson, Steve Hunt, Andy Lack, Art Lussi, Chris Pushkarsh and Jeff Stefanko.