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Tupper group pitches huge rec plan

Town to consider Big Tupper acquisition, major trail buildout

A skier and a snowboarder ride a chairlift at Big Tupper Ski Area in March 2012, when the mountain was being run by volunteers. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

TUPPER LAKE — An ambitious group of Tupper Lake business and community members pitched the town on a multi-phase, multi-million-dollar plan to build out the town’s recreational infrastructure Thursday, starting with a request for the town to purchase the Big Tupper Ski Area this spring.

The Tupper Lake Business Group said it would return to the town’s December board meeting to further discuss the plan and seek the town’s investment of tax dollars.

Board members greeted the idea with excitement and support for what it would do — create, expand and improve the many recreational trails in Tupper Lake — but stopped short of saying if and how much the town would commit to such a plan. They said their first responsibility is to taxpayers.

The group pitching the idea is confident the trails can pay for themselves and bring in millions in revenue to the community annually. They see it as an investment.

“It’s going to take an investment. It’s going to be painful, like any investment,” group member and banker Mark Moeller said. “You get a mortgage to buy a house, you go into debt to go to college, but the outcome is what you’re seeking.”

The group’s plan is comprised of existing studies, old plans that never happened and new ideas for recreational trails. The whole plan comes in four phases, but they are just focusing on the first phase for now.

This phase would involve purchasing Big Tupper, connecting snowmobile trails through town, turning the James C. Frenette Sr. cross-country ski trails into year-round trails, building 10 miles of mountain biking trails on peninsulas near Rock Island Bay at the south end of Tupper Lake, and irrigating the lower six holes of the Tupper Lake Golf Course. These projects are estimated to cost a cumulative $928,000.

Moeller said they estimate this would raise taxes on a home assessed at $100,000 value by $8 to $10 a year.

Town board members said they will want to run their own numbers on these calculations.

“We have a lot of our own work to do before we can make a full financial commitment to something like this,” town Supervisor Patti Littlefield said.

“I would love to see this thing go through,” Councilwoman Tracy Luton said. “If the taxpayers would be willing to pay this, and I think most of them would be … you guys have a great plan here.”

“I wish that we had the money to move forward with everything, the whole thing,” Councilman Mike Dechene said. “I just know that monies are tight.”

“Prime time”

Village Community Economic Development Director Melissa McManus asked if the group would consider focusing on one area first, choosing one sport to put their energy into building out at once and diving deep on that.

Group members said they think it is better to do these all at once.

“We feel our phase one is the deep dive,” group member and realtor Rob Gillis said.

Gillis said they believe now is the “prime time” to make things happen, pointing out that the state is spending millions of dollars on creating the Adirondack Rail Trail, which connects a rail line and multi-use trail in Tupper Lake. He also referenced the high numbers of hiking tourism the Adirondack High Peaks have experienced this year.

They estimate that these investments could see an estimated $7 million annual return through user fees, an increased tax base and increased tourism.

Costs and funding

Group members estimate the total cost of all four phases will be $2.6 million. Town board members think this is low.

Councilman John Quinn said these cost estimates “seem to be at odds” with some of the town’s, adding that “they do seem on the low side.”

Moeller said the group got these figures by anticipating trail work to be done by local companies willing to volunteer their time and supply “in kind” services. He said members of the group have pledged $100,000 in donations and in-kind services themselves.

“We are going to put some skin in the game as just a group of local business people,” Moeller said.

He also said civic groups like the Lions and Rotary clubs have done much to support projects before, such as the Sunset Stage band shell, an upcoming bathroom at the Municipal Park and numerous sports fields.

He said the group will seek grants from the state last as it doesn’t want projects to get hung up waiting for approval.

Moeller also said the town could have user fees at the facilities offset the cost.

The bulk of the estimated $7 million annual return relies on the reopening of the Big Tupper Ski Area, Moeller said, and revenue generated through lift tickets there. The path for the rest of the plan sort of hinges on the acquisition of the mountain.

The mountain

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

According to Franklin County, 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.

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.

There is a time window when the town would have priority choice to purchase the property at the cost of back taxes — which the group estimates is around $130,000 to $150,000.

Moeller said it is a “big if” if the property goes to auction.

If purchased, they said the town would not operate the ski area; rather it would lease it to a private company or state agency.

Thanks and the future

Littlefield thanked the group members for their hard work, and Moeller thanked the town board for having created a base of studies to build their proposal on.

They essentially turned many independent reports into one big report.

“Many of our proposals are not new,” Moeller said. “Everything has been kicked around here before. We just feel now is the time to grab a hold of these things and do them.”

“I have to again congratulate the group on the work it did,” McManus told them. “The spirit, the ambition that this plan represents — I think you are on the right track.

“I’m also thinking about the town board, probably what’s in their minds in terms of the sheer weight of trying to advance these initiatives.”

Littlefield said the town will need a funding strategy and generic strategy before it can commit any money to these ideas. She is unsure if that would be ready before the board’s December meeting.

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