Victory tour

Cuomo, Adirondack leaders laud each other in Lake Placid

Gov. Andrew Cuomo hands Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman and Wilmington Town Supervisor Randy Preston the pen after the governor signed a ceremonial copy of the 2017-18 state budget at the Conference Center at Lake Placid Friday. (Enterprise photo — Antonio Olivero)

LAKE PLACID — Essex County Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Preston was all smiles Friday as he, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other Adirondack officials touted how they feel the Adirondacks are no longer forgotten under Cuomo’s leadership.

It was a who’s who of Adirondack and North Country leaders at a packed standing-room-only Conference Center at Lake Placid. But it was for Preston that Cuomo saved his highest praise.

Stumping in Lake Placid as part of his whirlwind tour of the state to share the $163 billion state budget passed last week, Cuomo referred to Preston as “my brother.”

“Randy Preston,” Cuomo said as he looked down at the Wilmington town supervisor in the front row, “who is my hero on a professional and personal level.”

The kind words for Preston came after a legislative session where Cuomo raised the bar yet again with the state’s monetary pledge to the Adirondack Park, namely area tourism. And the biggest of those projects Preston helped to spearhead, the $32 million of initial funding to transform the former Frontier Town amusement park adjacent to Exit 29 on the Adirondack Northway in North Hudson into a “Gateway to the Adirondacks.”

Here is some artwork of the Frontier Town “Gateway to the Adirondacks” project Gov. Andrew Cuomo presented as part of his state budget talk Friday at the Lake Placid Conference Center. (Enterprise photo — Antonio Olivero)

“The governor’s office and his administration, they understand how challenged we are up here in the Adirondacks, for a lot of reasons,” Preston said, “so they are always looking for something. And what you need to do is give (Cuomo) a plan and a plan that makes sense. And if you can do that and convince him, he’s all in because he’s all about the economics and the North Country and the Adirondacks. He’s 110 percent in.”

Cuomo’s budgetary speech in Lake Placid mentioned issues such as increased funding for broadband in rural areas and more funding to combat the opioid crisis. But in a room full of elected officials and community leaders who understand their bread is buttered with tourism dollars, Cuomo doubled down again on tourism funding and promotion. Once again, that’s what it’s about.

“The plan for this year is tourism,” Cuomo said.

Along with the 21st century makeover to Frontier Town, Cuomo and the state are also pledging $20 million to state Olympic Regional Development Authority facilities in order to upgrade various venues and build new year-round attractions such as a “mountain coaster” at Mount Van Hoevenberg and a zipline at Whiteface.

During his speech Friday, Cuomo said the goal is to promote the Adirondacks to such a degree that no New York City local or visitor should feel the need to seek an outdoors or ski vacation out west or in Vermont. He was adamant that he viewed New York as the perfect state to provide the urban experience of New York City with the wilderness experience of the Adirondacks.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo poses for a photo opportunity in front of (from left) Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall, Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism CEO Jim McKenna, North Country REDC co-chair Garry Douglas, Keene Town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson and Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau during a ceremonial signing of the 2017-18 state budget at the Conference Center at Lake Placid Friday. (Philip Kamrass/ Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

North Country Republican state Sen. Betty Little introduced Cuomo, and she crossed party lines to heap praise on the governor.

“We used to be happy to get a $10,000 grant,” Little said to the assembled crowd. “We now look at million dollar grants, and it’s all because of — as Randy (Preston) said — the governor’s love for the Adirondacks and his understanding. Because he comes here and looks around and sees what we are up against and sees what we are doing. And he has really developed and created a better balance between the environment and the economy — the best that I’ve seen — and he is the fourth governor I’ve served under.”

When Preston took to the podium, he was even more endearing of the governor. Preston said he’d never seen such an impassioned person until he met Cuomo and said Albany before he took over thought the Adirondacks “was an Indian tribe in Wyoming.”

Speaking after Cuomo signed the ceremonial bill, Preston elaborated on Cuomo’s response when the DEC presented the Frontier Town plan to him.

“He bit in 110 percent once he saw what this could be,” Preston said.

State Sen. Betty Little speaks Friday at the Lake Placid Conference Center during Gov. Andrew Cuomo's visit. (Philip Kamrass/ Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

The Wilmington supervisor added that it was Cuomo who came up with the term “Gateway to the Adirondacks.”

“(He told me) ‘there couldn’t be a more perfect gateway to the Adirondacks,'” Preston recalled. “It just couldn’t be more perfect.”

Despite criticism of the governor throughout the state budget process — it was approved a week late, forced some schools (including Lake Placid Central) to approve budgets without state aid numbers and the “Raise the Age” controversy became a multi-day stalemate — on Friday even his staunchest critics were kind to him. North Country Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, who was highly critical of the late budget just a week ago, had positive remarks about the governor after his speech.

Cuomo did not answer questions from the press.

Preston and North Country Regional Economic Development Council co-chair Garry Douglas also elaborated on the REDC process, which Douglas and Cuomo said some downstate lawmakers wanted to get rid of.

These are the pens Gov. Andrew Cuomo used to sign the ceremonial state budget bill Friday at the Lake Placid Conference Center. (Philip Kamrass/ Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

“One of our greatest fears late last year in terms of hearing things in Albany was that there was going to be an assault on the Regional Economic Development Council system,” Douglas said. “That was mainly going to be about trying to get the decision back so every legislator and everybody could kind of politically push where appropriations and grants are made rather than the objective system that we had, so it was a real concern.”

The two major Adirondack projects Cuomo touted Friday, the $20 million in improvements at ORDA facilities and $32 million for Frontier Town, both did not go through the REDC process. Douglas said the North Country REDC was consulted with regards to the projects and said neither needed REDC approval due to their size and scope.

“Yeah, I mean, they are really too big,” Douglas said. “When you consider in the annual REDC competition per (consolidated funding application) projects, if you win you get a bonus of maybe $20 to 25 million in capital funds.

“Well any one of those projects is more than that in and of itself. So, the bigger projects are always going to be on the side, always going to be done through the legislature, they are always going to be done in other ways.

“But remarkably, this governor and his people take a lot of guidance from the counsel, from the co chairs and from others as to what those priorities are. … People need to keep the perspective: it’s about far more than that once a year annual announcement of projects.”