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Governor’s budget offers giant leap for ORDA funding

Cuomo wants $147M more for Olympic venue upgrades

Lake Placid’s Jack Lawrence speeds down the renovated 90-meter ski jump, complete with new frost rails and lights, on Jan. 9 in Lake Placid. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

LAKE PLACID — Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in his budget address Tuesday, proposed $147 million in new capital funding for the state Olympic Regional Development Authority to keep upgrading winter sports venues.

The proposed investment came as part of his 2020-21 Executive Budget proposal. If approved by lawmakers, it would represent an 83% bump in funding for the authority from the $80 million approved as part of this year’s state budget. The year before, ORDA got $60 million, so this new amount would total more capital funding than the last two years combined.

“Such improvements will not only serve to attract more visitors to these destinations, but also well-position Lake Placid to host the coveted 2023 World University Games,” a budget book from the governor’s office reads.

Cuomo’s proposal breaks down to $134.5 million for “a strategic upgrade and modernization plan to support improvements to the Olympic facilities and ski resorts,” according to the budget book, plus $10 million for “critical maintenance and energy efficiency upgrades,” and $2.5 million from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

The booklet from the governor’s office does not elaborate on what projects, specifically, the funding is for. It does say that the money would be used to modernize facilities not only in the Lake Placid area, but also at the ORDA-managed Gore and Belleayre Mountain ski areas in the Adirondack hamlet of North Creek and the Catskills hamlet of Highmount, respectively.

This design image shows what the exterior of an overhauled Lake Placid Olympic Center’s box office entrance is expected to look like. The upgrades to the Olympic Center are expected to cost upward of $100 million, according to the state Olympic Regional Development Authority. (Image provided by ORDA)

ORDA, asked for a response from CEO Michael Pratt to the governor’s announcement and asked for specifics on what the funding would be used for, directed all questions to the state Division of the Budget.

North Elba town Supervisor Jay Rand called the governor’s proposal “good news.”

“It’s a fantastic investment by the state,” he said. “The venues are so critical to our entire North Country way of life. From an economic standpoint, they draw a lot of people here, as well as athletes.”

Rand said the investment would contribute to “sustaining our legacy here, as well as our way of life.”

Jim McKenna, CEO of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, likened the last few years of state investment into Lake Placid to that during the leadup to the 1980 Olympic Winter Games.

The framework for a new base lodge at the Mount Van Hoevenberg Olympic Sports Complex is seen Christmas Day, 2019. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

“I think it’s significant,” he said. “The momentum created in the late ’70s in the buildup to the ’80 Olympics was very similar. It was the type of momentum happening during that time that’s happening now. And the end result won’t just be more international sporting events; it will drive private investments.

“It’s a domino effect.”

Garry Douglas, president of the Plattsburgh-based North Country Chamber of Commerce, also praised the Olympic venue spending in a press release responding to the governor’s proposed budget. He called it a “historic investment in the North Country’s economy and its very special place in the world of sports.”

ORDA is already deep in the middle of upgrading venues, including some that hadn’t seen much investment since the 1980 Winter Olympics. In recent years it gave a makeover to the Base Lodge at Whiteface Mountain Ski Center in Wilmington, and in 2019 it upgraded the 1980 Winter Olympic ski jumps and finished a replacement of an elevator from the top of the Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway to the Whiteface Mountain summit. ORDA also began a much bigger series of projects at the Olympic Sports Complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg, including a new base lodge, mountain coaster, Nordic ski trails, ski stadium, biathlon shooting range and pond for snowmaking. The expected cost is in the tens of millions of dollars.

The authority is now in the design phase for an overhaul of the Lake Placid Olympic Center skating rink complex that it has projected will cost upward of $100 million.

A new, $2.9 million SkyRide gondola system at the Olympic ski jumps in Lake Placid is seen Jan. 9. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

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