North Creek Business Alliance officials were lobbying hard this past week to keep their free shuttle service alive for another year in 2013, going on the offensive in order to persuade town officials to grant them more funding through the Warren County occupancy tax program.
“As a ski town, we realized going on four years ago now, that we need the shuttle,” said barVino co-owner and Business Alliance co-chairman Mike Bowers. “We need the ability to transport people from Gore Mountain, which is only three or four minutes away, to the downtown, the lodging facilities, the restaurants, the shops. And it increases tourism and makes us a legitimate ski town.”
The 4 percent occupancy tax (a.k.a bed tax) is charged to tourists who rent rooms during their stay in the county. Funding for special projects, events, conventions, etc. is granted on the county and town levels, and the money is only to be used for tourism-related activities that “enhance the general economy of the County of Warren,” according to the county law established in 2003.
When North Creek Business Alliance officials filed their 2013 occupancy tax funding application with the town of Johnsburg, they called their shuttle service a “regional transportation project,” rather than a downtown North Creek project.
They were hoping to make their case for the application at the Dec. 4 Johnsburg Town Board meeting because they had heard the new committee reviewing the applications was not going to recommend the shuttle get any funding in 2013. And that’s a mistake, according to Bowers.
“This is probably one of the single most important things that we’re doing as a town,” Bowers said. “If you go to Lake Placid, there’s a continual shuttle going around town all day long. And people have come to expect this. Without this, we’re not going to continue our effort to make North Creek a destination. And without our being a destination, and providing these amenities, we’re going to wither on the vine.”
While the shuttle is mainly a winter service — transporting tourists from downtown North Creek and hotel properties throughout the town to the Gore Mountain ski center and the train station — Bowers and Business Alliance co-chair Joel Beaudin said the shuttle is a service to the community 12 months of the year. It ran in the winter, during some fall foliage tourist days, holiday weekends and the Hudson River White Water Derby in May.
“It’s extremely important to our end of the community, as far as owning one of the two lodging facilities in downtown North Creek,” said Beaudin, co-owner of the Copperfield Inn. “Our skiing customers have come to depend upon it, and it adds to the value of their stay here tremendously.”
In the winter, the shuttle transports tourists between downtown North Creek, the train station, surrounding hospitality establishments and the ski facilities at Gore Mountain and the Ski Bowl. The schedule includes properties such as the Alpine Lodge, Copperfield Inn, Goose Pond Inn, the Valhaus Motel and the Black Mountain Ski Lodge and Motel.
With the help of Don Butler and Keith Wilkinson of Brant Lake Taxi, bed tax money from the town and county and the North Creek Business Alliance supports the shuttle. Brant Lake Taxi also raises funds for the shuttle through advertising on the bus. It costs $405 a day for Brant Lake Taxi to run the shuttle. This was their fourth year running the service for the Business Alliance, according to Butler.
“And so it’s a joint effort between the town, the county and the business community to run this, and Brant Lake Taxi. Without them, this wouldn’t be possible,” Bowers said.
About $26,000 in occupancy tax money was awarded to the shuttle for the 2012 operations, according to Beaudin. That includes rounds of funding from the town of Johnsburg and Warren County. The town itself awarded $10,000 to the shuttle for 2012.
With the inaugural year of the Saratoga & North Creek Railway’s Snow Train in 2012, the shuttle to Gore Mountain took on more significance for the business community. Half of the 1,400 Snow Train passengers coming from Saratoga Springs were skiers, and they needed transportation to Gore. The Snow Train is specifically marketed toward skiers, and without a shuttle, they have no way to get to the mountain.
“We help accommodate people to bring them to the mountain,” said Brant Lake Taxi’s Butler. “We make sure that’s the time the shuttle is down at the train station.”
The shuttle also brings the parents and other family members who are not skiers to the downtown area while their kids ski at Gore.
“That was one of our goals, and as the time goes on and on, people are using the service more,” Butler said.
The winter shuttle runs from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., coinciding with Gore’s lift operations, on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, holiday weeks and holiday Mondays.
While cross-country skiing at the Garnet Hill Lodge in North River plays a part in the winter economy of the region, Gore Mountain is the big draw for North Creek. It’s been a ski resort town since the mid-1930s when the first snow trains arrived on the Delaware & Hudson Railway from New York City. Several slopes were opened, including the Ski Bowl. Gore opened in 1964.
“There’s a synergy that exists between Gore and the business community of North Creek,” Bowers said. “Even to the point we’re going to try this year to make the shuttle run a little bit earlier for a while to see if it works out for the employees at Gore. So they can come downtown, park, and not have to drive up and get to Gore in a timely fashion for work.”
The North Creek Business Alliance is a not-for-profit organization. There are no dues. There are no members. It is simply a loosely bound group of concerned citizens who volunteer their time to improve the business climate of their community. They meet every Thursday morning from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. at barVino on Main Street.
“Anyone who is willing to come here and voice their opinion and participate does so at their own initiative,” Beaudin said.
For its 2013 county application for occupancy tax money, the Business Alliance has asked for money to buy a trolley for summer transportation in North Creek.
The North Creek Business Alliance has been using its eight-passenger golf cart to transport visitors around town in the summer. Volunteers pick up train passengers from the North Creek Depot and shuttle them up and down Main Street throughout the day seven days a week. The summer shuttle was not funded through the occupancy tax.
“The ridership on the train, we were just told, was double what it was a year ago during the summer,” Beaudin said. “So we will be becoming a year-round destination here. We believe this summer shuttle is going to be as important to us as a community as the winter shuttle has.”