ACR quietly pushes on

Construction, contracts and cutting debt at Tupper resort project

Construction vehicles for the Adirondack Club and Resort project sit at an old Oval Wood Dish gravel pit on ACR property in Tupper Lake. The machinery is being used to construct Pond Road, which will lead connect the Great Camp luxury housing lots to Lake Simond Road. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

TUPPER LAKE — After years of stalled development, lawsuits and delinquent taxes, the Adirondack Club and Resort is making progress on the first two phases of the ambitious real estate, ski mountain and resort project.

Working out of view of the public eye, construction crews have been building roads to the 18 “Great Camp” luxury homes lots on 5,800 acres of land developers purchased from the Oval Wood Dish Corporation Liquidating Trust in May for $5.2 million. Permits from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, state Adirondack Park Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the past year allow construction of the houses to start when the lots are sold.

The 5.46-mile long Pond Road connects the lots to Lake Simond Road, and will allow the project to bypass land owned by the Nature Conservancy. Currently, construction crews are using a right of way on the Conservancy’s land to access the construction areas, but this is a temporary route until the completion of the bypass road.

While touring the construction on Thursday, the project’s independent environmental inspector, Kurt Bedore, was on the scene, preparing a report for the APA, DEC and Army Corps on the environmental impact of the project. The engineer was on his 42nd trip and is paid out of pocket by developers.

He said the bypass road was “spot-on beautiful” but that four streams the road crosses were running dirty because parts of the road were washing into them, an easy fix.

Though there has been much skepticism about the environmental impact of the construction, Bedore said he “couldn’t be happier” with the way it has been handled.

Great Camp lots

ACR developer Tom Lawson said contracts have been entered to sell five of the lots and he plans to start closing on them in the coming weeks. The expansive project will be funded and carried out in phases. The selling of the Great Camp lots is phase one, which will fund phase two, the reopening of the Big Tupper Ski Area, as 7.25 percent of money from the sales will go toward ski lifts, lodge restoration and snowmaking at Big Tupper.

“The only way that golf courses and ski areas and things can be successful is they have to have a real estate element,” Lawson said. “No one can justify restoring this mountain without selling real estate to try to get their money.”

Lawson said up until now, he has not been seeking out buyers: Everyone he has contracts with came to him. Later this spring he said he will start a sales program to find more buyers.

The larger lots can span 700 acres and cost between $2.5 million and $5 million each. Small lots, which start at 30 acres, cost between $750,000 and $1,750,000 a piece.

Surveyors have been marking the properties for luxury homes, and the septic fields have been “perced” — tested for how water moves through the soil. Lawson said the Great Camp lots will be self-contained and should not rely on municipal sewer lines.

Big Tupper Ski Area

The beloved Tupper Lake ski mountain, opened by the town in the 1960s but privatized in the 1980s, is going to open when the snow starts this fall, according to Lawson, allowing locals and visitors from around the country to again enjoy Big Tupper’s long, family-friendly trails.

While there are plans for five chairlifts eventually, Lift 2 and the kids Mitey Mite rope tow are the only ones scheduled to reopen in 2018. Lawson said he has hired landscape architects Hart Howerton to develop trails.

The ski lodge will also be renovated, and Lawson is currently making decisions about whether a larger one will be built around the current lodge, incorporating some of the historic building. It depends on the structural soundness of the existing foundation.

He said lift ticket prices may change over the years as the mountain sees more trails, amenities and workers, but he guaranteed a ticket that is 25 percent less than those at Whiteface and Gore mountains, adding that there will be discounts for local skiers.

Lawson, who grew up in Ogdensburg, skied at Big Tupper through childhood and college. He said he has been waiting for a long time to reopen the mountain.

Long history

Though the ACR project started in February 2004, it has not made much progress or money until recently. After a stop-and-start process resulted in APA approval in January 2012, the project was stuck in court for years as environmental groups Protect the Adirondacks and the Sierra Club sued to keep the project from dividing forests into roughly 40-acre housing developments. The environmental groups said the project would have a negative impact on wildlife as large houses, long roads and other developments broke up their natural habitats.

The groups wanted more consolidated development to let wildlife roam freely in larger areas, but Lawson said he does not see how 18 houses on 5,800 acres of land would really hurt wildlife. Neither did the courts, which ruled in Lawson’s favor consistently.

“There’s such a thing as a frivolous lawsuit,” Lawson said. “When someone keeps filing and filing and they never win, that’s frivolous.”

After years of legal fees and a lack of income from the project, the developers racked up major debts, as did Lawson himself. He had extended himself by buying numerous properties in Tupper Lake and at one point owed more than $1.5 million back taxes alone, which further hindered progress.

He has since cut that debt in about half, paying back his delinquent taxes in $76,000 installments every month since last June. He is on the longest payment schedule available to any New York taxpayer, according to Franklin County Treasurer Frances Perry, with 24 months to pay back everything, a $100,000 down payment and a 12 percent annual interest rate.

Perry said Lawson is current on his payments, a requirement of the agreement, which also requires he not allow more delinquent taxes to accrue.

As construction of the Great Camp lots and the ski area enter their starting phases, the project has the potential to fulfill another one of its promises: supplying jobs to the Tupper Lake community. Contractors, ski area employees and landscapers should be in demand as houses and ski lifts are built, and Lawson said he wants those positions to be filled by Tupper Lakers.

“I don’t have any legal obligation to hire local, but I’ve always thought I wanted to do things local,” Lawson said. “There is a job for everybody that wants to work.”

If built as planned, the ACR would also include ski-in-ski-out townhouses, a 60-room hotel, an equestrian center and a marina on Big Tupper Lake.

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