ORDA board appoints Pratt as permanent CEO

Reports 27% jump in revenue vs. last winter

Mike Pratt smiles at an ORDA board meeting in December 2016. (Enterprise photo — Antonio Olivero)

LAKE PLACID — At Tuesday’s regularly scheduled state Olympic Regional Development Authority board meeting, the state authority appointed interim president and CEO Mike Pratt permanently and reported positive financial numbers versus last year’s dismal winter.

The board hired Pratt as the replacement to longtime President and CEO Ted Blazer, at a salary of $150,000 per year. Pratt has served as the authority’s interim president and CEO for several weeks since Blazer announced his impending retirement at December’s board meeting. The 55-year-old Lake Placid native Pratt previously was general manager of Gore Mountain since 1996.

Tuesday’s meeting also was the first for Lake Placid businessman Art Lussi in his role as the town of North Elba’s representative to the authority’s board after he was appointed to the position last July. Lussi is the Crowne Plaza Resort president and an Adirondack Park Agency commissioner and his appointment fills the vacant position left by Lake Placid native Joe Lamb, a former Olympian who served on the ORDA board for a-year-and-a-half before resigning in January 2016.

Lussi asked several questions at the meeting, inquiring about the process behind the authority’s capital projects at each of its three ski resorts. In January, the state pledged $20 million worth of upgrades to its winter sports facilities at Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington, Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid and Gore Mountain in North Creek.

Toward the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Chairman J. Pat Barrett and Vice Chair Joe Kelly expressed gratitude toward Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but also said the authority should be planning a strategic and conservative future in the case the next governor is not as kind to ORDA.

“In order for us to compete today, if you look at the TV ads, you look at some of the Pennsylvania area (resorts), we are in competition with everybody. You look at waterparks, they have this, they have that, it just can’t be about skiing anymore,” Kelly said. “I think that’s what the new plans are about here. We have to be more than skiing, we have to be a ski resort.

“I think the governor’s office this time recognized that need,” he added.

“I don’t want to sound negative on this,” Barrett replied, “but (former governor) George Pataki was very good to us. Governor Cuomo has been fantastic to us. But we’ve got to be prepared for the time here as we plan this organization and financial planning, we may get a new governor and administration that says, ‘Look I’m not going to spend that kind of money up there.’ And that we’ve got to prepare for. A little more conservative planning.

“We’ve got to be prepared for those days,” he added, “the rainy days, as we call them.”

This winter season has seen many fewer “rainy days” for the authority compared to a dismal 2015, both in terms of precipitation and with regards to the authority’s financials.

ORDA Director of Finance Padraig Power reported year to date revenues through the end of February were $28.3 million, an increase of 27-percent versus last year at this time, $22.2 million. He added that the authority’s net operating loss through the end of February was $6.4 million, a 49-percent improvement versus last year at this time, when the authority posted a loss of $12.6 million. Power also said state and town funding in an amount of $7.3 million would offset this year’s losses.

“So you factor that in and from a capital perspective we are looking pretty good,” he said.

At Whiteface, Power reported year to date revenues of $9.3 million compared to $7.4 million in 2015, an increase of 21-percent. Whiteface’s net operating income year to date was $2.5 million compared to a prior year income of $902,000, a positive gain of $1.6 million year over year. And in terms of winter revenues alone, visitation through the end of February totaled $7.3 million and 161,000 skier visits, six percent and three percent jumps over ORDA’s three-year averages of $6.9 million in revenue and 149,000 visitors.

He also reported Mount Van Hoevenberg Cross-Country Ski Center’s year to date revenue was up $181,000, a jump of 11-percent. The facility’s net operating loss year to date was $995,000, a positive variance of $250,000 year over year

At the Olympic Center, year to date revenues were up $340,000, or 15 percent, and the facility’s operating loss at the end of February was $1.3 million compared to $1.6 million last year.

And at the Conference Center at Lake Placid, Power reported year to date revenues up 109 percent, at $207,000. The center’s operating income year-to-date was $131,000, a change of about $161,000 in the positive from last year.

“They’ve had a busy year this year,” he said. “They were fully booked.”

Outside of the Olympic Region, Gore Mountain in North Creek posted a year-to-date net operating income of $563,000 in profit versus a prior year loss of $1.9 million. And at Belleayre in the Catskills, the year to date operating loss was $883,000 at the end of February.

“Would love to see a gain there,” Power said, “But compared to the prior year’s loss of $2.3 million, again, they’ve moved in the right direction to the tune of $1.5 million this season.”