Saranac Lake steps up River Walk expansion
Lake Placid Pub and Brewery owners to open location there
SARANAC LAKE — The village board agreed to expedite a River Walk expansion Monday night after a request from the owner of a brewery opening on Woodruff Street.
On Tuesday, the state approved a grant the village filed in 2016 that could provide funding for the construction outside of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative state grant package.
The Lake Placid Pub and Brewery is planning to open up another location in the former Amusement and Vending building on Woodruff Street, connected to the unfinished portion of the River Walk. The River Walk follows the Saranac River through downtown, and the village has had a plan to extend it beyond the Tops grocery store to Woodruff Street since the 1990s.
Brewery co-owner Chris Ericson is granting the village an easement to build the River Walk through his new property, and on Monday he asked the board to fast-track the construction. He’s concerned if the brewery finishes construction soon — which he hopes to do this year — it will be stuck in a “DMZ” of construction.
“I just want to try to be as lined up as possible so when we’re ready to open taps, we’re not looking at a construction zone two years later,” Ericson said.
Ericson said a big appeal of the property was turning a parking lot next to the river into a beer garden patio with the River Walk between the two features. At the risk of drawing the ire of his brewer, Ericson said this patio is the “crown jewel” of the project.
The DRI offers $9.7 million to help fund a combination of private-sector and village government initiatives to boost the local economy.
Village Community Development Director Jamie Konkoski said design for all the village’s own DRI projects is occurring this year, with construction planned for 2022 and 2023. These projects will be bid on in a bundle. Ericson was asking for the River Walk project to be separated from the bundle and done sooner. Konkoski said this is feasible.
“By fast-tracking the River Walk, we’re basically prioritizing it as a project, which has been a longtime priority anyway,” she said.
The village is 90% through designing the project, and she said if bids are accepted fast, the River Walk could potentially be finished this year.
Konkoski said there are two options for funding the expedited project. The first got a boost the next morning when the Department of State approved the extension of a $150,000 Local Waterfront Revitalization Program grant the village applied for in 2016 to complete the River Walk.
To receive this grant, the village would need to match $150,000 through private and public monies. If it doesn’t don’t meet this match, the village can only spend half that money, Konkoski said.
If that happens, village board members indicated they would still prioritize the River Walk in DRI construction funding.
“One of the reasons when we went for a DRI was to spur private investment,” village Mayor Clyde Rabideau said Monday. “Here we’ve got a multi-million-dollar project (the brewery), and sliding some money from DRI here to there to help it along, which is our goal, seems to be the right thing to me.”
This would amount to “(robbing) Peter to pay Paul,” as Rabideau put it: taking money from another DRI project and moving it to the River Walk, then continuing that defunded project at a later date with non-DRI funding. Village administrators said they always expected they’d have to do this with some projects.
“When we started this … we all knew we were going to be short,” village Manager John Sweeney said. “We didn’t know who Peter and Paul were. We’re starting to know who they are now.”
There isn’t enough money in the DRI grant to fund all seven of the village’s approved projects. The village asked for $5 million but only got $4.3 million.
“So we know that we won’t be able to complete every aspect of every project,” Konkoski said.
Rabideau thanked Ericson for investing in Saranac Lake, and Ericson said he’s excited about opening a brewery at the location. Rabideau said the River Walk will connect downtown to a trail on the soon-to-be-converted railroad crossing Woodruff, which the state is working on now.
Ericson said he likes what was proposed for the aesthetic of the River Walk, with a “concrete boardwalk” and simple railing that wouldn’t hinder his patrons’ view of the river.
Currently, Ericson said the name for the location is simply Saranac Lake Brewing Company, but they will probably change the name. He said his wife and co-owner Catherine would “kill him” if he revealed the potential names they are considering.
Rabideau asked if his “long-held dream to have Saranac beer brewed in Saranac Lake” could come to fruition. Lake Placid Pub and Brewery beer is brewed at the Utica-based brewery of F.X. Matt , which owns Saranac. Ericson said Saranac is not currently involved in his second brewery location, but that it is a “possibility.”
Prior to the Ericsons purchasing the property, the Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Squad had eyed it as a new home for its headquarters.
SLVRS Treasurer Bob Nadon said the squad’s service has grown with more trucks and more hours in recent years, so it needs more space.
“I need to get my office out of my house,” he said. “This building was what we thought was pretty much perfect.”
Nadon said the rescue squad put down around $30,000 on the property last year, but the village land use code did not include zoning for the rescue squad. Up until now the squad has operated at its Broadway location under a special-use permit.
The village land use code written in 2010 was completed before the SLVRS separated from the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department in the same year.
Development Code Administrator Paul Blaine said new code written in 2016 did not include zoning for the SLVRS and he is not certain why. He was not the Development Code Administrator at the time and said it may have been an “oversight.”
When the SLVRS sought approval from Blaine in July he determined the squad was not zoned for use at that location. The SLVRS appealed this in September, but the Saranac Lake Development Board upheld Blaine’s determination.
The SLVRS then asked the village board for a zoning amendment to allow its land use in the village.
This amendment was supported by the Development Board and approved by the village and the state in November 2020. The rescue squad can now use property in several zones of the village.
But before the SLVRS brought its Woodruff Street plan to the Development Board, the Ericsons approached the seller, Michael Kinville, with an offer. Kinville took it. Catherine said he did not sell them the property right away, speaking to the rescue squad several times first.
Nadon was unhappy this is how it turned out but said he understands Kinville’s decision.
“We didn’t have a very good time with the permit part,” Nadon said.
Nadon said now the squad is looking at a couple of locations to potentially move into.
Fortunately, he said, the terms of their contract allowed the SLVRS to get its money back.
Some residents have shared concerns that the village blocked the SLVRS from this property in favor of a business to support the River Walk.
Rabideau and Konkoski said this idea is false.
“I am not aware of anything that was done on purpose to prevent the rescue squad from moving forward,” Konkoski said.