Retired Goldman Sachs partner donates $500K for Civic Center upgrades
SARANAC LAKE — A fundraising campaign for improvements to the Saranac Lake Civic Center ahead of the 2023 World University Games got an early boost last week from a former partner of Goldman Sachs, who has a camp here.
Retired Goldman Sachs partner Barrie Wigmore and his wife Dee Dee kicked things off with a $500,000 gift from their family. The state has promised $4.5 million toward the $6 million project so the ice skating rink facility can host curling events for the 2023 World University Games, if Civic Center volunteers are able to raise the rest themselves.
The Wigmores have had a camp on Oseetah Lake for 50 years and Barrie has been a Civic Center supporter for 30 years. Barrie said he remembers as a kid growing up in western Canada, skating was big. When his hometown rink burnt down, they rebuilt it.
Barrie said it is rare in New York for a civic center to own itself, instead of a government or school. He said the Saranac Lake Civic Center is unique in that it is only run by volunteers.
Burgess said they plan to break ground on Oct. 1. This first phase of construction will continue through the winter and will focus on improvements other than the rink itself, to avoid disrupting ice time.
He said the next step is to develop a volunteer group to keep the building operating.
“I volunteer to drive the Zamboni!” Kiwanian Andrea Audi offered at a meeting between the Saranac Lake Kiwanis Club, Civic Center volunteers and the Wigmores last Thursday.
In the meantime, they’re trying to raise $1.5 million.
The Civic Center will mail donation cards to every P.O. box in Saranac Lake and are asking community members to give as much or as little as they feel. They say it all helps and they want the whole village involved. Civic Center board member Ollie Burgess said these improvements will help make the building a true civic center, a place for the community year-round.
State and community funding
When Lake Placid won the World University Games bid in 2018, the state Economic Development Council asked if the Civic Center could host curling. Burgess said he’s proud of the rink but it’s not ready for the games yet.
Burgess said the improvements for the games are a “means to an end.” Their goal is not the 10-day event, it’s to get a better sports and events space for Saranac Lake, which will be used long after the games.
“Important, to me, is the kids,” he said. “Skating for no other reason but the pure joy of skating.”
After “arduous” negotiations with the state, Burgess said New York is offering a 75% matching grant through the North Country Regional Economic Development Council. Burgess said this is a rare offer from the state.
Civic Center Project Director Peter Dimmig said this means the Civic Center will get $3 from the state for every $1 it spends. He called it a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity.
The state initially offered a 20% match after the project is finished, Burgess said. Now, they have 75% of the funds front-loaded, meaning that when the Civic Center spends on construction, it can get reimbursement right away.
Audi said getting grant money fast is crucial to getting small-town projects off the ground.
Burgess believes the Civic Center can raise the first million dollars through wealthy donors, around $200,000 to $300,000 from grassroots community fundraising and then the center can borrow the rest in a loan.
Joe Garso, the principal engineer for North Woods Engineering — the engineering firm working on the Civic Center — said that recently, Pee Wee Hockey Association Inc. transferred ownership of the building to Saranac Lake Civic Center, Inc., a not-for-profit organization.
What work will be done?
The plan is to build out the Civic Center with a new lobby addition built on the east face. There will be a mezzanine with box seats, a bigger kitchen and a new ice resurfacer. Currently there are four locker rooms with no bathrooms. The plans show six new locker rooms, four with showers and bathrooms.
The most discussed addition is that of heat.
“The Civic Center now is one of the colder spots where the kids play,” village Development Board member Bill Domenico said in a meeting last month.
Garso said it’s been a challenge designing the heating system, but said the spectator seating areas will be heated. The brine system in the ice-making process will pull heat from the ice and rink floor and recycle it into the building.
“You’re going to be a lot warmer,” he said.
At the Kiwanis meeting last week, some members worried the spectators will get “soft” with such luxury.
“Sacrilege!” one declared.
Burgess joked that spectators will wear shorts instead of long johns.
The center is currently used around seven months a year. Dimmig said they hope to make it a year-round facility with air conditioning in the summer. The skating season will be extend by around eight weeks — four on either end. The rest of the year, it would be used for events.
Better control of heating, cooling and humidity means “world-class ice” Burgess said. He said $800,000 alone will be spent on the ice-making system.
But curling ice is different from skating ice.
“The World University Games sends in their own ice technicians. They take our ice out,” Burgess said.
He said curlers use deionized water with minerals taken out to get more “pure” ice. Also, while hockey is played on as smooth an ice surface as possible, curlers use a “pebbled surface” with ice beads so the stones have less friction resistance.
Audi suggested the Civic Center make a skate pledge, guaranteeing that every student in the Saranac Lake Central School District gets the chance to learn to skate before they graduate. Audi said she never learned to skate and wants to give kids that opportunity.
Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Barrie Wigmore’s position at Goldman Sachs. He was not a CEO, he was a partner. The Enterprise regrets the error.