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ORDA board agrees to replace Whiteface gondola

Olympic Center design work also approved

Whiteface Mountain Ski Center’s Cloudsplitter gondola takes visitors to the top of the Little Whiteface spur in April 2018. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

LAKE PLACID — The Cloudsplitter gondola is getting a facelift.

The state Olympic Regional Development Authority’s Board of Directors on Friday authorized a more than $2.4 million contract with Doppelmayr USA to overhaul the system at Whiteface Mountain Ski Center in Wilmington.

Doppelmayr USA, a Salt Lake City-based transportation company, is the same agency that manufactured and installed the original gondola 20 years ago and has been contracted to maintain it ever since. They’ll be asked to replace all of the gondola cabins and associated infrastructure, replace communication lines and control systems, add a fiber optic line, and continue to maintain the equipment.

At the board’s meeting Friday, ORDA CEO Michael Pratt said uprompted that the upgrade wasn’t sparked by concern over the safety of the gondola.

“Some of the systems aren’t supported as they were years ago,” he said. “The technology is changing. This was a strategic decision to be as proactive as possible and ensure our premier gondola operates as reliably as possible.”

This design image shows what the exterior of an overhauled Lake Placid Olympic Center’s box office entrance is expected to look like. (Provided image — ORDA)

The Whiteface Cloudsplitter gondola was first installed in 1999. Then-Gov. George Pataki — calling Whiteface “a jewel in the Adirondacks” — unveiled the new amenity on Nov. 23 that year, ahead of the first and only Winter Goodwill Games in 2000.

The gondola cost $5 million to install. It was among a slate of upgrades to Olympic facilities funded by the state under Pataki’s administration.

This latest upgrade, slated for completion by October 2020, will mark the first time the system was been updated since then, according to ORDA spokesperson Elise Ruocco.

Board member Arthur Lussi said he hadn’t realized the gondola was that old. Board member Cliff Donaldson said he remembered voting on the original resolution to install it, drawing laughs from his colleagues.

The gondola upgrade is the latest improvement to Whiteface being undertaken by ORDA. The Base Lodge, Bear Den Lodge and Porcupine Lodge were all rebuilt within the last two years. An elevator to the mountain’s summit was rehabilitated and reopened in May after being closed for reconstruction since 2017. The authority installed new gates and launched new radio-identification cards, or SKI3 cards, at the start of the ski season this year. The cards are reusable and allow visitors to pass through gates and access ski lifts without taking the card out of their pockets. And ORDA has also made some improvements to buildings atop Whiteface, updated the electrical system and widened or expanded some trails.

This design image shows what the interior lobby of an overhauled Lake Placid Olympic Center is expected to look like. (Provided image — ORDA)

Olympic Center overhaul

The board also authorized a $1.5 million contract with Cannon Design Architectural and Engineering for further design and research related to a projected overhaul of the Olympic Center in downtown Lake Placid.

The board previously authorized a $803,500 contract with the company in July.

Though formal schematics haven’t yet been unveiled, improvements to the facility may include an underground “spectator tunnel” from the ice rink complex to the Olympic Speedskating Oval, a parking garage to replace the parking lot behind the center that ORDA currently shares with the Lake Placid Central School District, an outdoor deck overlooking Main Street, space for a sports bar and restaurant, full replacement of the oval and installation of new refrigeration units, expansion of the Lake Placid Olympic Museum and improvements to the 1932 and 1980 arenas as well as the smaller USA rink.

Pratt said the authority has decided to break up the improvements into eight different projects.

According to ORDA documents, the authority is hoping to see the design phase for the first piece of the project, the “link building and tunnel,” completed by Feb. 17, 2020.

The next design and development phase, for improvements to the oval, is expected to be completed by April 16, 2020.

The third design and development phase, for upgrades to the refrigeration units at the speedskating oval, has a projected completion date of June 29, 2020.

The fourth design phase, for a potential parking garage and maintenance building, has a completion date of Oct. 15, 2020.

The authority wants to see construction documents for the initial USA rink upgrades by Dec. 20 of this year, and for the finishing upgrades by April 17, 2020. ORDA is estimating that the bidding phase for the first piece of the project will end Jan. 31, 2020, and April 30, 2021 for the remaining upgrades.

Asked by board member Jill Broderick how much the Olympic Center projects are expected to cost, Pratt said $104 million altogether. That’s $4 million more than the authority had estimated in July, when preliminary conceptual designs were first unveiled. Pressed again by Broderick on the percentage of project costs that will go toward design, Pratt estimated around 12% but said he wasn’t sure.

ORDA spokesman Jon Lundin has said in the past that the upgrades will be state-funded, although the governor and Legislature haven’t committed the money yet.

Other projects

At the board’s meeting Friday, members unanimously approved a variety of other measures, including:

¯ Committing capital — $834,310 altogether — for new dasher boards and glass at the 1980 and 1932 rinks;

¯ Renewal of an advertising and media consultant contract of up to $559,860 with Workshop, a Lake Placid advertising agency;

¯ Signing of a $900,000 promotional contract with General Motors, which provides ORDA with company vehicles as part of the deal;

¯ A change order related to the installation of a mountain coaster at the Olympic Sports Complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg, increasing the expected cost of the project by $100,000, to a total of more than $3.1 million;

¯ A change order related to the Belleayre Base Lodge in the Catskills, increasing the project costs by $245,798 to a total of more than $14.8 million, and extending the Nov. 23 deadline to complete the work by 22 days, to Dec. 14.