$10 million for Tupper Lake
TUPPER LAKE — Tupper Arts was filled with tears and cheers Friday as a packed house of Tupper Lakers learned their village was awarded $10 million through the Downtown Revitalization Initiative — a sum they hope will transform Tupper Lake forever.
Several people at the award announcement event said getting the grant was the easy part. Now, a committee will be formed to accept project proposals. The window to apply is still open. State consultants will come in, narrow down who will get a piece of the pot, and the final list will be sent to the state for approval. This process will likely take several years.
The money usually starts to be dispersed within two years of the award.
The village began its application process this summer, but village Mayor Paul Maroun said the idea for it has been in the back of his mind since the state launched the DRI in 2016. Tupper Lake wasn’t ready at the time, but he said the private sector, as well as the village and town boards, put in a lot of work opening businesses, starting organizations, investing in parks and proving to the state that it is ready to take this next step.
Tupper Lake Community Development Director Melissa McManus said Tupper Lake has never applied for a DRI grant before, and it won it on its first shot. Village Trustee Ron LaScala said the village didn’t want to apply for the grant unless it knew it could be a contender.
The village was banking on its recent progress on Park Street, the proposed redevelopment of the former Oval Wood Dish Factory and its municipal park to earn the award, McManus said.
Many of the village’s proposed projects are “shovel-ready,” Maroun said, a rarity in the DRI contest, which helped the village gain an edge.
McManus said there were a lot of people who came forward to apply. She said some of the businesses seeking DRI funds are Tupper Arts, the OWD developers, Amado Restaurant and Cafe, and several new proposed hotels.
She also said the village is looking to put some of the money into improving the Demars Boulevard streetscape, keeping the village’s Energize Uptown fund, continue improvements to the municipal park and help new businesses open.
The target area for these funds starts in the Park Street commercial district, runs through the waterfront Municipal Park and ends further down Demars Boulevard where the former Oval Wood Dish factory sits.
LaScala said Tupper Lake has room to build. If economic development was a board game, he said communities like Saranac Lake and Lake Placid are farther along on the board in terms of tourism and business, but he said Tupper Lake is on its way.
He said he hopes to speak to people who have been down the DRI path before — like Saranac Lake and Plattsburgh — to fine-tune Tupper Lake’s process.
“Growth is great,” he said. “Smart growth is the best.”
The village contracted with Elan Planning & Design, an architecture, planning and design firm from Saratoga Springs, to prepare the DRI application.
The state, through its DRI program, awards $10 million in grant funding to different municipalities around the state each year.
The DRI application process is competitive, with many cities, towns and villages applying for a piece of the multi-million dollar pie each year.
This year, the state doubled its funding for the DRI program, so each of the state’s 10 regions has the opportunity to receive up to $20 million, instead of the usual $10 million. Massena was also awarded $10 million through the DRI this week.
There was no 2020 round of the DRI because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The village of Saranac Lake got the DRI award in 2018. The process of putting the money into projects is ongoing. Plattsburgh, Watertown and Potsdam have also won DRI awards. Lake Placid has considered applying in the past.
Standing outside the arts center after the award announcement Friday, McManus saw former village Mayor Mickey Desmarais drive by. Flagging him down, she shouted to him as he leaned out of his truck window: “Mickey, we just won 10 million dollars!”
It was an emotional day for her. This grant is the culmination of years of work she’s been leading and watching. Maroun expressed his gratitude to her in the announcement.
A DRI process like this is why he created the community development position and hired McManus in 2015 in the first place, he said.
McManus said she teared up when she heard Maroun tell the crowd about her work.
“I feel like all I’ve done is connect the dots,” she said, looking at the businesses up and down Park Street. A buzz has reached a fever pitch, she said.
“She’s an angel sent to Tupper Lake,” LaScala said.
Maroun had a lot of people to thank — village Code Officer Pete Edwards, former state Sen. Betty Little, state Sen. Dan Stec, state Assemblyman Billy Jones and state Assistant Secretary for Economic Development Barbara Rice, the village board, and village Clerk Mary Casagrain.
Stec said these grants are one of the “brighter spots” in the state budget for him.
Jones was happy this is the second DRI grant a Franklin County village has been awarded.
“I’m tickled pink to be here today,” he said.
Franklin County Industrial Development Agency CEO Jeremy Evans said the state’s confidence, attention, trust and interest it is showing with this grant award is worth even more than the $10 million check itself.
“I think it demonstrates that people have confidence in Franklin County,” Evans said. “I’m not sure that’s something that everyone has always felt.”
Sally Strasser, who owns the State Theater next to Tupper Arts, said she plans to try to get some of the DRI funds for improvements to the theater. Tupper Arts Board President Susan Delehanty said the arts group is considering purchasing the State Theater to expand their footprint and hold live shows and film festivals there. She said the Tupper Arts is in the midst of a capital campaign to renovate its Park Street building.
Strasser said people don’t always expect good things in Tupper Lake, but this proves good things are happening.
Mike Dunyk and Joe Gehm of the Syracuse-based Lahinch Group, which bought the former Oval Wood Dish factory this spring, were at the DRI announcement event. Gehm said they hope to use DRI funds to develop the 25 acres of land behind the factory with a hotel and possibly more housing. Their project was recently awarded a $2.5 million boost from Empire State Development.
Gehm said Maroun and McManus were the ones who sold them on building in Tupper Lake.
The Tupper Lake Business Group’s requests that the town and village invest in recreation trails, including mountain bike, cross country ski and snowmobile trails, are not eligible for these DRI funds because they are outside of the downtown area.
At the end of the award announcement, people in attendance dined on Tupper Lake fare — doughnuts from Washboard Doughnuts, beer from Raquette River Brewing and Stewart’s coffee.