A hotel grant to give taxpayers the Blues

New York state pledges so many economic development grants that it’s hard to keep up with them all. We would love to see the state reduce the amount of taxpayer funds it gives out to for-profit business plans, therefore raising the standards for what kind of private enterprise taxpayers will subsidize.

One past project that meets a high standard in our book is right here in Saranac Lake, where Roedel Companies will soon collect a $5 million grant for renovating the Hotel Saranac. That’s a lot of public money, but this is a better candidate for state subsidy than most. The historic hotel anchors the downtown of the Adirondack Park’s most populous village, a place not wealthy enough to make this massive job attractive to private investors the way it would be in nearby Lake Placid. Nevertheless, the right company was found, one with deep local ties that was willing to go all in on this project. It includes meticulously restoring the hotel’s historic details and adding a downtown parking garage the public can use, including patrons of the library across the street. It’s a public service as much as a business move.

We seriously doubt that grant-worthy standard could be met by the biggest request in this year’s North Country Regional Economic Development Council pitch — $5.9 million for Schroon Realty to build a $20 million four-star hotel with 51 rooms and 24 adjacent “glamping” (glamor camping) units in Blue Mountain Lake. This tiny hamlet’s population is too small to be recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau, but it’s pretty safe to say this hotel could house every permanent resident of the hamlet at once. The 5,500 Saranac Lake villagers who stand to benefit from the Hotel Saranac are more than the entire population of Hamilton County.

Also, Blue Mountain Lake already has quite a few lodging options, approaching the same number as in Tupper Lake, a village of 4,000 people.

The proposed hotel is projected to create 32 jobs plus 50 construction jobs, but it’s not like there are many people nearby to take these jobs. While off-season unemployment is high in Hamilton County, year-round unemployment is among the lowest in New York.

We would welcome a hotel such as this as a purely private endeavor, and we expect Blue Mountain Lakers would benefit from it. But the public-service splash it would make in such a small pool would be much too tiny to deserve a $5.9 million state subsidy.