SARANAC LAKE - North Country Community College wants Clyde Rabideau to build it a new "Welcome Center" on Lake Flower Avenue, giving the campus some visibility it has lacked, as well as new offices.
The college announced the news Monday with a press release. There are still many key questions to work out, but NCCC President Steven Tyrell told the Enterprise the plan was announced now because it will have to go before the village planning board soon and people in that part of town should be in on the conversation before details are finalized.
"We're a big part of this community, and we need to have these conversations with these folks, so why not put it out there?" Tyrell said.
This lot at 433 Lake Flower Ave., owned by Raymond Foster, is slated to be bought by Clyde Rabideau, who would build a two-story “Welcome Center” for North Country Community College, which the college would then buy. Rabideau would also buy the lot with the white house at center left, owned by the Duffy family, which would connect the Welcome Center to Santanoni Avenue and thus the college.
(Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)
Rabideau, who is mayor of the village as well as a builder, told the Enterprise his Cedar Ridge Holdings Inc. company is under contract to buy two lots for this development: 433 Lake Flower Ave., between Janie's for Hair and the Sara-Placid Motor Inn, now owned by Raymond Foster, and a home lot at 22 Colony Court owned by the Duffy family. There are three houses on the lots now: the Duffys' and two rental houses on the Foster lot.
The plan, as of now, is for Rabideau's company to buy the lots, build the two-story, 4,200-square-foot Welcome Center on the 433 Lake Flower Ave. parcel and sell it to the college.
Cedar Ridge Holdings would build the Welcome Center to the college's specifications to house the admissions, enrollment, bursar and financial aid offices, plus an entrance hall and a conference room for events. Tyrell said he looks forward to having all these offices in one place.
"The Welcome Center concept is that of a one-stop shop for students, particularly new ones, where they may find all of their initial college needs in one convenient building and literally, take care of their Admissions and Financial Aid needs, walk upstairs to the Registrar to enroll in classes and then process their bill with the Bursar," Tyrell said in the release.
Designed with "traditional Adirondack architecture," the Welcome Center is also intended to give the college an attractive "street presence" on a busy village thoroughfare, which is part of state Route 86.
Rabideau said he had floated the basic idea to college officials years ago, before he became mayor in 2010, He said he has been negotiating to buy these parcels since 2008.
"I suggested to the college years ago, and later this past year, that they should explore a presence on Lake Flower Avenue and offered these properties," Rabideau told the Enterprise in a phone interview.
"The land is all I offered, no specific buildings, and it was a non-starter until this past year (when) Dr. Tyrell envisioned the Welcome Center concept," he added in a follow-up email.
The Foster lot is zoned B-4, which allows commercial development. The Duffy lot is part of a C-2 district that encompasses the neighborhood around the college, off the main road.
When would this happen?
"That's a good question," Tyrell said. The parties will come up with a timeline as they finalize plans over the summer, he said.
"I'm hopeful," he said, "if all the stars align, the project would go through all the required entities and open for summer 2014."
Nothing is in writing yet between Cedar Ridge Holdings and NCCC. Tyrell said the NCCC board would have to approve a contract with Cedar Ridge Holdings for the turnkey arrangement. Meanwhile, he said, the college is doing due diligence in regard to the details of the building and the construction process.
Another decision that hasn't been made is whether the Welcome Center property would be a gateway for vehicular traffic between the college and Lake Flower Avenue, with a road passing through the current Foster and Duffy lots - or perhaps only a pedestrian pathway. Tyrell said NCCC wants to know what the village planning board members and neighbors think first.
"We have the flexibility to be respectful of all the stakeholders," he said.
No competitive bidding
Normally, when a public entity like a state community college wants a building built, it must issue a public request for proposals, opening the job up to all kinds of companies, and then accept the lowest responsible bid. NCCC isn't doing that for the Welcome Center. Tyrell and Rabideau said the college doesn't have to if it buys a "turnkey" facility, one that's ready to move into - even if the college has ordered the building built to its specifications.
"We do have a right to go through turnkey arrangements," Tyrell said.
Rabideau said his firm built turnkey facilities in the late 1980s and early '90s for the Clinton County Alcohol Program, Clinton County Mental Health Services and Champlain Valley Family Center. All are on Ampersand Drive, a road his firm built behind Walmart just outside the Plattsburgh city limits.
Rabideau said his firm has experience in campus construction, too. He said it worked on "every building" at Paul Smith's College over the course of 10 years, "which brought me and my company to Saranac Lake in the first place." It also worked at Plattsburgh State University and, more recently, the new Clarkson University facility on Lake Flower Avenue, Saranac Lake.
Both Tyrell and Rabideau said Rabideau had offered the college a "competitive" price for the finished Welcome Center, but neither would say what that price is.
"I'll release it when we have an agreement reached with Cedar Ridge Holdings," Tyrell said. "I'll have to release it then anyway."
Tyrell said it hasn't been determined yet how the college would pay for the Welcome Center, or whether that would require asking Essex and Franklin counties for money.
It's also not determined which aspect of the college would buy the Welcome Center property. Tyrell said it could be the counties, which own the Saranac Lake main campus, or it could be the college's foundation, which owns the Malone and Ticonderoga satellite campuses, or it could be the NCCC Association, which owns the dormitories and food services.
Scrutiny as mayor
Rabideau said in the release that he understands his role as mayor may raise questions about this project inside village limits:
"I know people watch everything we do in the village with added scrutiny because I am also mayor, so not only do we openly discuss my participation and recuse myself from any village involvement, but we will also exceed all that is required of us."
Rabideau, as a contractor, has avoided bidding on village projects since he became mayor.
"I lost out on the (Myriad) RBM job and the Active Motif job, as well as some other things," he told the Enterprise, referring to two biotech firms lured from Lake Placid to village buildings downtown. "I can't bid on any village work."
On Monday, as the announcement was made, Tyrell was in Albany to support Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed Tax Free New York program, which would let new businesses that locate on or near state college campuses - including NCCC - be exempt from a wide array of state taxes. Rabideau said the Welcome Center project would not be part of that program; neither he nor his company would get any tax break for it.
Once NCCC buys the Welcome Center, it would take the Foster and Duffy parcels off the property tax rolls. The number of tax-exempt properties has been a contentious issue in past village politics. Asked how he would respond if someone criticized him on that front, Rabideau said, "It's my understanding that the college is willing to recompense the village for its services." It wouldn't exactly be a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes), he said, but similar.
NCCC started working on a campus redevelopment plan more than five years ago, and in 2008 it asked Essex and Franklin counties for $61 million to implement it, after they had previously rejected its plan to move the main campus to Lake Placid. The counties balked, but still, the master plan was to be implemented in phases. So far, it hasn't been.
Tyrell, who became president last year, said, "The economics of the times did not support that plan moving forward.
"The principles of that plan are in this," he said of the Welcome Center. "We've taken a piece out of that master plan from five years ago and done it this way.
"We're still using that plan, but we're not holding to the exact schematics of that plan because we can't fund it that way."
Kelly Duffy learned about NCCC's Welcome Center plan from an Enterprise reporter on his front porch. His first reaction was that, in hindsight, maybe he should have raised his selling price by $10,000.
"It certainly, in my eyes, increases the value of my property," he said.
But he's already under contract to sell to Rabideau for $120,000, he said.
As a side note, he praised Rabideau, saying he has gotten "the wheels turning" in village government more than past mayors, "and I believe that has to do with leadership."
Franny Preston lives and has her Prime Lending mortgage office next-door to the Duffys at the corner of Colony Court and Santanoni Avenue. She said Tyrell and Rabideau stopped by Friday and gave her a heads-up about the plans.
"I think it's terrific," she said. "Anything that makes that college stand out more.
"I think it'll bring everyone's property values up, as opposed to some other alternative (for developing the property)."
She is glad the college is investing in the community and has liked the construction projects Rabideau has done in the past. It might bring more traffic, she said, especially if a road is put through, but not "drastically more." Overall, she said, "I think it would be good for Saranac Lake."