SARANAC LAKE - In an effort to further its mission, the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce is reaching out to other agencies and making plans to move its office.
The chamber has partnered with the Essex County Visitors Bureau and the town of North Elba to increase visitor services in Saranac Lake.
"This partnership will enable the chamber to increase services to our members as well as offer a seamless visitor experience in our region," said SLACC executive director Sylvie Nelson. "It will also enable us to tap into Essex County Visitors Bureau's expertise."
Entailed in the discussion includes moving the chamber operations to the North Elba Town House, located at 132 River St. The two organizations will work in cooperation with the town of North Elba to convert the building into an information center. "This makes good use of a public building that traditionally has received limited usage," said North Elba supervisor Roby Politi. "This also shows a good cooperation between the two communities and organizations, and its long-term common goal is year-round services to the area's visitors."
As a result of SLACC's partnership with the visitors bureau, a new staff member will be added at the site, which will allow it to stay open to visitors on weekends. Nelson said the site would offer more space for storage and better parking for motorists.
"It's location is only a few blocks from our present location, making the downtown easily accessible to visitors," said Nelson. "It is located on the busiest highway in the Adirondack Park, with a DOT average of 14,000 cars daily."
The target date for opening at the new location is June 1.
"We are clearly moving forward with this project," remarked James McKenna, director of the Essex County Visitor's Bureau. "This is going to serve as a destination-wide Adirondack and Saranac Lake visitor center, which will benefit the entire region."
The chamber, which is presently located in the Town of Harrietstown Town Hall, is the largest business group in the Tri-Lakes area with over 400 members. Town of Harrietstown supervisor Larry Miller said the chamber has been a great presence in the town building.
"For the town, the important aspect is not where the chamber is located but what the chamber does and we don't expect their commitment to our region to change," he said. According to Nelson, about 80 percent of SLACC's members rely on tourism, and a slim majority operate mainly in Essex County.
"From the visitor's point of view, they do not know where Essex County ends and Franklin County begins," said Nelson. "What they want is to be pointed into the right direction so they find what they are looking for."
Thirty-four chamber of commerce members attended a meeting Feb. 25 to discuss the move, with most expressing approval of the partnership. The meeting resulted in the formation of a task force designed to address some of the questions raised.
"Some of our members had some questions," Nelson said. "They were not insurmountable questions - they were legitimate questions. Certainly, we didn't have all of the answers. So we put together a task force to address those questions and come up with some answers and then report back to the general membership."
The task force consists of seven chamber members and is expected to report back sometime in March.
Among the issues discussed were signage and visibility at the North Elba Town House. According to Nelson, she had previous discussions with McKenna, and both agreed numerous entities would need to collaborate to develop a signage system that will work effectively.
Chamber members also wondered how to address the issues of parking and handicapped restrooms. Currently, the only restrooms available at the town house are located in the basement.
Nelson explained handicap-accessible portable toilets could be installed outside of the building and those facilities could be heated throughout the winter.
Some members expressed concern that the potential move to North Elba and the relationship with Lake Placid could take attention away from Franklin County sections of Saranac Lake. Nelson said the chamber would make special efforts to make its operation "all-inclusive."
"It's about generating interest in the broader area," she said. "If we can work together, the benefits are far reaching."
Nelson said the chamber would continue to offer the same services it currently offers to tourists, including its annual maps and visitors guides.
"The time of local importance is over," Nelson added. "Now it is global and we compete with Las Vegas, Orlando, and Europe; anywhere that has something to offer to a potential tourist."