NCCC may take radio station property

Radio Park, the former home of Saranac Lake’s radio stations, sits vacant earlier this month. Unseen behind this building and the trees is North Country Community College’s Sparks Athletic Complex.
(Enterprise photo — Glynis Hart)

Radio Park, the former home of Saranac Lake’s radio stations, sits vacant earlier this month. Unseen behind this building and the trees is North Country Community College’s Sparks Athletic Complex. (Enterprise photo — Glynis Hart)

SARANAC LAKE — North Country Community College may absorb “Radio Park,” which is why Essex County recently removed that property from its tax auction.

Until recently, the two parcels at 159 and 160 Santanoni Ave. were the headquarters of Saranac Lake’s radio stations. Mountain Communications, owned by Ted Morgan, once broadcast as many as four different radio streams: WNBZ and WIRD on AM, and Y106.3 and Rock 105 on FM. Now it only transmits a single FM stream, and that is automated.

After Morgan moved his station headquarters to Plattsburgh, Essex County took Radio Park in lieu of unpaid property taxes. The county had done so once before, in 2014, but Morgan bought it back at auction.

NCCC spokesman Chris Knight said college officials think the adjoining property could be useful and therefore asked North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi a few weeks ago for advice on acquiring it. Politi led them to county Treasurer Michael Diskin, and ultimately the county Board of Supervisors decided to remove the two parcels from the auction list to give college officials more time to plan.

“We saw it as an opportunity and didn’t want to pass up on that opportunity,” Knight said.

Knight said the college intends to pay off the back taxes on the Radio Park parcels if it takes them over.

What might NCCC do with the property? Not run a radio station, said Knight, who once worked at Radio Park as Mountain Communications’ news director.

One potential use, Knight said, would be to connect the college’s athletic center and dormitories with busy Lake Flower Avenue. Currently, getting to the Sparks Athletic Complex and dorms requires circling around campus from Dorchester Avenue or going farther around to Payeville Lane off McKenzie Pond Drive. Radio Park backs up to the Sparks parking lot, and vehicle access could be opened between the parking lot and Radio Park’s road/driveway to Santanoni Avenue. Students already walk that route sometimes, Knight said.

Beyond that, Knight said college officials are exploring their options. They’re not yet sure, for instance, whether to reuse or demolish the station’s building. He said college officials looked inside it, with county permission, and “It was in really rough shape.”

College officials also have to figure out how they would acquire the property. Community colleges can’t own land, so NCCC’s Saranac Lake campus is partly owned by its sponsor counties, Essex and Franklin, and partly by the state Dormitory Authority. One option might be for Essex County just to keep title to the parcels and designate them for campus use. Another might be for the college’s foundation to buy them. NCCC Foundation director Diana Fortune said she has had discussions with other college officials on the topic, but it’s too soon to say what will be decided.

One piece of property the foundation bought in recent years is right at the end of Radio Park’s driveway. College officials and contractor Clyde Rabideau, a middleman in the deal, had envisioned NCCC building a gateway to the school with a “Welcome Center” building and a pass-through road between Santanoni and Lake Flower avenues. Such a gateway could also lead to the athletic complex if a road is built through Radio Park. However, “At this point there’s no plan to move forward with that project right now,” Knight said of the Welcome Center.

The foundation recently paid to demolish three vacant houses on the Welcome Center property. Fortune said this was to make it look better while the foundation waits to hear what the college wants to do with the property.

Franny Preston lives right between Radio Park and the potential Welcome Center. She said she is glad NCCC is interested in Radio Park; she even called college officials to urge them to acquire it.

“It just makes sense for them to buy it,” she said.

She said she doesn’t know how NCCC development at Radio Park might affect traffic in front of her house. She has enjoyed letting her dog off the leash there since the station went dark, but she doesn’t expect to be able to do that forever. She said she will call the police if rowdy students make noise late at night, but short of that, she doesn’t anticipate a problem.

She was glad the foundation demolished the houses on the potential Welcome Center lot. She said they “were becoming an eyesore — they weren’t there yet, but … they weren’t getting any better looking.” In general, she described NCCC as “very good neighbors.”

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