Tupper mayor critical of APA move to Saranac Lake
TUPPER LAKE — This village’s mayor is asking Gov. Kathy Hochul to consider moving the Adirondack Park Agency’s headquarters to Tupper Lake, instead of Saranac Lake, as the state has been considering. But APA officials say Tupper Lake is not an option. It’s Saranac Lake or Ray Brook, where the headquarters are currently located.
The APA is looking at leasing and renovating the village-owned building at 1-3 Main St., which currently houses the Saranac Lake Police Department and several Franklin County offices. For the APA to move into this building, it would take constructing a new three-story building, expanding the parking lot and renovations to bring the historic building up to date.
The APA has $29 million in the 2022 state budget for a new state-of-the-art, energy efficient headquarters.
The village of Saranac Lake has been wanting to do something more with the 1-3 Main St. building. But Tupper Lake Mayor Paul Maroun has wanted to fill the vacant buildings on the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities’ Sunmount campus in Tupper Lake, around 20 miles away from Saranac Lake, for years as well.
“There should be a true selection process if the Adirondack Park Agency is not going to remain in Ray Brook,” Maroun wrote in an April 14 letter to Hochul. He said on Tuesday that he hasn’t heard back from her office yet.
The request for Sunmount to be considered as a location for the headquarters was news to the APA, according to agency spokesman Keith McKeever. But he said the agency has a “strong desire” to move into a hamlet downtown in close proximity to its existing headquarters, like Saranac Lake.
Maroun said this didn’t “sound right” to him.
“Something that doesn’t sound right, doesn’t look right, usually something’s not right,” he said. “And it looks to me like an inside job, quite honestly.”
APA Executive Director Barbara Rice is a Saranac Lake native, Maroun pointed out.
“All of a sudden an empty building in Saranac Lake appears and the next thing you know that’s what they’re moving into,” he added. “And they’re going to lease it? It doesn’t make sense to me.”
While the APA did not address his “inside job” claim, Saranac Lake village Mayor Jimmy Williams said he does not have much insight on how the APA chose its potential sites. He said the agency reached out to the village and asked if they could do a feasibility study around a year ago, shortly after he came into office.
“While there is no formal public search site selection process required, APA considered multiple sites that were within state administrative land use areas or hamlets within five miles of APA’s existing location,” McKeever wrote. “Presently, the 1-3 Main site is the preferred location.”
Maroun feels the state is jumping in too fast without alternate plans.
“No other department would do this because people would get kicked out of office,” he said.
As long as the APA is moving its headquarters, Maroun said the state should do its due diligence and consider other locations. He thinks Tupper Lake’s Sunmount site on state Route 3 offers several attractive reasons.
These buildings are already on state land so they are not on the tax rolls and the agency would not pay rent. The buildings are old but could be revitalized into a modern facility, he said. They also offer cheap municipal electric and are heated by hydroelectric energy.
Maroun doesn’t understand why the APA is considering moving its headquarters in the first place, instead of building or renovating at the site where the offices already are in Ray Brook, at a site colloquially referred to as “Little Albany” since it also houses the New York State Police Troop B barracks and state Department of Environmental Conservation offices. The APA and DEC work closely together.
“APA’s current building is beyond its safe, useful life, and is structurally deficient,” McKeever wrote. “Load-bearing structural beams are rotting. The cinder block foundation is deteriorating. The 18-year-old HVAC system cannot be repaired without removing walls. The building is very energy inefficient.”
McKeever said to repair all this would require closing the building for several months and would not address all the structural and mechanical deficiencies there.
He indicated the agency would not consider Sunmount as a headquarters location, saying Saranac Lake is where a “majority” of APA staff already reside.
The agency is conducting an ongoing feasibility study with the New York State Office of General Services through the Bergmann engineering firm to determine if the Saranac Lake site will meet their needs. McKeever said the Bergmann study report, which was initially expected to be done in a few weeks, likely won’t be completed until early 2024.
If the study finds “substantial issues” and the Saranac Lake site doesn’t work out, he said the APA would just build at its existing location on the state office complex in Ray Brook. This is not an ideal plan for the agency, though, he said.
“APA could build onsite but that would require clearing forested land which APA would like to avoid,” McKeever wrote. “The relocation to an Adirondack Park hamlet and the revitalization of urban land is preferred because it is fully consistent with the APA Act mission and NYS Smart Growth principals.”
McKeever said until the Bergmann study is done, it is “premature” to discuss possible lease terms and rates with the village of Saranac Lake.
Saranac Lake trustee Rich Shapiro indicated that the village could be competitive with its rent price since the village has been trying to do something new with this building for years.
Maroun is asking the state to “energize” a vacant state building. He said there are several buildings on the Sunmount campus that could work, but he feels the best is the one to the farthest left when looking at the property from state Route 3.
He said they can offer cheaper electricity than Saranac Lake can, and it’s hydro-powered and clean. The Saranac Lake building is currently heated by fuel or propane, but new state buildings need alternative heating sources, so Williams said that would need to be replaced.
In 2019, the state installed a biomass fuel plant to heat the three agency headquarters in Ray Brook. The boilers are estimated to reduce 391 tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year, around 80 cars’ worth annually.
But McKeever said because of the APA building’s condition, it is not able to effectively capitalize on the biomass system.
The APA has met in a 1950s-era log cabin for the last 50 years on a shared campus with NYSP and DEC. McKeever said the APA currently has a 44-person staff, but they are trying to bring that up to 55.
The proposed new three-story building would be build in behind the historic three-story building at the intersection of Main Street, Lake Street and Kiwassa Road, on the Lake Street hillside. The historic building on the Saranac River used to house the Paul Smith’s Power and Light Company. It was built by the son of the legendary Adirondack guide and hotelier Paul Smith in 1927.
The APAs plans are to renovate this urban land into a LEED certified energy efficient office building with a 28,000 square foot total footprint and a 72-space parking lot. This lot could be used by the public on nights, weekends and holidays, according to the agency.