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Good work on DRI

We’ve been to countless public announcements and press conferences over the years, and the one Thursday morning in downtown Saranac Lake was one of the best.

It was short, sweet, honest and genuinely newsworthy. It also took place outside on a beautiful sunny summer day in the heart of our hometown.

And the news that was announced was satisfying as well.

It had been almost a year since Gov. Andrew Cuomo came here to announce that this village had won $10 million (actually $9.7 million when you subtract administrative costs) in economic development grants through the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative. One community in each of the state’s upstate economic development regions is chosen each year, and Saranac Lake was the third in the North Country, after Plattsburgh in 2016 and Watertown in 2017.

Since last August, Saranac Lake village officials and a Local Planning Committee had been hard at work seeking grant project proposals, honing the village’s own projects, and then winnowing the list down to $14.4 million worth of requests to present to the state this winter. From that, a group of unidentified state officials chose a final list with $9.7 million worth of grants.

That final list is what Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul came here to announce Thursday morning.

Overall, we thought whoever made the final selection showed pretty good sense. We might have made some slightly different picks — like including an apartment building to alleviate a growing housing crunch and leaving out a whitewater mini-park — but nevertheless the picks were rational and consistent with an overall downtown vision that we think will work.

Saranac Lake may not have a movie theater, but it will have a theater downtown. The Pendragon Theatre project is probably the most important in the bunch, and we’re glad it got the biggest award — $2.5 million toward a $6 million-plus project. This community theater has a long track record of both excellence and thrift, and moving it from a former dairy barn that’s in need of major repairs and deeply inadequate anyway (no scene shop and hardly any backstage area) to a new location near downtown restaurants, cafes and bars will almost certainly have an economic ripple effect — including on Woodruff Street, which the village foresees as a future hot spot for attractive development.

The village itself also got some sizable funding to help Woodruff Street along: to put utility lines underground, to improve streetscapes and sidewalks, and to complete the long-awaited final block of the River Walk, so it won’t end at Tops Market’s dumpster.

The owners of the Tops property didn’t make the cut for a grant to improve the store’s exterior, but hopefully they will eventually make improvements anyway as that part of downtown starts looking up.

The Play ADK children’s museum got nearly $1 million from the DRI, and judging by the massive applause that received from the crowd at Thursday morning’s announcement, there is a lot of enthusiasm for the project. We think it has great potential to be a hit, but like the rest of these private projects, it will need major support from investors and, eventually, customers.

And that’s the bottom line. The state can’t do it for us. Saranac Lakers need to step up with their capital and their spending money to support local businesses — and business people need to listen to potential customers and investors and take their cues from them.

It looks like the people behind the Saranac Lake DRI plan did it right. They had to reach out and take their cues from the community rather than powerful individuals, and they did. They had to bear down and meet deadlines to get it all done in a few months, and they did. They had to say no to some good things, but those things can still happen through other means.

And if the decisions and process were done in a respectful, public way — and in this case we believe they were — then people have to support it, and it appears that they are. Many are very enthusiastic, and grumblers seem to be keeping it to themselves because there has been no noticeable opposition.

Compare that with Plattsburgh, which got the DRI award two years earlier but is mired in opposition to its plan’s centerpiece, a big apartment-commercial development in a downtown parking lot built by a Cohoes development firm on one of the city’s largest parking lots. A vocal contingent calling itself the Plattsburgh Citizens’ Coalition vowed last week to use “any lawful means necessary to stop the Prime project from moving forward.”

No matter how you feel about that, it’s widely acknowledged that Plattsburgh’s DRI plan was developed in City Hall without much public input, and therefore there isn’t community consensus on it.

We’re thankful that Saranac Lake’s DRI plan is, so far, operating exactly as it’s supposed to.

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