World University Games planners talk housing, transportation
LAKE PLACID — With the 2023 World University Games just over 400 days away, officials involved in the planning of the games answered questions about the event at a virtual town hall meeting last week.
Local officials also provided updates on Lake Placid’s Main Street construction, construction at local Olympic venues, and their plans for transporting and housing athletes during the games.
During the planning committee’s last public town hall event in 2020, Adirondack North Country Sports Council Executive Director Ashley Walden, a retired luge Olympian, said there are expected to be three athlete villages to house the roughly 2,500 participants expected at the games, including athletes, coaches and support staff.
One of those athlete villages was expected to be a new development in Lake Placid being undertaken by local developer Joe Barile, the Peaks at Lake Placid.
The size of Barile’s Peaks at Lake Placid project — originally expected to include 355 housing units that would first be used as athlete housing for the games before being converted to housing for residents — has been pared down by more than a third due to funding issues and interruptions in the construction material supply chain. Walden said Friday that the Peaks development is expected to accommodate around 550 to 600 athletes in the 101 units that are due to be ready in time for the games.
The 101 units are a variety of one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments. Walden said the apartments are spacious and can accommodate four athletes in a one-bedroom unit, seven athletes in a two-bedroom unit, and eight athletes in a three-bedroom unit by utilizing living room space for sleeping arrangements. She said that the council estimates a range of 550 to 600 athletes for the Peaks because there are restrictions when housing athletes: each athlete must be given a certain amount of square footage, coaches can’t be housed with athletes, and athletes have to be separated according to nation and gender.
The remaining athletes who would have otherwise stayed at the Peaks will be staying at local hotels, according to Walden. She said the sports council is in the process of finalizing contracts with five hotels in Lake Placid for those accommodations, but she said she didn’t want to specify the hotel names until those contracts go through. She said that the council is keeping athlete accommodations within the village because it’s important to keep athletes in close proximity to events, dining and other services.
She said that if some of those hotel contracts do fall through, the council might have to seek additional hotel properties in the village for athletic housing, but that they’re in “very good conversation” with those five hotels. She said that athletes will have their own shuttle service directly from the Peaks and the different hotel properties, which will be a transportation network that is exclusive to athletes.
Walden said the council is looking at securing housing in Wilmington and Saranac Lake for other client groups related to the games, including international and national technical officials, workers and media.
Transportation and parking
With the expectation that the World University Games will bring in around 2,500 student-athletes, some residents expressed concern over parking and transportation.
“Anybody that’s familiar with (the 1980 Olympic Winter Games) or has heard the stories, this is a number one priority for us, to ensure that the transportation runs smoothly,” Walden said. “Right now, we work very closely with New York state Department of Transportation, the Lake Placid village police and all of the key client groups in the area.”
With a lot of traffic congestion expected around the Olympic Center and Main Street area during the games, they’re planning to set up a park-and-ride system.
“The plan is to put all of the parking at the (North Elba) Horse Show Grounds and to supply shuttle services into the Olympic Center and also Main Street,” Walden said.
Walden said Friday that the park-and-ride services from the show grounds will mostly be for spectators, volunteers and workers. Athletes will have a separate transportation network to take them to venues from their accommodations.
“The DOT and New York State Police are working on the transport routing,” Walden said. “We do know that at some point Main Street will be restricted. Whether it be one-way traffic, whether it be certain hour restrictions, we don’t know. We don’t have the details yet. We’ll continue to keep you updated.”
Walden said that other venues should have enough parking to be able to accommodate spectators, with the exception of the Olympic Center. She added that if they find that a venue can’t accommodate parking, then they will work on a park-and-ride system for that venue, too.
Construction on Main Street
Construction on Lake Placid’s Main Street might finish up earlier than expected.
The construction crew expects that the majority of the work will be done by Memorial Day next year, according to Mayor Art Devlin.
“The projection … the last meeting I went to Monday by the contractors … they think that they are somewhere between 70% and 75% done with the project,” Devlin said on Tuesday.
He said the construction company plans to shut down work prior to Thanksgiving and resume work in the spring. Devlin said the traffic detours will go away within the next two weeks.
The sidewalks are finished on the west side of Main Street, from the High Peaks Resort down to the municipal parking lot across from NBT Bank, and the crew is currently working on the sidewalk from Mid’s Park to Brewster Park. The sidewalks that need to be finished will be mostly south of NBT Bank, and that small portion between Mid’s Park down to NBT, according to Devlin.
“By the end of June, I would think the detour would be coming down probably permanently, but I don’t want to speak for them,” Devlin said. “It is possible that detour might come down earlier, depending on how quickly they can get their work done. It just depends on the weather.”
Devlin said if work needs to be done in the fall it would be smaller things, like plantings. He added that he is doubtful there would be another traffic detour.
“If they do come back in 2023 it might be warranty-work, maybe where a sidewalk sagged a little bit or something didn’t hold up,” Devlin said. “But really a majority of the work is going to be done by Memorial Day.”
Updates on the Olympic venues
Construction is ongoing at many local Olympic venues managed by the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, which will be used during the 2023 games.
“At the speedskating oval, we are hoping that at the end of this week we can pour the last piece of concrete and get through the curing process and get the ice on before Christmas,” ORDA CEO Michael Pratt said Tuesday. “If we miss this week and have to finish up next week, we will still have the ice on before next Christmas.”
Pratt also expects both the 1980 and 1932 rinks to have ice put on them within the next few weeks. He also added that the USA Rink will be resurfaced around the time that the oval is frozen.
The ECAC Championships and NCAA Division III National Championships are being held at the Olympic Center in March of 2022.
“Some the improvements … we now have the ability to change ice size (in the rinks), from International size to NHL size. That’s been really well received and has opened up some more opportunities,” Pratt said. “When we host those tournaments, we will really utilize the entrance in the 1932 rink and going through the hallway … that way we can ensure all the ADA accessibility until the building is completed.”
Pratt also discussed the new proposed additions to Whiteface.
ORDA is currently seeking public comment on a draft Unit Management Plan Amendment for the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center, which proposes an expansion of the New York Ski Educational Foundation building, a new lift and new ski, hiking and biking trails. ORDA will be accepting comments on the UMP until Dec. 8. People can view the draft UMP online at orda.org/whiteface-draft-2021-umpa. Paper copies of the draft UMP can be viewed at the Whiteface Mountain offices at the ski center in Wilmington and the ORDA Administration Office front desk on the first floor of the Lake Placid Conference Center. Comments can be submitted online at orda.org/public-comments or e-mailed to ORDAUMP Emma Lamy, Sustainability and Environmental Compliance Officer, 2634 Main St., Lake Placid, NY 12946.
Pratt expects snowmaking at Whiteface to start at the end of the week.
Some residents at the town hall voiced concerns about the environmental impact of updating the Olympic Venues.
“Our commitments to the environment have been real,” Pratt said. “Not only successful socially and environmentally, but economically and sustaining us with our operational budgets.”
During Tuesday’s public meeting, a resident questioned the environmental impact and how deforestation is saving winter and helping with climate change, referring to the proposed Whiteface Unit Management Plan Amendment, which would require cutting down more than 27,000 trees, with around 14,700 of those trees being three inches or greater in diameter, according to the UMP.
“Deforestation isn’t the right word for it, that’s sensationalizing the issue,” Pratt said. “With the race trails, we looked at conforming to the standards, trying to provide the safety. The sports have all evolved with alpine skiing, with the shaped skis, the speeds are faster, the turns are sharper. The safety requirements are requiring more netting and the courses are looking to be wider to provide all that, to be able to be a safe venue for the event.”
Pratt told the Adirondack Park Agency last month that the tree cutting for the new hiking trails could affect the sensitive Bicknell’s Thrush population, a bird whose status is listed as “special concern” in New York. The new UMP proposes removing 832 trees in the Bicknell’s Thrush habitat, which is usually above an elevation of 2,800 feet. The total Bicknell’s Thrush population is around 50,000, and the bird “is of high conservation priority because of its small population, limited breeding and wintering ranges, and vulnerability to deforestation in its winter habitat,” according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation website.
To mitigate negative impacts on the Bicknell’s Thrush population, the new UMP proposes prohibiting tree cutting above an elevation of 2,800 feet between May 15 and Aug. 1, when the birds are most active in the area. Bicknell’s Thrush migrates south every winter.
The plan also aims to limit the width of hiking trails in the habitat and to comply with the Operations and Management Considerations established for the Adirondack Sub-Alpine Bird Conservation Area — that includes avoiding construction at Whiteface during the Bicknell’s nesting period, May 15 to Aug. 1, “whenever possible,” according to the plan.