Hugh Reynolds: Two Belleayres are ringing

While the controversy over the proposed Resort at Belleayre continues in court, the seemingly settled issues of capital funding at the (unrelated, or is it?) state-owned Belleayre Ski Center at Highmount have once again erupted in public dispute.

Other than names and immediate proximity, it would seem that the two Belleayres would have little to do with each other. But they do.

First proposed at the end of the 20th century, the privately-financed $300 million Resort at Belleayre has gone through several configurations over almost 20 years. It now seems on the cusp of final, final approval. I am not holding my breath.

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It took a state constitutional amendment to carve Belleayre skiing out of the “forever wild” Catskill Park in 1949, seen as the first in a clutch of state-owned ski resorts aimed at attracting tourists to economically challenged upstate areas. After decades of not-so-benign neglect, Belleayre faced closure in the early 1980s.

Riding to the rescue was the Coalition to Save Belleayre. The group collected 13,000 what old-timers call “real signatures” on petitions submitted to Gov. Mario Cuomo. Then-assemblyman Maurice Hinchey, champion of lost causes, kept the heat on. Democrat Hinchey, known to snuggle with strange bedfellows in pursuit of worthy objectives, enlisted former Republican Delaware County state senator Charlie Cook.  After Cook retired in 1998, Orange County state Sen. John Bonacic joined Ulster’s Kevin Cahill in carrying the torch. Redistricting in 2012 brought state Sen. Jim Seward of Oneonta into the fray.

Belleayre was brought back to speed piecemeal with a succession of $5 million annual grants, mere crumbs in contrast to the 2009 $74 million Unit Management Plan (UMP). In one of those bigger-is-better ideas, Belleayre was moved five years ago from Department of Environment Conservation (DEC) administration to the state-operated Olympic Redevelopment Authority (ORDA), headquartered at Lake Placid.

Belleayre’s UMP was part and parcel of that transfer, but wasn’t formally approved by the twelve-member ORDA board of directors until late last year. The wheels of government move slowly.

“It seemed to make sense at the time to have an agency [ORDA] that operates ski resorts [at Whiteface, Gore and Lake Placid] run Belleayre,” said Cahill recently.

But progress has been like skiing uphill. Long-suffering mountain folk thought they had a clear run what with all the goodies in the UMP, new trails, lifts, upgraded lodge facilities, etc. Instead, the Catskills facility was fobbed off with subsistence million-dollar annual capital grants, begged and borrowed by local state legislators. Belleayre wasn’t even mentioned in the governor’s proposed 2017-18 budget, which included $20 million for Gore and Whiteface.

 

Joe Kelly’s views

Some of this frustration boiled over at last week’s monthly meeting of the Shandaken town board. Town Supervisor Rob Stanley had to rap the gavel to restore order after Belleayre ski advocate Tony Lanza, a former superintendent, and Belleayre Resort opponent Kathy Nolan got to jawing at each other. There remains the suspicion among some locals that the anti-resorts are somehow behind ORDA’s indifference to the ski center’s long-term needs. Nolan says that’s apples and oranges. Officially, the Catskill Heritage Alliance, which she chairs, supports the ski center UMP, but opposes its acquisition of the former Highmount ski center.

Nolan, a 30-year resident, seems to embrace the slings and arrows of public debate. She’s a regular at monthly meetings of the county legislature, usually in defense of the county executive’s rail-trail vision.

“It’s amazing how some people can spew spittle, without getting it on anyone,” she shrugged after last week’s dust-up, without direct reference to the former superintendent. Lanza is best remembered for rousing renditions of Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally” at annual Belleayre Snow Ball black-tie fundraisers. Some find him a bit overheated.

The failure to secure promised funding from ORDA also has some ski-resort supporters questioning the influence (or lack thereof) of local board members John Parete of Olive and Joe Kelly of nearby Delaware County.

Kelly, a founding member of the committee to save Belleayre, says his record speaks for itself. “Check the tapes from ORDA meetings,” he says. “We’re both very outspoken.”

Kelly, a Long Island resident and a long-time Catskills second homer, has been skiing at Belleayre for more than four decades. These days he skis with his children and grandchildren. Somewhat mellowed, he’s seen it all. He probably saved the ski center from going back to nature.

Financial issues remain. “We formed the committee because of a desperate need for economic development in our region,” Kelly told me last week. “If anything, things have gotten worse.”

Kelly says he agrees with Cahill: “We should get what we were promised when we joined the ORDA family.”

To that, I can only recommend something to replace all those Bernie, Hillary and Trump bumper stickers. How about “Hump the UMP/SAVE Belleayre?”

 

Welcome to Kinderhook

Organizers of what they project will be a “very large non-violent rally” in Kinderhook village planned for Saturday, Feb. 25 at 2 p.m. are preparing for between 2,500 and 3,000 people. For Kinderhook’s village square this would be a huge crowd, considering the village’s 2010 census population of 1,211 residents. The village encompasses 2.1 square miles, according to Wikipedia (Kingston has eight square miles).

Some Kinderhook residents are more notable than others. Congressman John Faso was confronted by a few hundred marchers on his front lawn a few weeks ago.

The usual topics of protest will include the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act and Faso’s attitude toward Planned Parenthood funding. Faso has repeatedly issued statements on both (and numerous other matters) during less than two months in office. But it seems America is on the march these days. In any event, there is nothing like face-to-face with TV cameras to influence public opinion.

For many marchers, this will be their first visit to the charming village of Kinderhook. Located in an eastern corner of rural Columbia County, it was allegedly named by Henry Hudson when he sighted Native-American children playing on the shores of the river. Considering Hudson was an Englishman sailing for the Dutch, the notion of his crying out “Yo, Kinderhook!” seems far-fetched. More likely it was named by Dutch settlers who arrived a decade later.

Martin Van Buren, our eighth president and of Dutch descent, is the village’s most famous native. He routinely initialed correspondence with his nickname, “Olde Kinderhook,” thus “OK,” or so it was said. He is buried in Kinderhook.

Wikipedia also lists an obscure one-term congressman from Kinderhook named George McClellan (not the Civil War general) as its other famous son, apparently not having yet caught up with recently retired three-term congressman Chris Gibson. A Democrat in a heavily Republican district, McClellan was elected in 1913 but defeated two years later. Faso, after last year’s convincing election, plans no such fate for himself. Obviously, the times are a-changin’.

 

Alms away

I dropped by the RUPCO press conference Monday morning at the old Alms House on Flatbush Avenue in Kingston just to check out the vacant space. Who knows, with my Freeman pension, I might be a resident in a few years. There was also the free (bag) lunch. Publicity-savvy RUPCO, knowing reporters will crawl through hot coals for a free meal, was rewarded with an impressive spread in the next day’s daily.

The Alms House served the less fortunate in our community for almost a century. RUPCO proposes to carry on that tradition. RUPCO plans to renovate the historic landmark and add new onsite construction, creating 66 units of low-income and senior housing. The project is currently under review.

Built as a poorhouse in 1873, according to a 1956 bronze plaque in the lobby, the building served as an infirmary until the Golden Hill facility was constructed a century later. Evidence of its use as a county office building for some 35 years was everywhere. I half-expected to see a county worker daydreaming out a window from a cluttered desk behind his IBM Selectric. Purpose-built, its rooms, once considered spacious, would barely accommodate a studio apartment. RUPCO literally has its work cut out. The place is built like a fort.

Construction might be the easy part, given the controversy surrounding what should be a feel-good project. I can understand why some landlords might resent RUPCO’s governmental support undercutting local rents, but with over half the city’s residential units in rental, some of it downright deplorable, the impact would be minuscule. In the meantime, after almost three years on the market with no commercial takers, RUPCO proposes to create safe, affordable housing on what is now an abandoned tax-free site. If that’s not a no-brainer, call me Scarecrow (from The Wizard of Oz).

There are 2 comments

  1. Dave Channon

    The $74 million handout demanded by Crossroads resort permit seekers is big government subsidizing millionaires for their private profit with our tax dollars. The $8 million Cuomo released is good public funding for the public Belleayre Ski Area. Don’t be confused by resort boosters. Public funding of public projects is GOOD. Public taxpayer dollars going to private projects for the profit of millionaires is BAD. Let the millionaires spend their own money. Thank you Governor Cuomo for the wisdom to tell the difference between public good and private bad.

  2. Is_that_right

    Glad to see the Shandaken ZBA come back with a vote of 5 – 0 in favor of the resort being built. That vote is a mandate of what the majority of the town wants for it ‘s future. Kudos to the town ZBA and the town board in standing up to a small group with money that has tried to manipulate town politics for over 20 years

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