LAKE PLACID - Two months ago, the sales team that's working to lure groups to the new Conference Center at Lake Placid met with the state Olympic Regional Development Authority's Board of Directors.
During a 20-minute presentation, Tracey Ridenour of the Lake Placid Convention and Visitors Bureau highlighted some of the successes and challenges they've faced in trying to book groups for future conferences.
One issue that Ridenour said has been problematic for some groups is the distance between Lake Placid and the nearest commercial airport.
A Cape Air worker unloads baggage from a plane in December 2009 at the Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear.
(Enterprise file photo — Chris Knight)
Town of Harrietstown officials, who own and operate a commercial airport that's about a 30-minute drive from Lake Placid, said they weren't happy when they read that statement in the Enterprise.
"They say there's no large airport here to fly people into for their conferences," said town Supervisor Larry Miller. "We took exception to that because we can land 757s. We know we can handle that."
That's just one example of what town officials say has been an ongoing obstacle to the growth of the Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear: They don't think officials in Lake Placid are doing nearly as much as they can to direct travelers - visitors, conference attendees and athletes - to the airport.
The town has recently stepped up its campaign to raise awareness of the airport and its economic impact on the region. More than any other community, Harrietstown officials would like to see more support from officials in Lake Placid, which attracts thousands of visitors each year.
"We're trying very hard to work with ORDA and the Olympic Training Center to gather their support to use this airport more," Miller said. "They're bussing athletes and other people up from Albany. Somehow, to me, that doesn't compute when they have this facility here."
Lake Placid officials told the Enterprise they support the Lake Clear airport but said its current commercial carrier, Hyannis, Mass.-based Cape Air, isn't flying big enough planes to serve the needs of large groups who need to get to Lake Placid.
"Certainly Cape Air provides a nice link for us," said James McKenna, the Visitors Bureau president and CEO. "But their planes can only seat nine passengers. When you have an event like Ironman or something, that's not realistic for that amount of people. I think Lake Clear is always going to serve a vital purpose, but I think we need to be realistic."
To get larger aircraft to fly into Lake Clear, the area would need a much larger population base, McKenna said.
"It's not just about the length of the runway; it's about potential travelers," he said. "You have to have the outbound traffic, too. I think if we're going to look at air as a viable transporter for people coming to the Adirondacks, Lake Clear is always going to play a role, but we need a larger airport."
McKenna said Albany, Burlington and Montreal are Lake Placid's major visitor airports. Plattsburgh International Airport, which is drawing passengers from across the border, is also growing and has drawn the interest of national carriers, he said.
ORDA spokesman Jon Lundin said the athletes who train and compete in the authority's venues typically fly into New York City, Montreal and Albany. Adirondack Regional is not used as much, Lundin said, because the athletes prefer to fly into larger hubs that have multiple options, in terms of airlines and schedules.
Jared Steenberge, operations manager of the U.S. Olympic Training Center, said the athletes who travel by air to train in Lake Placid typically fly in and out of Albany, though some use the Montreal and Plattsburgh airports.
"I would say 99 percent of our guests go through Albany," Steenberge said. "When we have drivers available, we go down and pick them up, sometimes five days a week."
Steenberge also said it's difficult for skiers and biathletes to carry their equipment on Cape Air's nine-seat planes. However, he said OTC athletes would likely use the Lake Clear airport more if Cape Air, which currently only serves Boston, had flights to Albany.
Harrietstown officials realize they have obstacles to overcome if they want their airport to become Lake Placid's airport. Town Councilman Barry DeFuria said Adirondack Regional doesn't have the terminal space to handle large charter flights of athletes or visitors, which is why the town wants to renovate and expand its commercial terminal and build a new general aviation terminal. The area's public transportation system would also have to be expanded to include a bus run from Lake Clear to Lake Placid, DeFuria said.
"We hope we can work more with Lake Placid in the future, but we know we don't have the infrastructure for it right now," he said. "That's why we think the towns need to get together regionally to try and work with us on this stuff."
Miller said he's been working with North Elba Councilman Derek Doty to try and boost support for Adirondack Regional among officials in Lake Placid.
"We're in the talking stages," he said. "Derek understands the viability of Adirondack Regional and the fact that if we go under it's going to affect Lake Placid and North Elba. Our goal is to talk with the village of Lake Placid and town of North Elba, and eventually ORDA and the training center, and have those discussions to see if we can't get some type of dialogue going."
At the same time, however, the town of North Elba is investing in its own airport. A series of federally funded projects are planned over the next few years at the Lake Placid Airport, which is owned by the town but operated by Adirondack Flying Service. The list includes runway rehabilitation, terminal expansion and the construction of several hangars.
North Elba is also planning to offer jet fuel at the Lake Placid Airport, a move that upset Miller and other Harrietstown board members who fear they will lose business to their neighboring community. After talking with Harrietstown officials, Doty said the town is now planning to put in smaller fuel tanks and will only serve small jets that can land at the Lake Placid Airport, which has a shorter runway than Lake Clear.
"I don't think the intention was for Lake Placid to ever compete with Adirondack Regional," said North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi. "Most people with larger jets won't come in here. We try and work together with them and we try to be partners. We're contributing funding to both. That airport is in the town of Harrietstown, but we still contribute."
Miller said the two towns should explore operating the airports jointly - something that has been tried unsuccessfully in the past.
"I've discussed with Derek the possibility of combining Lake Clear with Lake Placid Airport and creating an authority to run them," he said. "It might be beneficial to put the airports together rather than compete."
In the meantime, Harrietstown officials continue to seek more federal funds for projects at the Lake Clear airport. Town leaders and the airport's management team traveled to Long Island two weeks ago to outline their request for 2011 grant funding to FAA officials.
The town has received tentative approval for $1.1 million in projects next year, including a wildlife hazard assessment, the expansion of the airport's aircraft rescue and firefighting building and the purchase of snow removal equipment. The federal money would be provided through the FAA's airport improvement program, which is funded by aviation fuel taxes. The town's share would be 2.5 percent.
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.