Governor sets $92M for Olympic venue improvements
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2022 Executive Budget includes funding increases for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Olympic Regional Development Authority and Adirondack Park Agency, including $92 million for improving ORDA’s 1980 Olympic sports venues.
Specific details on how funding for the APA, DEC and ORDA will be allocated are still scarce, as the governor’s full budget proposal has not yet been released. Also, Cuomo essentially presented two possible budgets Tuesday: one with lots of federal aid and one with less.
Though the state faces the COVID-19 pandemic, a struggling economy and the largest deficit in history, the proposed budget would not reduce spending for many departments. Instead, Cuomo is relying on aid from the federal government to carry the state. In his speech he said New York usually pays more into the federal government that it gets back, but he hopes that will change this year.
ORDA would get $105 million of capital funding in this budget, including $92.5 million for winter sports facility upgrades in anticipation of the 2023 World University Games, which will be based in Lake Placid. The budget says this is a “coveted” position for the village.
ORDA board member and recently retired state Sen. Betty Little said this may not all be new money. She said it is possible some of the ORDA funding is money that was never spent last year and carried over into this year. But she also said it could all be new money.
The funding will go toward existing improvement projects on these sites in the Lake Placid area, which include the Olympic Center rinks, the ski jumping complex, the Mount Van Hoevenberg cross-country ski and biathlon center, and Whiteface Mountain Ski Center. There are also improvement projects ongoing at ORDA’s Gore and Belleayre ski centers in North Creek and the Catskills, respectively.
The only improvement mentioned specifically is the new Mid-station Lodge at Whiteface Mountain, which is open but not finished, after the old one burned down in 2019.
ORDA also still plans to upgrade Whiteface, including its lifts.
A new lodge at Mount Van Hovenberg is nearly complete, and its indoor bobsled push track is not quite done. The ski jumps got new refrigerated frost rails and are slated for regrading landing hills.
“The 11-day competition draws over 2,400 student-athletes together to compete in various disciplines including alpine, freestyle and cross-country skiing, biathlon, speed skating, curling, figure skating, hockey, short track speed skating and snowboarding,” the budget book says. “These events will attract thousands of visitors and contribute to Lake Placid’s reputation as a world class destination.”
The book describes these improvements as “investments,” hoping after the University Games the venues will continue to attract tourists and other sports events, “ultimately driving year-round business and economic sustainability for the area.”
The funding also includes $10 million for “critical maintenance and energy efficiency upgrades,” and $2.5 million appropriated from the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation budget as part of the New York Works initiative.
North Country Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Garry Douglas, in Plattsburgh, said he welcomes the funding.
“We are especially pleased to see $105 million in capital funding for ORDA with an expressed focus on completing preparations for the 2023 World University Games,” Douglas wrote. “We will also be looking for further definition of what form additional tourism marketing will take. Our entire region is ready to work actively with the State on fresh marketing later this year as travel resumes.”
The 2022 budget increases spending for the DEC by $168 million — or 11% — bringing the department’s budget from $1.5 billion last year to $1.7 billion in the coming year.
Much of this spending increase is allocated for the the Clean Water Infrastructure Act.
The budget plans for $75 million to be spent on DEC capital projects to address a variety of improvements. These include increasing access to state lands, rehabilitating campgrounds, and upgrading recreational facilities. Funding will also go toward infrastructure work on dams, wetland restoration, state lands and fish hatcheries.
Adirondack Council Communications Director John Sheehan said this is “welcome news” but that more money toward environmental preservation and improvement is always appreciated.
“That would be a good start; certainly the need is much greater than that,” Sheehan said.
The briefing book praised the work of DEC staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, including emergency management staff, forest rangers and environmental conservation police officers.
“To date, more than 1,000 staff have volunteered to help combat the pandemic,” the book says. “DEC staff stood up and operated testing sites, delivered food, PPE, and test kits, supported Department of Health and Labor call centers, and are now standing up vaccination sites across the state.”
The budget shows a $1 million — 20% — increase in spending for the Adirondack Park Agency, bringing its annual budget from $5 million last year to $6 million in the coming year. It is not yet clear what that addition is for.
The Executive Budget includes another round of Downtown Revitalization Initiative funding, providing $100 million for 10 communities through a competitive Regional Economic Development Council-run process.
There are also $750 million in REDC economic development grants.
“We and other economic development organizations in the North Country have opportunities to pursue and prospects who have been on hold but are now ready to resume plans,” Douglas wrote. “This commitment by the Governor will be helpful immediately as an indicator of assistance that will be able to be pursued this year. “