The future of tourism in the Tri-Lakes
After many years of planning, construction and infrastructure overhauls ahead of the Winter World University Games’ arrival, the event is nearly over. The closing ceremony is on Sunday.
It felt like these games went by in the blink of an eye. There’s been plenty of highlights.
We got to watch as Niklas Malacinski and Evan Nichols, two 19-year-olds attending schools in two different parts of the country, came together on Tuesday in the Nordic combined team sprint at Mt. Van Hoevenberg to clinch the first gold medal of the games for the United States.
The next day, Bjorn Westervelt earned a silver medal — the United States’ first-ever medal in biathlon during a World University Games. On Thursday, Westervelt pushed hard and won a gold medal in the men’s 12.5K biathlon pursuit race. And on Friday, Malacinski, Cara Larson and Erin Bianco earned another medal for the United States in the new mixed team Nordic event.
We also got to cheer on homegrown biathlete Van Ledger — as well as Paul Smith’s College students Dolcie Tanguay, Aidan Ripp, Timothy Ziegler and Nathan Livingood — as they competed against some of the best young athletes in the world.
We were also able to watch some amazing athleticism, like that of Korea’s Jiwoo Park, who took home a gold medal in the women’s 3,000-meter speedskating competition Monday while also smashing the track record time. Japan’s Ryo Hirose dominated men’s cross country events, taking home multiple gold medals. The French duo of Marie Dupayage and Thomas Nabais, who won gold in ice dance, wowed us with their performance.
One of the most exciting parts of the World University Games has been watching curling in the freshly-renovated Saranac Lake Civic Center.
It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses, though. Seeing these athletes compete has been incredible, but we’ve heard from a lot of people who are ultimately disappointed with this event.
For years leading up to the games, locals have had to deal with construction — on the roads, at winter sports venues. Businessowners have shouldered the impact of one-way traffic along Main Street for the past few seasons as the road was worked on, with the promise of a tourism boom during the games.
Now, during the games, lots of people who live or work on Main Street are having a much harder time getting around, and the schedules of both Lake Placid Middle-High School and Paul Smith’s College students have been impacted. Many local business owners prepared for an influx of foot traffic that never really materialized.
Businesses along Main Street have been struggling. The road’s closure has made it that much more difficult to get around town, and during the weekdays, what foot traffic there is just hasn’t translated to many sales. Hotels around the region have seen fewer bookings than normal, even during the long Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. No doubt the unseasonably warm weather has a part to play in that, too.
When businesses are hurting, it impacts the broader community and those who work at those businesses.
We wish that the promise of a huge economic impact from the games had materialized. We wish, too, that the housing component of the games came to full fruition. The hope was that developers would be incentivized to build new housing for use first as athlete housing, then as long-term housing for locals. Some new units were built, but not nearly as many as was expected. Beyond the obvious benefit of having top-notch winter sports venues as a result of the games, helping to alleviate the housing crisis would’ve left a big, lasting legacy here, regardless of how the games turned out.
This area will always be a winter sports destination, and our communities will always support our athletes. We’re grateful to have them as our neighbors. But are we getting the best return on our investments with these large sporting events, which require a certain level of disruption to the lives of residents? Between the discussions surrounding the Ironman triathlon and now this, it could be time to consider whether this type of tourism is what’s best for the Tri-Lakes.