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Local pols also ask state to buy Big Tupper

TUPPER LAKE — Local politicians support a proposal that the state buy and run the long-closed Big Tupper Ski Area, and they are trying to keep up the momentum started last week by a change.org petition.

Village Mayor Paul Maroun said he is sending a letter to the governor’s office seeking a meeting with state Sen. Betty Little, Assemblyman Billy Jones and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to discuss converting the mountain into a state Olympic Regional Development Authority facility, like Whiteface and Gore. Maroun said he does not want to get people’s hopes up and that there are no guarantees anything will come of it; however, he said he supports the idea.

The change.org petition was started by Rick Donah, a local real estate owner, former village trustee, former ski patrol member and current member of the Franklin County Tourism Advisory Committee, on Feb. 19. It now has 7,000 signatures. It is addressed to Cuomo and pitches the mountain as a good investment for the state to take on.

Donah said when Cuomo was in Saranac Lake last week to promote tourism and snowmobiling Donah grabbed a short conversation with him while crossing paths at the Hotel Saranac and pitched the idea. Donah said the governor said, “it is something we should talk about.”

Town of Tupper Lake Supervisor Patti Littlefield said she signed the petition.

“I think it’s a good approach to take,” she said. “If nothing else, it’s bringing more attention to Tupper Lake.”

Asked if the town would consider running the facility again, like it did from its opening in 1960 until 1982 when the town sold it, she said, “Well, there’s a million-dollar question.

“I don’t think we’re at a point where we want to touch that yet,” Littlefield said. “Certainly, it has crossed my mind.”

In 1982 the town sold the mountain to Roger Jakubowski of New Jersey. Later it passed to Tupper Lake businessmen Peter Day and Leroy Pickering, who closed it in 1999. It was sold to Michael Foxman in 2002 and was opened for several years after 2009 by volunteers with the group Adirondack Residents Intent on Saving Their Economy, but has otherwise been closed since.

“I think Tupper Lake made a mistake by getting rid of it in the first place,” Littlefield said.

Town and village politicians said the ski slope is already there and that the state could probably buy it cheaper than anyone else could.

“It’d be a great thing if ORDA took over Big Tupper,” village board Trustee Clint Hollingsworth said. “This would be a slam dunk for our community.”

Village Trustee Ron LaScala said that while development on the mountain has been in limbo for years, the community beneath it has been in limbo, too.

“Personally, I think this could be a real highlight reel for the Cuomo administration,” LaScala said.

LaScala said when Big Tupper closed in 1999 it pretty much put his business, Mountain Lake Pizza, out of business, and that Tupper Lake has been missing out on a strong economy for 25 years.

LaScala said he thinks the state is the only one that can make the project work at this point.

“Here’s a case where it makes sense for government to get into business,” LaScala said. “You’re never going to find a private investor to invest the type of money into that mountain.”

He said the state would see a higher return on investment from its regional impact than a private individual would.

“It seems like the private industry has really tried and just can’t make it happen,” Hollingsworth said.

Village Trustee David “Haji” Maroun said Big Tupper reopening could enhance the whole area’s skiing. Paul Maroun said if the governor wants to invest in the Adirondack Park, the whole thing, there’s no better option.

He said Tupper Lakers have previously tried to get the state to buy the mountain.

“In 1978 we tried to get state Sen. Ronald Stafford … to buy Big Tupper, and it didn’t go through,” he said.

He said there are “good and bad” angles to a state-run Big Tupper. On one hand, private owners may feel like they are taking on a behemoth, competing for business with the state. But he said the area as a whole would benefit from Big Tupper being operational.

“(Cuomo) would be doing more for the economic region of Hamilton and Franklin (counties), even Essex and St. Lawrence, than we could do with a $10 million (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) grant,” Paul Maroun said. “It’d be the best thing the governor could buy to develop this part of the park.”

He said Big Tupper could take pressure off Whiteface Mountain and even host ski races. It is more of a family mountain but used to see a lot of college teams skiing there.

“This would be a great bang for the governor’s buck,” Maroun said.

Asked about this proposal last week, ORDA did not commit to a position on it.

“ORDA wants to thank the petitioners for recognizing the positive impact that the Authority has had in the Adirondack region through tourism and sport,” Jon Lundin, the director of communications for ORDA, wrote in an email.

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