ROOST refines Saranac Lake pitch

SARANAC LAKE — The Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, which receives funding from the town of Harrietstown and other municipalities, pitched its services to the town board Thursday night. The town usually contributes $12,500 annually to ROOST, a number that is matched by the village of Saranac Lake.

Harrietstown town supervisor Mike Kilroy said the board would decide whether to make its annual contribution after hearing a presentation from the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce in two weeks, at the next board meeting. SLACC also promotes economic development in Harrietstown.

ROOST’s mission is to promote tourism for the benefit of the residents of the region. It contributes funding to SLACC, manages the website, staffs the Visitor Center in the town hall and supports a full-time marketer for Saranac Lake.

“The biggest problem we have [with the funding request] is we don’t hear anything about Harrietstown,” Kilroy said. “Everything seems to be centered around the village of Saranac Lake.”

Kilroy pointed out that the towns of St. Armand and North Elba are rarely mentioned in promotional campaigns, although they contribute to ROOST as well. Dewey Mountain, which is owned by Harrietstown, offers skiing and mountain biking trails and could benefit from more promotion, he said.

James McKenna, CEO of ROOST, said they can “build some identity” with Harrietstown.

The organization is funded by occupancy taxes, with the largest share coming from Essex County ($2.5 million) and a smaller share from Franklin County ($350,000). ROOST has 30 employees, one of whom, Kelly Brunette, is solely dedicated to promoting Saranac Lake. McKenna said that 22 staff members are engaged in Saranac Lake promotion as part of their job duties.

McKenna, Brunette and Mary Jane Lawrence, ROOST’s chief of staff, all shared in the conversation with the town board. McKenna and Lawrence said that having a somewhat unified message is important for successful marketing.

“Our mission is to use tourism to help the quality of life of the regions we represent,” said McKenna. “Our population here in Saranac Lake can’t support the businesses alone — we do tourism solicitation for the benefit of the residents, not the visitors.”

McKenna referred to the Destination Master Plan ROOST issued in 2009, which named goals for improving the tourism economy. Encouraging people who recreate in Saranac Lake to stay overnight here was one.

“If you don’t have overnight lodging you don’t get the value out of tourism,” said McKenna. “We’ve got the Hotel Saranac open. In summertime, it’s not hard to fill it. The challenge is now. When they get the [former Paul Smith’s College] dorms up they’ll have about 100 rooms. We have to have outreach marketing in a big way.”

McKenna said that ROOST’s market research found that travelers to Saranac Lake are different from those who choose Lake Placid or Tupper Lake. According to the Destination Marketing Plan, Saranac Lake residents want more tourism, but don’t want the village to resemble Lake Placid.

“Tupper Lake pulls in a much more Western New York traveler,” said Lawrence. “Malone gets more Canadian travelers.”

Board member Jordanna Mallach suggested aiming marketing at Fort Drum. “There are about 20,000 active-duty soldiers there, not counting families,” said Mallach.

“There’s a stereotype that Lake Placid isn’t accessible to military families,” Mallach added. She asked about promoting the Saranac Lake Civic Center as well.

“I see thousands of families coming to use it for the Can-Am tournament, then driving back to Lake Placid to stay in a hotel,” said Mallach.

“What do you see as our job, once you’ve done your job?” Mallach asked McKenna.

McKenna said the town board’s number one priority should be improving “curb appeal.”

“It’s starting to happen,” he said. “We don’t notice as much as a first time visitor does. What seems to be most successful is the downtowns that become attractive for pedestrians, for dining and walking.”

“The worst part of us is the trip in from the airport,” Howard Riley said.

McKenna grimaced. “The motels on Lake Flower Ave., I don’t know. I would get rid of ‘Season Alley.'”

He went on to say that year-round businesses are more attractive to tourists as well as offering better economic benefits. “Our whole area struggles with employment, employees and housing.”

McKenna asked that the town renew its $12,500 yearly support of ROOST.

Speaking after the meeting, Kilroy said the town likely would, but the board should hear the presentation from SLACC before deciding. He was also interested in whether the village of Saranac Lake would be making an equal contribution.