PAUL SMITHS - A diverse group of officials, activists and administrators packed the Pine Room of the Joan Weill Student Center Jan. 25 to discuss the future of the Paul Smith's Visitor Interpretive Center.
Gov. David Paterson's 2010-2011 Executive Budget calls for the closure of the Adirondack Park Agency's two VICs - one is in Paul Smiths, the other in Newcomb. The closures would eventually translate to a $583,000 annual savings for the state.
Last week, the APA's Keith McKeever told WNBZ the VICs aren't considered part of the agency's core mission.
But it was clear Thursday that area residents and organizations are willing to step in and keep the Paul Smith's facility running.
Paul Smith's College President Dr. John Mills facilitated the roundtable discussion, which was more of a brainstorming session than anything else.
Mills explained in precise detail the college's role in relation to the center.
"The APA now oversees 1,398 acres of the property," he said. "We have the rest. The APA pays the town one-third of the assessed value of the land, that's the lease agreement. The buildings that are there are not taxed, that will be a serious consideration going forward."
The buildings at the VIC were maintained by the APA and funded through the agency's budget. Under the lease agreement, the state may only use the facilities for purposes of public education. Mills also noted the buildings and land can only be sublet with college approval.
According to Mills, the college is in no position to operate or maintain the VIC. For one, liability insurance is far too costly and two, the college cannot afford to hire staff.
And that's why Paul Smith's College is asking for input on how best to maintain the facility as an educational tool for park residents and visitors alike.
Assemblywoman Janet Duprey was in attendance yesterday, playing the role of an observer. She said the chances of getting the VICs back into the budget are slim-to-none.
"It's a decision that's been made, and I don't want to be negative but I don't see a reversal on it," she said. "I can tell you that we'll do whatever we can to find different sources of revenue if that's possible. But I'm looking for ideas to take back with me to Albany."
Harrietstown Supervisor Larry Miller asked if municipalities in the region could help keep the VIC running as is.
"I know money is tight," he said. "But what about the possibility of soliciting towns, villages and counties to see if they'd be interested and willing to help fund it?"
Miller noted that area communities benefit from the existence of the center.
Most of those in attendance agreed that the end of the VICs' relationship with the state provides a unique economic and educational opportunity for the region. Adirondack entrepreneur Brian McDonnell urged those in attendance to consider the financial benefits of expanding the center's role.
"We've had the pleasure of the state running the facility since it opened," he said. "Now we have an opportunity: it can be a place that offers much more than what it has offered. The original concept of putting the VIC in Paul Smiths was to bring more people to the area to be educated and to have a good time - and to spend money in the local communities."
McDonnell noted that the facility's potential has never been fully realized.
"I understand about the liability issue, but there are ways around that," he said. "People come from all over the country and they want to learn more about the Adirondack Park. We have to have something like the VIC open that serves as a library and also as a model for what the rest of the park represents."
At the end of the meeting, board members from the Adirondack Park Institute said they would discuss the possibility of becoming the lead agency in steering future discussions regarding the VIC.
Dr. Mills said Paul Smith's College is committed to facilitating those discussions.
"We need to keep this going," he said. "We need to keep hearing ideas from all sides, and this is a good first step."