TUPPER LAKE - When you walk down Park Street, you'll see yellow building permit signs on several windows.
That's because, while developer Tom Lawson can't get to work quite yet on building the Adirondack Club and Resort, he is starting to overhaul much of the main business district in the village.
Lawson owns or has control of seven buildings on Park Street that he's renovating or planning to renovate in the expectation of opening new businesses there.
This Adirondack-style staircase is the centerpiece of renovations Tupper Lake developer Tom Lawson is doing to 83 Park St., which he plans to turn into a restaurant.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
Developer Tom Lawson is renovating this building on Park Street in Tupper Lake to turn it into a sporting goods store with office space for Adirondack guides.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
(Enterprise file photo)
The first, biggest project now is the renovation of 83 Park St. In what used to be the Casier Furniture building, Lawson has a crew that's renovating the downstairs with the intent of transforming it into a Mexican restaurant, complete with a wooden staircase at the center of the room that goes up to a cocktail lounge balcony. He also plans to install a large fireplace and an antique bar in the space.
"It's going to be very elaborate," Lawson told the Enterprise as he toured the space last week.
He plans to call that restaurant Muriel's, in honor of both Muriel Ginsberg, the 102-year-old Tupper Laker who used to run a department store in this location, and Lawson's wife's mother, who shared that name.
He plans for it to be a Mexican restaurant, and he said he has a chef in mind, though he wouldn't say who.
Upstairs, he's ripped out the walls of the second floor and turned it into a loft-style space he said will be used as offices for another business.
Beside that, Lawson is planning to add restaurants in the next two spaces over from that. David Tomberlin, who owns Well-Dressed Foods, which currently operates a few doors down, plans to renovate and move into the space next to Muriel's. Tomberlin plans to open an expanded retail shop that will include a deli as well as prepared foods.
In the next space over, which Lawson is currently using as his office, Lawson said he plans to open a French restaurant he intends to call Evangeline's, named after his own mother.
Across the street, Lawson is helping Angie Gullen and her husband, a forest ranger, renovate and open a sporting goods store that will also house offices for guides.
Lawson said he's not charging rent for their first year in the space and is helping get them some seed money to add to their savings to open the store.
He's also investing in the State Theater, Tupper Lake's two-screen cinema, which had some structural problems. He made fixes to make the theater structurally sound, and he plans to do some facade work on that building over the summer.
He said his help was necessary to keep the theater open.
"If it would ever close, it would never open again," Lawson said.
The plan is for theater owner Sally Strasser to buy Lawson out of that deal eventually.
Lawson said that while he's working to create all these new businesses, he doesn't have any interest in running them.
"We're doing a business plan for all the businesses, and the intent is ultimately to sell them all," Lawson said. "I have no desire to have any businesses down here. ... In every way shape or form, I'm trying to help local people buy them, by financing them and by getting them sources of funding.
"Somebody's got to do it."
He's not the only one contributing to the effort. He said there are other people putting money into a fund to help people buy and start businesses in the area.
He said he expects most of these businesses to be ready to open in the fall.
The whole renovation of the village's business district is based on the idea that the Adirondack Club and Resort will bring many new people to Tupper Lake, and the demand for goods and services will grow.
The ACR won a permit from the state Adirondack Park Agency in January after eight years of wrangling with environmental groups and state regulations, as well as down time when the development group tried to negotiate and rework plans.
The APA's decision is now facing a lawsuit from two environmental groups, Protect the Adirondacks and the Sierra Club, as well as three neighboring landowners. The ACR also still has to obtain several other permits, including from the state departments of Environmental Conservation and Health. Despite that, Lawson said he doesn't see the work he's doing now on Park Street as speculative.
"It's only speculative if you don't believe that the Adirondack Club is going to succeed," Lawson said. "And obviously I believe in that, or I wouldn't be as in involved in it as I am. I don't think it's speculative at this point, no."
He said the work is proof that he doesn't consider the legal challenge to be a valid concern.
"Walking up and down the street here, it becomes obvious that I don't believe in the validity of the lawsuit, or I wouldn't be spending all this money," Lawson said.