QUEENSBURY - During what was the second most crowded public hearing in Warren County in over a decade, about 30 people expressed their views Monday on whether to save or demolish the Opera House and Cavalcade of Cars buildings on the former Gaslight Village plot in Lake George Village.
About two-thirds of the people speaking out favored demolishing the Opera House and Cavalcade of Cars buildings on the festival space of what is to be the West Brook environmental park.
Those supporting retaining the buildings cited they'd be useful when rehabilitated to host events and trade shows, keep Lake George competitive with other destinations, provide shelter for outdoor events in bad weather, and boost the local economy.
Proponents of demolishing the buildings argued that the buildings detracted from the purpose and appearance of the park, would be expensive to rehabilitate and maintain, and were outdated and inappropriate.
In a straw vote, about three quarters of the 75 or so citizens attending indicated they favored demolition.
Some supervisors downplayed the tilted ratio, noting that the opponents of rehabilitation were well-organized in contrast to the proponents of fixing up the buildings.
Joanne Gavin, representing the Lake George Citizens Group, reiterated her longstanding support of demolition.
She said she action now to demolish both buildings was the clear, sensible, and popular option, as grant money would pay for the demolition. She said to do otherwise was a foolish, wasteful choice.
"How is it that 'back-door' politics have ruled this 'junk' building situation for some town supervisors?" she asked. "Why is this even a debate?"
Robert Foulk said that the buildings couldn't serve a viable purpose without spending a sizeable sum of tax dollars.
"In a period of financial distress, renovating these buildings is a wildly inconsistent plan."
Nina Chase, a 92-year-old Lake George resident, voiced disagreement. She said the cost estimates for rehabilitation were overstated, the buildings had valuable extensive steel superstructure that could be retained, and she suggested that much of the renovation labor could be accomplished by volunteers.
"Vote to keep the buildings and I'll bake you all a pie," she said to the county supervisors, who are scheduled to make a decision April 12. "I know the buildings can be saved."
Peter Smith, a restaurateur in Lake George, called Cavalcade of Cars a firetrap.
"Architects and engineers have recommended getting rid of the buildings - listen to them," he said.
David Redpath, also a local resident, said the buildings were contrary to the Westbrook Park's purpose for filtering stormwater and improving the environment. He also said money already spent by the town government was wasteful.
""The former Opera House was declared unsafe after over $150,000 of taxpayer money was poured into this failed adventure," he said, calling the idea of fixing up Cavalcade a "second money-devouring sinkhole."
His wife Kathy Redpath also chided the supervisors.
"What part of broke eludes you?" she asked, referring to the county's ongoing budget gap.
Lake George Town Board member Caryl Clark, however, defended the local government's choice to rehabilitate Cavalcade for shows and events.
"These buildings are built of concrete and steel," she said. "Our engineer Charles Barrow said it would take minimal money to fix them up - and they'll help sustain our local economy."
Entrepreneur David Kenny, who owns a roster of motels, hotels, restaurants and other commercial properties, said that renovating Cavalcade of Cars to create meeting and event space was sorely needed in town, to improve its competitive standing as a destination.
"This would be a tremendous boost to our area," he said, noting that he didn't view the rehabilitated venue as competition. "It would help both my business and others."
Bonnie Combs said the environmental park without the buildings would be a "beautiful oasis in a sea of commercialism."
Lake George Regional Chamber of Commerce President Luisa Sherman said that Cavalcade held valuable potential as a venue that could draw festivals and conventions.
Lake George Mayor Robert Blais presented a plan that called for demolishing the buildings, conducting a market study and business plan to see if building new structures was feasible. He predicted that local government could obtain millions of dollars in grants to fund the new ones.
Others said that this wasn't a viable prediction, considering the state budget shortfall.
Jan Strachan said demolition would be a waste of money and potential.
"To destroy our $1.5 million in possessions to build something that costs over $2 million is irresponsible," she said.
After the meeting, Queensbury Supervisor Dan Stec said most county officials were ready to approve tearing down the Opera House, but they were still leaning toward saving Cavalcade of Cars if it was feasible and economically prudent.
County Budget Officer Kevin Geraghty said he'd like to see a plan and hard facts before making a decision, but county taxpayers shouldn't shoulder the burden.
"People who say keep buildings, they give compelling reasons," he said. "But I want to know where the money is coming from to bring them up to code. If the town wants to fix up one building, perhaps the county should let it go ahead - but I'm not for saving either one until we see something in writing - we need a plan."