Interactive Ad’k ‘Base Camp’ pitched for former Frontier Town site

The former Frontier Town as seen in January 2017. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

LAKE PLACID — If a redeveloper and former Wall Street investment banker’s vision becomes reality, the former site of Frontier Town will harken back to the great camps of Adirondack yesteryear while dually featuring interactive elements similar to a “progressive museum.”

Jeff Hyman, 50, is the proposed master developer at the core of an in-the-works proposal he’s dubbed “The Great 21st Century Adirondack Base Camp.”

This retro-yet-futuristic retail and recreation center would be at the dilapidated and longtime forgotten 288-acre site of the former Frontier Town amusement park, closed since 1998, off of Exit 29 on the Adirondack Northway — a place Hyman visited as a child.

“It’s going to be a destination,” Hyman said. “It should be a destination. But this isn’t where it stops. It’s truly a gateway vision.”

Late last month, the state extended the deadline to Sept. 15 from July 28 for requests for proposals from private investors to be part of the new tourism hub at the former Frontier Town site.

The state, itself, has allocated $13 million in this year’s state budget for the project.

Hyman, representing the firm Hyman Hemispheric LLC, officially visited and toured the Frontier Town site on June 7, one of 11 people to visit that day. Since, two others have also officially visited, though details on other prospective proposers haven’t been made public at this point.

Speaking Wednesday, Hyman exuded confidence in the work he’s led over the past six months to rally financial backing from potential investors as well as input from local and state elected officials and Adirondack business owners.

“I have been at the vortex of a team that has tracked this and has developed a response to the state’s request for proposal,” Hyman said. “It was wrapped and packed and ready to be submitted last month, but the state did delay the due date, and at this time our intent is to respond [with a proposal].

“Our team has developed a proposal that we think is really a proposal of the region,” he added, “and the people up there and the communities up there. It’s a function of their needs and wants, not just in a gateway project, but economic development at large. … What I think the state will find, and the whole Adirondack region will gain affirmation in — we call it ‘Base Camp.’ It’s definitely a way to leverage and connect with the community, not at all to cannibalize anything.”

Details are somewhat scant prior to Hyman’s group’s formal submission and the arrival of the Empire State Development Corporation’s deadline in a month. Before then, all proposals remain sealed.

But Hyman said the general concept is for the “Base Camp” to be rooted in “very experiential” elements.

“As a connective tissue to another location in the Adirondacks,” Hyman said. “Be a resource and an interchange,” he continued. “We believe there will be what we call this ‘human throughput,’ coming through there for all goods in the Adirondacks, and their marketplaces.

“And why wouldn’t you use as many of the kind of modern elements of technology to enhance the degree that this is a true gateway project?” Hyman added. “That’s the question and the answer is easy.”

One of the modern technological elements at the “Base Camp” could feature IBM’s “Watson” artificial intelligence system, Hyman said. He emphasized that talks with IBM and his team remain in the early stages, though theoretically, the Watson question-and-answer computing system could help visitors efficiently and interactively navigate outdoor recreation options from the Exit 29 “Base Camp.”

Hyman said his development team includes, among others: Gilbane Building Company of Providence Rhode Island; The LA Group and Phinney Design, both of Saratoga Springs; Chazen Companies, an engineering firm out of Queensbury; and JMZ Architects and Planners of Glens Falls.

Hyman added that his group has consulted state Sen. Betty Little and Assemblyman Dan Stec, both Republicans from Queensbury, and said each has excitedly provided feedback on his proposal. Hyman also said his group has received feedback from other “key stakeholders” including North Hudson Town Supervisor Ron Moore and Paradox Brewery of Schroon Lake, who plans to build at the site via a $4 million expansion. The Essex County Board of Supervisors late last month authorized the sale of an 11-acre piece of county-owned property to the Schroon Lake-based brewery for $35,000.

The state says the majority of proposed commercial development will be concentrated in the northern portion of the 288 acres.

Despite the convoluted process, Hyman is hopeful.

“I think, on its face, this’d be a little dubious,” he said. “Inherently there is some pioneering element of it all. But once we dug into it, we were able to engage with the community and understand how to work with them and what they needed and wanted. We developed a plan that’s comprehensive, and it started to gradually click.

“We’ve supplied them with a fairly high degree of detail, Hyman added, “so they know what they are supporting, and to also weigh in and give us input.”

Speaking Wednesday afternoon, Moore said he only had minimal knowledge of Hyman’s planned proposal, but described it as “pretty promising.

“I like the plans of the great camp idea,” he said. “That keeps sort of our Adirondack heritage involved and brings in this way of people being able to type in and find out what recreational activities are available in the region.

“These great camps, and so on, and artificial intelligence systems?” the North Hudson supervisor added, “I would have never dreamed we’d be here.”

Wilmington town Supervisor Randy Preston, the chairman of the Essex County Board of Supervisors, said that before the September deadline he expects “a lot more interest,” and is anxious to see what rolls in. Preston did add, though, that Hyman’s plan seems to “perfectly fit into” Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “Gateway to the Adirondacks” vision.

“I don’t think it’s going to necessarily narrow down to one proposal,” Preston said. “I think they are going to look at all proposals as a whole, and whichever one makes the most sense, I do believe that’s the path we are going to go down. And it might be one, it might be five.”

Hyman declined to talk financial figures, but he was adamant he has a “very firm grasp” on his planned project’s cost and how that would be capitalized. He added that he has some previous experience submitting proposals to Empire State Development.

“I haven’t brought a specific project all the way through an ESD guide path,” he said, “but I have a ton of people on my team that have.

“Suffice to say,” he added, “I’ve been careful to add people to my team who have greater depth of experience with this process.”

Hyman, who lives in Voorhesville with his wife and two children, also said he has routinely visited the Adirondacks throughout his life. He singled out Whitaker Lake north of Speculator as a favorite childhood destination.

The state’s process to make something of the former Frontier Town site began in January when Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a master plan for a $32 million “Gateway to the Adirondacks” there. The state’s plans also include a state Department of Environmental Conservation campground and day-use area along the Schroon River, an equestrian center and lodging in the form of cabins, yurts, tents and “glamping” [glamorous luxury camping] units.

The wild-west-themed Frontier Town was built in 1952, part of a wave of roadside attractions in the Adirondacks.