A high-end resort developer says the Adirondack Club & Resort planned for the Big Tupper Ski Area is unlikely to succeed.
David Norden has developed large-scale ski resorts from Vermont to Japan and has conducted recent research on the market for vacation homes, particularly in the northeastern United States.
Norden was brought in by Protect the Adirondacks - an environmental group that has come out against the 600-unit resort planned for Mt. Morris in Tupper Lake. He testified during public hearings earlier this week before the state Adirondack Park Agency that the resort was not likely to attract discerning vacation homebuyers or visitors.
Preserve Associates, the developer behind the ACR development, has asserted that the ski area would attract wealthy home buyers and help rebuild the economy of Tupper Lake. But Norden said that those goals are based on an inadequate and outdated market analysis.
He said a 2005 Cushman & Wakefield residential market study on the marketability of the resort was done before the real estate market collapsed. Yet an updated study done in 2010 predicted that residential sales would be much higher than they were before the real estate market crashed.
Norden said that ACR's sales estimates are out of whack, since the number of U.S. vacation real estate transactions in 2010 were more than 50 percent less than the level in 2006.
"Without proper market knowledge, the project becomes highly speculative, and pricing becomes a bit of a crap-shoot," Norden said.
But even if the real estate market were booming, Norden said the resort would still have other disadvantages compared to other ski destinations in the northeast.
For starters, he said the mountain is too small.
"The Big Tupper Ski Area as measured by vertical rise, uphill lift capacity (both current and planned), and skiable acreage, is at a scale that has not historically attracted the requisite visitation to support a robust real estate sales program," Norden said.
In his testimony, he said that other similarly sized ski areas in Vermont have failed in their attempts to develop their surrounding real estate, including the Burke, Haystack and Ascutney ski areas.
Second, he said Big Tupper is too remote.
Even though there are 36 million people within a 400 mile radius of the ski area - as the Cushman & Wakefield report notes - Norden said that the vast majority of these people will be driving to facilities that have superior on-mountain technology, more expansive and interesting terrain, better access and better name recognition.
Big Tupper on the other hand is an "unknown and has previously failed," and Norden said that makes it a risky investment.
He also said that the town of Tupper Lake was a deterrent to "discerning" vacation homebuyers and visitors since it's lacking in restaurants, shops, inns and other amenities. Supporters of the ACR project note that building the resort would attract those very amenities the community currently lacks.
The "triple bottom line," according to Norden, is that the Adirondack Club and Resort represents a risky gamble for the developers, the community and second homebuyers.