LAKE GEORGE - After two years of debate and contentious public hearings, the Warren County Board of Supervisors voted Sept. 17, not to condone the renovation of the Cavalcade of Cars building by the town of Lake George, and to pursue demolition of the facility instead.
However, Lake George supervisor Frank McCoy said Sept. 20 demolition wasn't about to happen.
County attorney Paul Dusek has said demolition of the building would need approval of all the municipal owners of the building and the surrounding West Brook park festival plot - Warren County, the village of Lake George and the town of Lake George. Dusek has said in the case of an impasse, a lawsuit might be undertaken to settle the matter.
On Monday, McCoy declined to comment on such potential actions, but he instead said the town board members were now "considering their options." He has said such options include the other two entities buying out the town's interest in the West Brook environmental park. Talk surfaced Monday night among people close to negotiations between environmentalists and the municipalities that this was now under serious consideration.
Supervisors wary of future costs
All county supervisors but five voted Friday for demolition. The five voting to renovate were those involved in county tourism efforts: Ron Conover of Bolton, Frank Thomas of Stony Creek, Ralph Bentley of Horicon, Gene Merlino of Lake Luzerne, and McCoy - who had championed the renovation of the building into a community and events center along with his predecessor Lou Tessier.
All the Queensbury and Glens Falls supervisors voted for demolition and against rehabilitation of Cavalcade. They were joined by county supervisors Kevin Geraghty of Warrensburg, Sterling Goodspeed of Johnsburg, Dan Belden of Hague, and Fred Monroe of Chester, all of whom had once supported renovation.
Minutes after the vote, McCoy passed out a statement that read, "The real losers are the business people of Lake George who will not have the opportunity to host and stage major events. This decision was driven by special interests at the cost of the greater good."
Board chairman Fred Monroe said he voted against rehabilitation because it was bound to be expensive, and the county taxpayers would be on the hook for the costs if the town of Lake George at some point didn't shoulder the bill.
"The county is in no position at this point to take any risk like this," he said.
Geraghty added his thoughts, saying, "If creating this event and conference space was such a good idea, private enterprise would have taken on this project years ago."
Goodspeed commented on why he voted for demolition stating, "For me, it was a matter of taking the course of which action is most protective of the taxpayers."
New building concept presented
McCoy had presented a new rendering Friday of an expansive, Adirondack-style building, far more elaborate than a drawing he presented to the county supervisors in late spring.
The vote occurred after a meeting, nearly three hours long, in which people provided arguments on both sides of the issue. Primarily business people - other than two major venues - were represented as favoring of renovation,while individual citizens who showed up for the meeting were generally aligned with demolition.
Joanne Gavin of the Lake George Citizens group held up a stack of petitions signed by more than 800 people in the county, calling for demolition of the building. Thirty people stood up in support of her plea.
Bill Kenny, embattled chairman of the Gaslight Ad-Hoc Committee, who was commissioned to provide a recommendation to the full board, had the last word before the vote.
Once an ardent supporter of saving the venue, he distributed a 13-page, single-spaced statement arguing in favor of demolition - then he read each word. He said Cavalcade renovation is likely to be expensive to Lake George taxpayers. Citing the recent White Paper tourism report, he said anything less than a complete rebuild, or merely a fixer-upper rehabilitation job, might discourage tourism rather than boost it.
Kenny argued an empty, grassy parking area would attract more tourism than a rehabilitated building. He contended the Cavalcade building had reached the end of its useful life, and the county should not turn its back on the grant money earmarked by the state for its demolition.
"This project was initially envisioned as a park," he said, arguing for grass rather than any building in the future.
"Leaving this building standing will create a perpetual money shortfall," he said, claiming Cavalcade would compete with existing businesses including Fort William Henry, the Lake George Forum and The Dome.
"A plan to slap on a new exterior and then spend $50,000 on the inside will turn out to be a disaster - a shabby building that appeals to perhaps a few groups, but turns away the masses," he said, citing a "final nightmare" of the town reneging on its agreement to pay all costs, and dumping the facility costs on the county taxpayers.
In the end, that's what convinced supervisors to line up against it. Privately, supervisors who had switched their votes during several weeks said after the town of Lake George submitted a bill for $23,000 for maintenance of the building, they were against renovation. These supervisors noted they had been assured by Tessier the Cavalcade project would never cost the county a dime, and they were now dubious about allowing Lake George to pursue rehabilitation.
Business community favors saving it
Before the vote, developer Dave Kenny, owner of Inn at Erlowest, plus two big lakeside motels and the Adirondack Outlet Mall, said the supervisors should retain the building for events, conventions and festivals rather than convert the asset into a grassy parking lot. He said the true annual cost of the building would be $126,000 per year - presumably shouldered by Lake George taxpayers. He suggested the county Department of Tourism could relocate there, or portions of it could be utilized as an environmental education facility.
"The county supervisors have a fiduciary responsibility to explore other options rather than demolition," he said.
In the past, he has had pledges of $750,000 of cash from area business leaders to invest in the property.
Luisa Craige-Sherman, leader of the Lake George Chamber of Commerce, had presented a lengthy argument in support of keeping Cavalcade. She produced a list of 54 businesses in Lake George that support rehabilitation of the structure, in contrast to four that were opposed. She noted a conference and events center would boost the shoulder season, and attract a variety of new events to the village.
Adirondack Pub & Brewery owner John Carr also gave a lengthy presentation in favor of retaining Cavalcade. He said the building would boost the prospects of businesses throughout Lake George. He contended the building was an important asset, and would help retain 8,000 jobs, which represent workers in Warrensburg, Chestertown, Johnsburg, Bolton, and other towns in the county as well as Lake George. He said the building could bring in $1.2 million in extra business, based on 19 new events per year, drawing about 500 visitors each. He said the use of the building would generate $84,000 in sales and bed taxes, as well as $40,000 in rental revenue in its early years. He noted Saratoga Springs and Lake Placid both have added to their event and convention space, and if Lake George doesn't take this opportunity to add to its facilities, it will be falling behind its competition.
On Monday night, the Lake George Village Board passed two resolutions: one affirming demolition, and another urging Lake George to join the other municipalities in approving removal of the building.
Trustee Joe Mastrodomenico voted for the first one, but voted against the second, citing his belief that Cavalcade renovation was a promising idea, and the town board members would be taking their own course regardless of the trustees' proclamation.
Just hours earlier, representatives of environmental groups met with McCoy to prevent him from blocking demolition of the other structures on the entire jointly-owned West Brook Park plot, so the project of creating a stormwater-purifying wetlands park would not be stalled.
Village Mayor Robert Blais said if the town didn't agree soon to demolition, it could put millions of dollars of grant funding for the project in jeopardy.