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Saying goodbye takes time

Mayor Craig Randall looks back at 2020, forward to new year in retirement

Lake Placid village Mayor Craig Randall, left, signs contracts Jan. 23, 2018 at the Olympic Jumping Complex’s Intervale base lodge, making Lake Placid the site of the 2019 winter International Children’s Games, alongside International Children’s Games President Torsten Rasch. (News photo — Griffin Kelly)

LAKE PLACID — For the past 12 years, Craig Randall has welcomed all kinds of groups to his hometown as mayor, much the way he spent the past 44 years welcoming visitors to his motel on the Wilmington Road. Yet 2020 marked the end of all that.

With the coronavirus pandemic, there were no gatherings, so Randall couldn’t greet groups or make speeches at events. And at the end of the year, he and his wife Cheryl sold the Northway Motel and moved their belongings to a house in the Clinton County town of Peru. The mayor is living in an apartment in Lake Placid until his third and final four-year term ends in early April.

Then it’s … riding into the sunset? Not quite. Peru is northeast, so he’ll be riding into the sunrise.

At 78 years old, ending his affiliation with the motel business and village government was just his latest retirement move. After retiring from NBT Bank in Lake Placid in 2007, Randall seemed to be busier than ever.

Now, as the first pandemic year of 2020 ends and a new one begins, the Lake Placid News spent about half an hour on the phone with Randall on Dec. 31 to talk about the past year, the present move to Peru and the new year in yet another retirement phase.

Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall poses with the "editorial board" at the former Lake Placid News office on Mill Hill in March 2014. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LPN: Was there anything you wanted to do a year ago that you had to put on hold because of the pandemic?

Randall: From the perspective of this past year, this is a mayor that’s used to welcoming conference groups that come into Lake Placid. I get to do that fairly often. I enjoy it. And from March on, basically the town hall building was largely closed to the public. There were no groups in Lake Placid. So the more ceremonial parts of the mayor’s role in Lake Placid quite simply didn’t occur at all. …

Yes, this year did produce some very different things, certainly not the least of which was the use of technology to conduct meetings, not only with our own board but with multiple organizations, both local and distant, in order to keep the business of the community moving forward.

Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall speaks to students at North Country School in December 2015. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LPN: With Lake Placid being a tourist town, these big events started being canceled and postponed. A lot of people were worried that the tourists wouldn’t come, but the tourists did come — without the Canadians, without the big events. Do we really need big events in Lake Placid in order to make it work?

Randall: I think about that often, and obviously I’ve worked a lot on trying to maintain Lake Placid’s legacy as a site for sporting-type activities. And I’m very aware of the community feeling that we hear in public discussions and elsewhere. That very question comes up often. Do we need all these big events?

And the answer in a normal year is they are part of our economic fiber that keeps our community sound and keeps people employed. Last year was kind of an aberration. I don’t think we can completely make that decision based upon that one year. But obviously what happened is people could no longer travel around the world as conveniently as they did before because of the virus limitations. And they were looking for places to recreate which were outdoors where they were safe, and Lake Placid is well positioned for that type of climate. I think it’s continuing, and it will continue I think into the coming year. …

I wouldn’t necessarily cast out the events that we have.

Stuart Spotts, far right, watches Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall present Don Edgley with a village paperweight after proclaiming March 11, 2016 as Don Edgley Day to honor the U.S. Air Force veteran’s 60 years of service to the American Legion Post 326. Edgley died on July 29, 2018 at the age of 85. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LPN: Other than surviving the pandemic, what are some of the accomplishments of the village in 2020?

Randall: Certainly the short-term rental legislation was a challenge and was made more difficult once the ability to hold public meetings was curtailed. But that was implemented in 2020 and in my opinion has begun the process of trying to make that a better fit for Lake Placid. … I think just what we’ve seen since August represents an improved atmosphere, and as we continue to work with it, we’re seeing good opportunities. There’s more to come on that project. The land use code and the steering committees are working on that now. …

The next big project was certainly the efforts to involve the community and through representative bodies was the Main Street project. It has preoccupied the village for the past two years. We were able to finish that and bring it to the marketplace. … It’s starting a year later than I had hoped, but I wouldn’t necessarily blame that on the pandemic, but just the myriad of details that have to be addressed before anything like that can be undertaken. … The pandemic made it more complicated. We had planned to bring that to the public in March, and with no public gatherings being encouraged during the pandemic, we ended up taking a little bit more time.

LPN: What is the timeline on the Main Street project?

Randall: We’re looking for a start in late winter, early spring, probably April. At the moment, from the contractor’s perspective, it’s a three-year project that would finish in the fall of 2023.

LPN: We’ve seen it in other cities in the downtowns, where in order to get these infrastructure improvements done, there has to be some level of disruption in order to tear down and rebuild. But once it’s rebuilt, I expect that we’ll see a “wow” factor.

Randall: I think there will be a “wow” factor, and I think the timing is good for it. I look closely at Tupper Lake. They rebuilt their downtown section, and certainly the downtown businesses seem to prosper now that they’ve got the project finished.

Twenty-five years ago, the project that is being proposed for Main Street really did not involve the infrastructure under the street — the water mains. There was not talk about Mirror Lake being endangered and a stormwater system that was dumping contaminants into it. So had we done the project back then, we’d still be faced with those issues today.

LPN: A lot of people want to forget 2020. How would you describe that year?

Randall: I’m going to look back at it in terms of how it impacted our day-to-day activity. Certainly the town hall at different times has been locked down, and the only people who are in here are essential workers. As a result, there’s just a lot of people that in the course of the last nine months that I have not seen — other than seeing them out in the community or talking to them remotely by phone or by emails. That had a fairly significant impact.

LPN: You’ve stayed healthy.

Randall: Luckily. I think of that every day. … We do wear face masks; that’s a rule here in the building when we’re not in the office. And for the most part, that’s abided by pretty well. But I realize that people get exposed and they don’t know it. It’s a difficult situation because you can’t see it coming.

LPN: Let’s embrace the present. You are making a big change in your life. Tell me about that.

Randall: This is something that even a year ago I didn’t see it coming. Maybe I did, and I wasn’t focused on it so much. My term will end on April 5, when a new mayor will assume this office. I think my wife is hopeful that I will be a little less involved. …

With the sale of the motel (Northway Motel), I’m 78. I’ve operated that motel for 44 and a half years. There’s a routine to that business. You’re up at 6 in the morning, and most of the time it’s midnight if you’re waiting for people to come in before you get to bed. There was the maintenance burdens of the motel. Adding the mayor’s office to it 12 years ago, it certainly caused some changes in how I went about that. And the nature of the business was changing in recent years.

All things taken into consideration, the sale of the motel pushed me to have to look for alternative housing. Obviously, our first look was here in the community. And at 78, I’m beginning to not like houses with staircases and I find some discomfort sometimes in going up and down stairs. … So as we started looking around, we found some things in the community that were beyond affordable for us. And we started looking elsewhere around the county. …

My wife grew up in Peru, New York, and she had been lobbying for some properties over there … and we found a comfortable home that we can move into that will meet our needs currently, and more important will adapt to our needs as we get older. We think this is a four- or five-year experience that will probably be followed by our moving closer to one of our children. … They’re scattered around the country.

LPN: Are you going to slow down in retirement?

Randall: I don’t know how to slow down. I really think that my good health is in part the fact that I’ve kept active and I’ve kept my mind engaged. I like puzzles, and I like challenges.

I’m certainly looking at the 12 years here in the village (government) that I’ve served as years that we have moved the village forward.

I remember (former village mayor and town supervisor) Roby Politi and I having a conversation a few years ago, and Roby made the comment that Lake Placid is a progressive community. And I agree with that. We continue to make good progress, and we continue to address the issues.

One thing that I want to emphasize … housing is a major issue in Lake Placid for our local families and residents. It’s also a major problem for our seniors. … I’m thinking of our experience and some other families in Lake Placid that were looking for something to take care of them in later years — finding housing that’s on one floor, that’s affordable.

I’m excited about the prospects of housing for our worker families. I think that’s critical to Lake Placid’s future. But I think equally critical, if we’re going to keep our older, aging residents in the community, is providing housing that meets some of their needs. I’m not hearing much conversation about that, and I know it’s a concern of our seniors. Because there are other seniors like us that are going to downsize, that are going to give up their home that requires a lot of maintenance. But yet they have to have a place to go. And frankly, that’s exactly what we ran head-on into.

LPN: What challenges do you see ahead for Lake Placid in 2021?

Randall: I think the announcement of the National Women’s Hockey (League) coming here, I can tell you that tremendous amount of effort has gone into creating an environment for them where they can be safe, and more importantly, the community can be safe. It isn’t going to be a huge event in terms drawing people here, but it keeps us engaged and we think there’s opportunity with that organization for the future for Lake Placid. …

It’s going to be a rebuilding process. Most of the major events are still out there pending. They’re like everybody else; they’ve suspended their operations for 2020 and are planning for a year out. …

Keep in mind that the state and our public health issues have to come first, and each one of these is looked at very carefully by those organizations before we even more forward. …

Even with the rollout of the vaccines, I don’t think the pandemic is over with this summer. I think we’re going to see another summer very similar to last summer where people will still come here because they can recreate outdoors.