ROOST contract approved, despite opposition
SARANAC LAKE — The village board approved a 3-year, $37,500 tourism marketing contract with the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism last month, despite opposition from a handful of members of the public who questioned if ROOST deserves the contract.
The board vote was unanimous, with the exception of Trustee Kelly Brunette, who was not at the meeting. She is the Saranac Lake regional destination manager for the Franklin County Economic Development Corporation, which has a local marketing branch. Opponents of the contract said they hoped she would be there to ask the board to table the vote for a later meeting.
She could not be reached by press time Thursday.
The people who opposed the contract — Jacob Vennie-Vollrath, Fred Balzac, David Lynch and Shaun Kittle — are all Saranac Lake residents who have spoken against ROOST before.
They questioned how useful ROOST is to the village and distrust its spending of public money. They suggested putting money for tourism marketing into improving infrastructure and parks instead.
Village Mayor Clyde Rabideau says ROOST has brought in a lot of people, events and money to the area that the village doesn’t have the ability to bring itself. ROOST CEO Jim McKenna says his organization’s efforts have raised Saranac Lake’s profile as a destination.
The contract breaks down to $12,500 per year.
There was not as much discussion as any of the opponents wanted and afterward, several asked, “What’s the rush?”
“There’s no reason to wait,” Rabideau said later. “The facts are on the table.”
Vennie-Vollrath, who co-owns Moonstone Farm in Saranac Lake with his wife, asked the board to consider putting contracts for professional services like tourism marketing out to bid.
“The marketplace of ideas is vast,” Vennie-Vollrath said. “We don’t know what we are potentially missing out on.”
He said even if the board ends up choosing ROOST, it should let the “best ideas float to the top through competition,” and could maybe save taxpayer dollars.
The Franklin County EDC has started a marketing campaign called “Adirondack Frontier” aimed at bringing visitors and new residents to the county. In 2019, Franklin County awarded its tourism marketing contract to the EDC instead of ROOST.
EDC CEO Jeremy Evans said the EDC is not currently seeking a tourism contract with the village of Saranac Lake.
Trustee Melinda Little asked why the board was voting on a 3-year contract this time around instead of the 1-year contract it approved last year.
Rabideau said the village has traditionally signed 3-year contracts with ROOST. Last year, because of the pandemic and the introduction of the Franklin County EDC’s Adirondack Frontier marketing brand, they agreed to a 1-year contract.
He said the village signed a 3-year contract again this year for “continuity.”
McKenna said the $12,500 per year from Saranac Lake is 10% of ROOST’s Saranac Lake budget. The rest comes from Essex County occupancy tax — also known as a bed tax — which is projected to bring in $120,000 this year.
ROOST used to get funding from the Franklin County occupancy tax, too, but in 2019 Franklin County awarded its tourism marketing contract to the county EDC.
McKenna said ROOST still markets the areas of Saranac Lake inside Franklin County.
“You don’t separate things by political boundaries in the travel industry,” he said.
McKenna holds that ROOST does not spend money in Franklin County, per se, but it does market tourism assets in Franklin County because that benefits the whole region. He said the bulk of lodging is in Essex County, but many attractions are in Franklin County.
The Harrietstown town board voted to not renew its ROOST contract in April.
Town Supervisor Mike Kilroy said the reason is because ROOST focuses on Saranac Lake more than Harrietstown, and the town of North Elba even more.
“We’re not happy with the service they’re providing,” Kilroy said. “ROOST — I have to say this, rightly so — peddles toward North Elba, and they should. North Elba has everything.”
Kilroy said Harrietstown only has a handful of amenities, so it didn’t make sense for the town to spend $12,500 a year on marketing them.
He said the town budgeted for a ROOST contract before it took its vote, and that a future board may choose to re-up the contract.