News

World University Games public meeting draws crowd

By Pete Demola / The Sun

Officials tout global event as a way to boost local infrastructure

LAKE PLACID —

The bid dossier has been signed, sealed and delivered, and local officials are now waiting for a delegation from the International University Sports Federation (FISU) to visit Lake Placid next week.

The public received a progress report on Lake Placid’s bid to host the 2023 Winter University Games last week. 

The verdict: 

Officials are cautiously optimistic Lake Placid will land the biggest event since the 1980 Winter Olympic Games.

“It’s putting Lake Placid back into the world spotlight,” said Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Preston. 

INFRASTRUCTURE BOOST

The Adirondack North Country Global Sports Committee said they aim to use the world’s largest university winter multi-sport competition not necessarily as a short-term economic boost, but rather to bolster infrastructure development, including parking and athlete housing, which would be converted following the event.

Those benefits could even extend to shoring up broadband, the electricity grid and regional county-run transportation systems, as well as lend a sense of urgency to ongoing water and sewer projects.

“There’s no use going through this exercise unless the community gets something out of it,” said Dean Dietrich, chairman of the Lake Placid-North Elba Community Development Commission.

About 80 people turned out for the event at the Lake Placid Visitors Bureau.

Plattsburgh International Airport has already used the event to bolster their case for providing service to Washington, D.C.,  a measure Clinton County officials approved earlier this month.

Lake Placid is unique in that it is a global athletic powerhouse, but lacks proximity to a major airport, said North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas.

“This presented the opportunity to have major air service proximate enough to really become Lake Placid’s commercial airport,” Douglas told The Sun.

COSTS UNKNOWN

The 11-day event, also known as the Winter Universiade, is held every two years, drawing thousands of athletes and spectators. 

Costs for hosting the event could reach as high as $35 million, but organizers estimate a series of revenue items, including franchising and participation fees, will consume much of the amount.

“We’re probably looking at a gap of $15 million or so,” said Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism CEO James McKenna, adding the numbers still needed to be refined. “We’ll probably be looking to the state for that. It certainly wouldn’t be the local tax base.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo endorsed the bid earlier this month, which allowed organizers to formally submit the dossier.

While no other localities are in the running, FISU will look elsewhere if they felt applicants would be unsuited to host the event, explained Bid Director Darcy Norfolk.

“If there is a lack of confidence, they will most likely restart their process,” Norfolk said.

SECURITY PLAN UNDERWAY

Security for the event will largely be provided by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York State Police.

New York State Police Troop B Major John Tibbitts Jr. said he was in the early stages of outlining a security strategy. 

He’s in the process of reviewing security plans crafted for the 1980 Winter Olympic Games.

“We’re starting to map out what a basic structure is going to look like,” Tibbitts said. “I don’t have a security plan yet.

“We’ve got 10,000 things to do, and I’m on No. 4.”

Tibbitts estimated anywhere from 600 to 800 troopers will be required.

“But that’s just a wild guess,” he said.

‘100 PERCENT SUPPORT’

Over 40 organizations have signed onto the effort, including the NCCA, the U.S. Olympic Committee, SUNY Plattsburgh and the Essex County Board of Supervisors.

“On behalf of the Essex County Board of Supervisors, we are 100 percent behind the pursuit of these games,” Preston said.

People still talk about the Olympics nearly four decades later, he said, citing interactions with excited visitors at Whiteface.

Preston said the benefits will likely spread to surrounding communities, including Wilmington.

“A hotel developer has reached out to me as recently as this afternoon,” he said, “and we’re actually meeting with him next week.”

But officials said it’s too early to zero in on an exact location for proposed athlete housing. 

“We’ve identified a couple of parcels where that’s possible,” McKenna said.

CROWD QUESTIONS

The bid cost $247,500 to assemble, with funds coming from a coalition of taxpayer-funded groups, including the Olympic Regional Development Authority and local governments.

“Do any of you see any downside to any of this at all?” asked Greg Dennin. “I’ve heard no downside whatsoever to hosting this event.”

McKenna said the funds will have gone to good use even if the Olympic Village doesn’t secure the event.

The funds generated a comprehensive infrastructure report — which totaled about half of the expenditures — and the bid has led to ongoing brand awareness of Lake Placid in the global sports community.

“It’s been recognized in the sports world that Lake Placid is waking up a little bit,” McKenna said. “That you can’t buy with $100,000.”

McKenna admitted there might be some hiccups along the way. 

But the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic Games also faced hurdles.

“Overall, we think that this particular event can serve our long-term goals, and help maintain our economy for lots of years to come,” he said.

Committee Member Art Lussi, owner of the Crowne Plaza Resort and an ORDA board member, said he’s served as a check on the group when it comes to asking difficult questions. 

“Rest assured, I take pride in being that tough guy,” Lussi said. “It becomes a question of who wants to invest in their infrastructure.”

Lussi admitted marketing the games might be a stretch because Americans are not familiar with the event.

Dietrich said every event has a downside.

“Benefits are not always distributed equally,” he said. “There’s no way to guarantee that, but everybody will probably benefit in some way or another.”

NEXT STEPS

FISU officials will visit venues and hotels next week.

ORDA CEO Mike Pratt said it’s possible FISU would discover a “fatal flaw” in the region’s infrastructure. But at least the visit would determine which athletic events will be appropriate to pursue in future, he said.

“Life’s a compromise,” Pratt said.

The local committee will travel to Lausanne, Switzerland to make a formal presentation to FISU on March 2. If awarded, officials would then immediately get to work drafting a contract. A new committee will also be formed to create a master plan.

Financial details likely won’t come into focus for another 8 to 10 months, McKenna said.

Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall said the village and Town of North Elba are also jointly working on legislation that would govern vacation rental units.

“I would expect you’d be hearing more about that as we come into spring,” he said.

Lake Placid resident Bob Maswick peppered the committee with questions at the hour-long meeting.

Asked if he was satisfied with their responses, he said, “I think Lake Placid as a brand understands it needs money to make money.”

But, he added: “We can be successful but we don’t always need to be a victim.”

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