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Petition for Big Tupper-ORDA buyout gets hundreds of signatures

The slopes of the Big Tupper Ski Area are seen across Raquette Pond in 2018. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

TUPPER LAKE — A change.org petition requesting that the state purchase the closed Big Tupper Ski Area and turn it into an ORDA facility received over 1,500 signatures by Wednesday evening.

Rick Donah, the man who started the petition, is a local real estate owner, former ski patrol member and current member of the Franklin County Tourism Advisory Committee.

He said when Gov. Andrew Cuomo was in town Sunday to promote tourism and snowmobiling he grabbed a short conversation with him while crossing paths at the Hotel Saranac, in which he pitched the idea of converting the mountain into an Olympic Regional Development Authority facility, like Whiteface or Gore.

Donah has said this is better than funding a ski area with private investors or real estate. He said Whiteface Mountain never turns a profit but survives because it is subsidized with tax dollars.

“I went with the intention of speaking directly with the governor,” Donah said. “He said it is something we should talk about.”

Donah said he wanted to further push action, so he started the petition, addressed to Cuomo.

“Going directly to the governor seems to be the right way to approach it,” Donah said. “He’s taken a very personal interest in seeing the Adirondacks reach these tourism goals.

“I think that Big Tupper would be a very wise investment for the state,” Donah said.

It’s been five years since skiers and snowboarders have been allowed on the mountain, 20 years since the ski area was reliably open.

Donah said he was “sort of” expecting a big response to the petition, but that it happened much faster than he thought it would. Since it went live at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday it started receiving around 100 signatures per hour.

It reached 1,000 signatures in its first 12 hours.

“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. “There’s still almost two months remaining for skiing, so we encourage them to go out and enjoy all that Whiteface, Gore and Mt. Van Hoevenberg have to offer.”

Franklin County is preparing to foreclose on the ski area property, owned by developers Michael Foxman and Tom Lawson, through Big Tupper LLC. They also own the surrounding land, which was part of the planned Adirondack Club and Resort project, which has stalled.

Franklin County Treasurer Frances Perry said Foxman and Lawson owe several hundred thousand dollars in unpaid taxes going back years. On the ski area property, Big Tupper LLC owes $121,000, not including its 2020 taxes.

Perry said the county will commence a foreclosure proceeding in three to four weeks, starting when the property owners are sent a 90-day notice to pay their taxes and interest in full. Because Big Tupper LLC has already defaulted on a payment plan for these taxes, it cannot enter another one.

Perry said if the taxes are not paid in full, then the county will ask a judge for approval to take the property title. It would then hold a foreclosure auction on the property.

Donah has previously proposed that the state could take the property at auction, and turn it into a functional ski area. Environmental groups such as the Adirondack Council have also favored this option in the past.

Perry said any government entity or nonprofit can petition the county board of legislators before the auction to purchase the property.

Donah said he believes it would still require several hundred thousand dollars to get the mountain up and running, finish the lodge and rebuild Lift 1.

“You could get the basic operations back and with some minimal snowmaking have a functional ski area,” Donah said in July 2019.

When ARISE operated the recreation center from 2009 to 2014, it took around $150,000 in donations annually from people all over the region to keep it running in a minimal form.

The change.org petition is titled “Revitalize the winter economy of the central Adirondacks – Ski Big Tupper Again!”

(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated that it took around $750,000 in donations annually for ARISE to run Big Tupper Ski Area. That figure is cumulative; annually it was around $150,000. The Enterprise regrets the error.)