SARANAC LAKE - Gov. Andrew Cuomo and local elected officials celebrated the North Country's recent success in the Regional Economic Development Council initiative at a packed DownHill Grill Sunday.
Wednesday, the state announced that the North Country will receive $81.3 million in grants, bringing its three-year tally in the program up to $274 million.
"This is a tough competition," Cuomo said. "You were not an odds-on favorite in the competition. You were not, because a lot of other regions had been doing this kind of thing. You're a bigger region than most, which posed challenges in and of itself."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks Sunday at the DownHill Grill in Saranac Lake.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
But Cuomo said the North Country made the best of the opportunity under the leadership of Clarkson President Tony Collins and North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas, chairmen of the North Country's regional economic council.
"You took that opportunity, and man, you hit that ball right out of the park. I'll tell you the truth," Cuomo said. "You are the only region of the 10 to have won all three rounds of the competition."
The grants are for projects big and small all over the North Country. They include $5 million requested by the Roedel family, new owners of the Hotel Saranac, to buy and renovate the building. The Roedel family, based in New Hampshire but with longtime ties to Saranac Lake, bought the hotel Dec. 6 for $1.4 million from the Arora family, which owned it for the last seven years.
Also, developers of a proposed 90-room resort hotel on Lake Flower led by Chris LaBarge of Malone received $2 million of the $2.2 million they sought from the state. The state gave Tupper Lake's Wild Center museum $250,000 for the second phase of building the Wild Walk, an elevated walkway into the forest canopy. The Adirondack Museum received $1.4 million for renovations and upgrades to the museum and its exhibits.
The event included short speeches from Saranac Mayor Clyde Rabideau, Congressman Bill Owens, Franklin County Legislature Chairman Billy Jones, Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas of Jay and Hamilton Country Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Farber of Morehouse.
"What a time to be in Saranac Lake," Rabideau said. "We've got a governor that loves Saranac Lake, loves the Adirondacks, loves the North Country. He's up here, he's engaged."
The speakers praised the governor for his support of the Adirondacks and for the bottom-up approach of the economic council's grant process.
"This governor really recognizes that it's much, much more than about the money," Farber said. "The whole concept of the regional councils, that bottom-up planning went farther than just the idea of, 'We're going to give you money.' It really encouraged people to talk to each other and work together and plan together at the local level. It gave us the opportunity, through his leadership, to control our own destiny and think about our own needs and what would work for us."
Cuomo talked about how he learned to appreciate and understand the Adirondacks while visiting here in his 20s with his brother Chris, who was a teenager then. He saw a lot of potential in the area back then, he said.
"Back then I learned very early on, I felt a sense in the North Country that they didn't really feel connected to Albany and feel connected to the state government," Cuomo said. "That they weren't getting the attention that they deserved, that they needed in the North Country. And I also felt, myself, so many situations with such potential, if there was just one little push, piece of help here, a little piece here, a little spark ... you could see it taking off because there was such potential in the North Country, and I learned it very young."
State land classification
Cuomo also brought up the Adirondack Park Agency's Friday classification of new Forest Preserve lands in the Central Adirondacks.
The agency's plan would create a new 23,494-acre Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area, a 6,955-acre Essex Chain Lakes Primitive Area, a 2,798-acre Pine Lake Primitive Area and two smaller primitive areas. It would also add 7,000 acres to the existing Blue Mountain Wild Forest and 1,000 acres to the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest.
One of the plan's key recommendations calls for a snowmobile trail on a wild forest corridor through the heart of the property, primarily on old logging roads, linking Indian Lake to Newcomb and Minerva.
Cuomo said his advisors told him going into the classification process that it would take years to get through the APA and would be followed by years of lawsuits.
"Lo and behold, after just a couple of months, positive energy formed a positive outcome," Cuomo said. "They came up with a relatively consensus solution that does all of the above: preserves, protects, also develops recreation, snowmobile trails, etc. So there's going to be economic development. There's some tax base. Sent it to the APA. The APA approved it in record time.
"The APA just sent it to me. There's a 10-day waiting period before I can approve it. The minute I can approve that plan, I'm going to approve that plan."