WARRENSBURG - After moths of debate and a contentious public hearing three days earlier, the Warren County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Friday to retain and rehabilitate both the Cavalcade of Cars and Opera House buildings on the grounds of the former Gaslight Village, with a purpose of hosting events and festivals.
Having these buildings ready to use for festivals is a vital boost to tourism - particularly in these challenging economic times - according to Bill Kenny, who presides over the county Bed Tax committee that oversees income from motels and other accommodations.
"This is the most important tourism incentive that Warren County has ever undertaken since the occupancy tax," he said.
Lake George Supervisor Lou Tessier has been leading a lengthy crusade to retain the buildings to provide space for small trade shows, event coordination, open-air concerts and community activities on the 2.5-acre festival space of the Gaslight Village grounds.
The remainder of the Gaslight Village acreage is to become a stormwater-filtering wetlands park.
Representatives of environmental groups and their supporters had argued that the buildings should be torn down to maximize the objectives of the wetlands park, and that rehabilitation would burden the taxpayers, considering engineers' estimates of $1.6 million to rehabilitate the two buildings.
But Tessier has argued for months that the buildings could be fixed up for one-tenth that figure or less, using primarily town employee labor.
Agreeing with Tessier, Thurman Supervisor "Red" Pitkin offered reasons why he and other upcounty supervisors voted to keep and fix up the buildings.
"It just didn't make sense to pull these buildings down when have this offer from the town of Lake George to develop them," he said. "Those of us (supervisors) with construction experience, we thought the engineers' renovation figures of $1.6 million were way off and with Lou willing to use his people and take on the work, we felt the downside risk just is just isn't that great."
County Budget Officer and Warrensburg Supervisor Kevin Geraghty said he supported Tessier's low-budget fix-up.
"The Lake George Regional Chamber of Commerce and business people of the area are right in their belief that the buildings should be kept to attract events and festivals," he said.
For months, Regional Chamber director Louisa Craige-Sherman has advocated keeping the buildings. She said at the recent hearing that various event coordinators she's talked with have expressed how they'd need one or both of the two buildings rehabilitated in order to host their festivals, which Craige-Sherman said would bring in millions of dollars in tourism revenue to the area.
"Within the past six months, we've turned events away because the buildings weren't ready to handle them," she said.
Frank Thomas of Stony Creek also said retaining the buildings was the right approach.
"You can always tear down buildings easily, but when you put them back, it's quite a project. "
Standing in the Lake George Highway Garage Monday morning, Tessier was lining up equipment and manpower to make progress on the renovation effort. He said other towns had already committed labor and machinery. Several local contractors have also volunteered their help.
"We need festival facilities badly to bring in more people to Lake George," he said. "We're going to be moving forward on this project right away."