Local officials are expressing “disappointment” that a $75 million Belleayre Unit Management Plan (UMP) adopted five years ago for the state-owned Belleayre Ski Center at Highmount has yet to be implemented. State infusions of about a million dollars a year, scratched together by state representatives, though absent from the state budget, manage keep the facility going, but massive investments for new facilities and expansion as envisioned in the management plan remain on a distant horizon.
The state’s Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA), headquartered at Lake Placid, assumed control of Belleayre from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) at about the time the UMP was recommended.
“I was skeptical at first,” said Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, whose 103rd district includes Belleayre. “But it seemed to make sense that an outfit (ORDA) that specialized in running ski centers would do a better job than one involved with environmental protection.”
Inherent in that assumption was that ORDA would advance the UMP. That hasn’t happened even as ORDA is projecting major investments in other facilities it controls.
“It certainly is disappointing,” said county legislator John Parete of Olive, who, with Joe Kelly of Delaware County, are members of ORDA’s board of directors. Parete noted that ORDA has earmarked $20 million for improvements to the Gore Mountain Ski Center and another $30 million to upgrade Frontier Town near Lake Placid for summer tourism.
“I do believe that Belleayre, located so close to the New York area, could be a cash cow for ORDA,” Parete said.
But he worries that Belleayre is devolving into something of an ORDA backwater, “out of sight, out of mind.” Parete said there was no mention of the Belleayre UMP at a meeting of the ORDA board of directors this month. Neither was there mention of Belleayre in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2017-18 budget released last month.
Cahill said he and State Sen. James Seward, whose 51st senate district includes Belleayre, “will lobby together as we always have for funding for Belleayre.”
An ORDA spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions regarding the Unit Management Plan.
CHA support for ski center
Meanwhile, Kathy Nolan, chairman of the Catskill Heritage Alliance, affirmed her organization’s support for the ski center, but opposes an element of the UMP that calls for the state’s acquisition of the defunct Highmount Ski Center from the proposed Belleayre Resort developers.
“We’d rather they improved their existing ski trails and facilities than adding new terrain. We do support the ski center and always have,” she said. CHA opposes the scope of Belleayre Resort project and is currently in court regarding town of Shandaken actions on time-share facilities at the resort.
Other than school districts, Belleayre with its $5 million annual budget is one of the largest employers in the central Catskills. The ski center attracted 126,000 visitors in 2015, according to its website, but lost over 50,000 due to warm weather conditions last year.