LAKE PLACID - Officials from across the North Country were shocked when the state announced it was canceling the popular winter and summer Empire State Games due to New York's ongoing fiscal crisis.
But Nov. 18, community leaders from the Lake Placid region announced they would pool their resources to save the 2011 winter games, despite losing state funding.
The summer games still face extinction.
Representatives from the towns of North Elba and Wilmington, the village of Lake Placid, the Lake Placid Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the state Olympic Regional Development Authority made a joint decision Wednesday night to work together and keep the games alive.
Reports that the state was pulling funding for the Empire State Games were still sinking in Thursday when officials convened a news conference to announce that the winter games were back on.
With tourism officials estimating a loss of $1 million in economic impact as a result of the games' cancellation, Lake Placid Village Mayor Craig Randall said continuing the event was critical to the region's sustainability.
He said the loss of state funding actually presents an opportunity going forward, similar to efforts by Melvil Dewey in 1928 to bring the Olympics to Lake Placid.
"We have to look at this as one more of those activities in the history of the area where we could either allow it to go away, or we could step up to the table and perpetuate the vision of the Deweys and do what Lake Placid has done so well in the past with our friends and neighbors," Randall said. "We need to take advantage of an opportunity here and pick up these games. We have all the resources we need."
North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi said the state's decision could be viewed as a disappointment - but that's not the Lake Placid way.
"Lake Placid is all about opportunities so we decided to pick up the ball and run with it," Politi said. "The state has said it can't do it. But Lake Placid is saying we can do it. We have the community spirit, the resourcefulness - and we have great partnerships."
And while the loss of the games would have hurt the community economically, Politi said it's not just about money.
"It's more than financial," he said. "We need to be thinking about young athletes. Athletes from across the state look forward to coming here and feeling the magic and the spirit of this Olympic place. It's a wonderful experience."
Jim McKenna, president and CEO for the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism and the Lake Placid Convention and Visitors Bureau, called the decision to continue the games a no-brainer.
"There's a lot of expertise here," he said. "We're going to show the state that we can do this, and do it in a way that's better than the past. This has the ability to lead to better things in the future."
Politi said that unlike the summer games - which have encountered significantly more financial hardship over the years - the winter games cost relatively little. He said the infrastructure and venues are already in place, and the community is experienced in hosting events of this nature.
McKenna said the next step is to secure the necessary funding. That, he said, could be accomplished through private sponsorship.
"We have to show value and put together a package for potential sponsors," he said. "Partnerships is what it's about."
ORDA President and CEO Ted Blazer noted that the venues are already set and that staff is ready to pull off what he described as an exceptional Empire State Winter Games.
"We've been working with Albany to follow the lead of control," he said. "We had already set out budgets, and the athletes were going to be coming anyway. We're going to work with the community, that's who will spearhead this. They'll just be using our facilities."
State Sen. Elizabeth Little and Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward both said the state should have explored public-private sponsorships before deciding to cancel the games. In separate statements released Thursday, the two North Country lawmakers hailed the community effort to save the games.
McKenna said he hasn't heard whether the state is endorsing the plan.
The Empire State Winter Games features an array of Olympic-style competitions, including bobsled, biathlon, Nordic combined, and alpine skiing. Past games have featured Olympic and World Cup champions like Billy Demong and Andrew Weibrecht.