LAKE PLACID - Officials announced this week that the 2011 Empire State Games have been canceled due to the state's ongoing fiscal crisis.
Winter Games administrator Lisa Del Signore sent a letter to athletes informing them that the winter, summer, and senior games - as well as the games for the physically challenged - have been canceled because of New York's $9 billion budget gap.
The winter games were scheduled to take place in Lake Placid in late February, while the summer games were set for Rochester in late July. The popular annual sporting events are run by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
The Poughkeepsie Journal, which broke the story, reports that Del Signore's letter said the agency has been told by the Paterson administration that there will be no state funding for the games.
"Perhaps in the future the economic climate will improve and the games will experience a rebirth," she wrote.
Jim McKenna is president and CEO of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism. He notes the winter games attract more than 1,000 athletes to the Lake Placid area and estimates the event has at least a $1 million economic impact on the region.
"When you have a thousand athletes and their families here, it does have a very positive economic impact, well over $1 million," he said. "We haven't sat down yet and refigured the numbers, although we have done it in the past."
McKenna is disappointed with the state's decision to pull the plug on the games, noting that it will be tough to find a way to make up for the loss of revenue.
"It hasn't been the kind of year where we can in-fill with other business - but that's not really what we're looking at right now," McKenna said. "I think from the point of view of a sport event of this magnitude not moving forward is something of more concern right now. I think there's a way we can put our heads together and come up with a plan for the future."
Over the years, numerous athletes got their start competing at the Empire State Games. Boxer Mike Tyson and former Duke basketball standout Christian Laettner both participated in the summer games, while figure skater Sarah Hughes shined during the winter games.
Vermontville native and Nordic combined Olympic champion Bill Demong took gold at several Empire State Games events as a youngster. Demong, who wraps up training in Park City, Utah this week before heading to some races in Norway, describes the games as a sort of mini-Olympics.
"I know that growing up as a kid it was a neat event, because it was designed to support everything from local and regional to elite level athletes," he said. "I remember winning Empire States Games when I was 13 on the 40-meter jump. That was sort of my penultimate achievement at that point. With the uniforming, the torch lighting, and the festival atmosphere - it's like a mini-Olympics."
State Senator Betty Little told WNBZ Wednesday that canceling the Empire State Games was a hasty decision. She says the state should have sought local input and considered reaching out to corporate and private sponsors.
"Seek their advice before announcing the games won't happen and see what creative ideas are out there to mitigate the loss of funding," Little said.
North Country Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward decried the fact that Gov. David Paterson has made several budget cuts this year without weighing the potential impacts on regional economies.
But while Sayward agrees that the games are well-liked and provide a boost to the tourism economy, she says New York can no longer foot the bill for such events.
"Government just can't continue to fund everything we've funded in the past," she said. "What we need to do - and I've heard this loud and clear from our incoming governor - is create partnerships with the private sector to enable fine programs like the Empire State Games to continue."
One wrinkle here is that lawmakers like Sayward and Little haven't heard anything official from Paterson's office regarding the games' cancellation.
Sayward says she made several phone calls Wednesday attempting to verify the reports.
"We haven't been able to verify it," she said. "I've been on the phone with staff in Albany and they say it appears to be absolute truth. But no one will officially say it is. Although the folks who work for the games have said their jobs have been officially terminated."
The website for the summer and winter games has also been taken offline. The Empire State Games have been facing economic uncertainty for several years. In 2009, the summer games were canceled due to budget concerns, and the 2010 summer games in Buffalo were rescued at the last minute by a $500,000 donation from the First Niagara Financial Group.