Elaborate housing vision in Lake Placid
ROOST rolls out plans for long-unused Cell Science Center at North Elba workshop; developer Joseph Barile wants to build it
LAKE PLACID — The Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism unveiled preliminary designs for redevelopment of the former W. Alton Jones Cell Science Center this week.
Joseph Barile — a former Olympic luge athlete known for building the Whiteface Lodge and the Outpost Plaza shopping center anchored by Price Chopper, both in Lake Placid — attended a North Elba Town Council workshop on Tuesday and signaled his interest in building a proposed housing complex at the former Cell Science Center.
If the town board chooses Barile as the developer and he receives the necessary permits, the sprawling campus could include 20 buildings covered with solar panels, an amphitheater with more solar panels, a renewable energy tower, playing fields, an outdoor terrace, a trail network, a pool, a day care center and multiple parking areas, according to the preliminary designs, which are subject to change. They were created by ROOST, Edgcomb Design and engineering firm Chazen Companies.
The proposed housing units — at least 160 of them — would include a mix of condominiums for sale, townhouses for lease, group housing and rental units, according to the concept designs.
The complex would first be used as housing for competitors in the 2023 Winter World University Games, which are expected to bring some 2,500 collegiate athletes from all over the world. After the games are over, the property would be used solely for long-term residential housing, according to ROOST CEO Jim McKenna, who alongside ROOST Chief of Staff Mary Jane Lawrence helped pull together this project.
The unveiling of preliminary concept designs for the complex came less than a week after the North Elba Town Council agreed to sign an option agreement with PEG Enterprises LLC, which owns the former W. Alton Jones Cell Science Center on Barn Road. PEG was founded by Adirondack Trading Company owner Gregory Peacock, Mirror Lake Inn owner Edwin Weibrecht and the late J. Patrick Barrett.
The contract gives the town the “exclusive right” for the next 10 months to purchase the property or to transfer that option to a developer. It also gives the town the ability to negotiate with potential developers to ensure the property is used for residential housing after the 2023 games.
The main Cell Science Center property was assessed at $3.1 million last year, according to property records. An adjoining piece of land coupled with the main property was assessed at $250,000. PEG Enterprises LLC purchased the more than 34-acre property for $3.45 million in 2007.
The proposed sale price outlined in the town’s option agreement is set at $5.5 million.
The hope, McKenna has said, is for physical construction on the property to be underway by spring 2021.
Why does Barile, through his Barile Family LLC, want to develop the former Cell Science Center?
He said living in Lake Placid for the last 36 years, and raising two daughters here, has provided him with intimate knowledge of the community’s challenges. He also said speaking with local people who work in a variety of industries has given him some insight into the local housing crunch.
“We understand the needs,” he said, citing as an example his involvement in bringing Price Chopper to the area as another supermarket option. “We’ve created a lot of jobs and added a lot to the tax base.”
Asked what incentive he sees to get involved with this type of large-scale housing project, Barile said he’s not interested in duplicating something the community has, but building something that meets a need and “makes this place a nice place to live.”
The town’s option agreement requires whoever develops the property to rent “not less than 66% of the total housing units developed at the site” with a rental term not less than six months.
Asked how much the rental rates would be per month, McKenna cited an income bracket identified as part of a recent housing needs assessment, which would put the possible rental rates somewhere around $879 to $2,100 per month.
If a tenant were to spend 30% of his or her income on rent — a common recommendation — that would mean this rent range would be for households making $35,000 to $84,000 a year.
The housing needs assessment, published by the Camoin 310 consulting firm in January, outlined what consultants described as a “workforce housing crisis” in the village of Lake Placid and the town of North Elba.
The study said that with a target of 50% of the local workforce living within the community, North Elba and Lake Placid have a need for roughly 1,534 “workforce and affordable level” housing units — the majority, 1,013 units, for those who make less than $35,150 per year. In the study, affordable for that income range was defined as less than $879 per month for apartments, and under $123,000 for a home.
McKenna has said the goal has always been to use the 2023 World University Games as leverage to secure funding that could bring the local sports venues up to modern standards, while working to improve long-simmering issues like the affordable housing crunch.
The W. Alton Jones Cell Science Center was a nonprofit research and education entity that operated at this property from 1971 to 1995. The site later housed Upstate Biotechnology Inc., which became Serologicals and closed in the mid 2000s. The property has been vacant since then. PEG Enterprises bought it in 2007.