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Grant request choices could have been better

October 11, 2019
Editorial , Lake Placid News

The North Country Regional Economic Development Council's new annual report notes that New York state has set certain priorities it wants regions to address in their grant proposals this year: child care, "placemaking," environmental justice and workforce development.

In recent years it's been hard for employers to find workers, and it's hard for workers to find housing and child care.

Then the council gets it wrong in picking the priority projects it asks the state to help pay for. This year's biggest request, at $6 million - almost half of the $13 million priority project ask - is to help the new owner of the Quality Inn in Lake Placid tear it down and build a bigger hotel in its place.

As the hometown newspaper for the village of Lake Placid and town of North Elba, the Lake Placid News has been a huge supporter of the business community here since our founding in 1905. Yet, we also support the economic development of other communities in the Adirondack Park, especially surrounding towns in the Olympic Region, including Wilmington, Keene and Jay. Therefore, we see the $6 million request for the Quality Inn as a bad request on several levels.

Lake Placid has been blessed with millions of taxpayer dollars from the state to build visitor amenities, yet plenty of Adirondack communities are still struggling to establish some kind of economic engine while Lake Placid's tourism motor is racing. The village is full of tourists for most of the year, offering plenty of return on investment for hotels, restaurants and stores.

Also, the multi-million-dollar REDC grants should be for projects that transform a community. For instance, two new hotels in Tupper Lake's business district are a big deal since, while Tupper has put many pieces of its tourism engine together, it might not get new hotels otherwise. Likewise, saving and restoring the historic Hotel Saranac, the anchor of downtown Saranac Lake, has brought that village's business district out of the doldrums, and it now enjoys a steady stream of visitors. This chain hotel in Lake Placid, however, is not historic or rare. There's nothing transformational or "placemaking" about it.

In addition, Lake Placid currently has more jobs than it can fill. What it needs, desperately, is more workers, but workers can't afford to live here because housing is more scarce and expensive than it used to be.

Having this request lead the list hurts the North Country's chances of getting funding for its other, more deserving priority projects.

For instance, we're OK about taxpayers giving $300,000 to help a co-op buy out Ward Lumber to let this long-time business outlast the Ward family.

In response to a question from our reporter about why the Saranac Avenue hotel replacement should get state funding, North Country REDC co-Chairman Jim McKenna, of Lake Placid, said the council is looking to improve its pool of grant applicants. Does that mean the council didn't have much to work with? If not, maybe this just isn't the North Country's year in the REDC game.



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