Things that do and don’t make our final DRI list

The site of a proposed whitewater park on the Saranac River in downtown Saranac Lake, beneath the Mayor Frank Ratigan Memorial Bridge, is seen via drone footage. (Provided photo — Saranac Lake Whitewater Project)

Saranac Lake submitted more funding requests to the state Downtown Revitalization Initiative then could be filled — that’s how this grant program is supposed to work. The state officials who make the final decisions want some options. Of the nearly $15 million worth of requests Saranac Lake made, state officials will award about $9.7 million.

Some things will have to be cut.

We recently wrote that, if it was up to us, one proposal we’d cut would be a $1.4 million plan to extend Depot Street to Cedar Street. Extending Depot Street for development will be necessary at some point, but Saranac Lake isn’t ready to know where to extend it.

We’d also put a $400,000 whitewater park proposal and a $200,000 art installation on our cut list.

Some people are excited about the whitewater idea, but we’re not sure it would live up to its promise. We remember paddling the previous whitewater course built in the 1990s in the same spot on the Saranac River, under the Frank Ratigan Memorial Bridge, but we almost never saw other paddlers use it. It had been washed far out of public consciousness long before floodwaters rolled away its underwater boulders in 2011.

Would it take this time? Whereas some outdoor activities have noticeably grown in popularity, such as mountain biking, we don’t see that whitewater paddling is much more popular now than it was in the 1990s.

Also, the proposed course would be so small that we can’t see it being much of a draw — not “transformational,” as DRI projects are supposed to be. It would be one permanent underwater concrete feature to shape the waves. Paddlers in small whitewater kayaks could spend only so long playing in those waves before they’d be ready to move on, and it wouldn’t do anything for those in other kinds of boats.

If you want whitewater, the Saranac River has plenty of the all-natural kind, like the Permanent Rapids a few miles downstream in Bloomingdale. This patch of river under the LaPan Highway bridge will never be manufactured into a top whitewater spot — but it is well known among locals as a top fishing hole, especially for kids. David Dudones brings that to life in a Guest Commentary published today, and Dave Campbell said the same in one published May 10. We, too, remember seeing fishing line tangled on the old kayak gate wires. That suggests the old whitewater course was an obstacle to outdoor recreationists at least as much as it was an asset.

A new paddling practice spot there seems less worthwhile as a state taxpayer investment than other projects on Saranac Lake’s DRI list.

The same goes for the art installation. Could it possibly be as cool as the sea serpent students from North Country School built in a yard on Woodruff Street last year — with no taxpayer funding? Art made for its own sake will likely be better and more popular than that commissioned by the government.

What would we not cut from the DRI list? We believe Pendragon Theatre should get the $2.5 million it has requested. Pendragon is tried and true in producing excellent-quality plays that draw steady audiences. Move those downtown near restaurants, cafes and bars, and into a new, better equipped theater — something the theater can’t afford on its own — and Pendragon would serve the community even better. And we know it will spend money with thrift born of long necessity. “He can squeeze a dime until it melts,” Lake Placid High School music teacher Kim Weems recently said of Pendragon Jack-of-all-trades Kent Streed.

Public bathrooms downtown are needed, so we support the village’s $629,271 Berkeley Green upgrade request, which includes a new bathroom building at the back of the parking lot next door.

We also think the village’s Woodruff Street plan would be a good investment to enhance and expand the business district, although maybe the $2 million request could be reduced if necessary.

The Play ADK children’s center seems like it could be “transformational” and would need some help to get off the ground. It’s asking for $1 million.

Tops Markets’ $250,000 request to help renovate its downtown supermarket, right by the River Walk, is definitely in the public interest. And speaking of the River Walk, we also favor the village’s $750,000 request to complete that project all the way to Woodruff Street, so it doesn’t end at Tops’ dumpster.

There are plenty of other good projects on the list, too, that we would be happy to see happen. They won’t all get state aid, or maybe they will but at smaller amounts than requested.

Those that don’t make the cut this time might get done eventually, with private money and perhaps other public grants, if the people behind them think it’s worth it to keep pushing.

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