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ORDA revives conference center project

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An ambitious plan to reinvent Lake Placid's Olympic Center has been revived by the Olympic Regional Development Authority. An earlier plan to build a massive conference center was scuttled last year after bids came in 40 percent over budget. Now ORDA says it's confident it can build a smaller convention center with the money it already has. Jacob Resneck reports.

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An ambitious plan to reinvent Lake Placid's Olympic Center has been revived by the Olympic Regional Development Authority. An earlier plan to build a massive conference center was scuttled last year after bids came in 40 percent over budget.

Now ORDA says it's confident it can build a smaller convention center with the money it already has. Jacob Resneck reports.

The conference center was never supposed to cost much more than 22 million dollars.

When bids came back at more than $33 million, ORDA balked and progress toward a 90,000-square-foot steel and glass conference center in downtown Lake Placid ground to a halt.

Now, despite the state budget crunch, ORDA says it still has about $18 million available from Empire State Development and the New York Power Authority for a conference center project.

At a meeting last week in Lake Placid, ORDA?s board gave its endorsement for moving ahead with a scaled back plan that would renovate two existing ice rinks as part of a more modest design.

Bob Hammond, ORDA's chief planner, says the goal is to attract conferences as large as twelve hundred people.

"We can accommodate twelve hundred people in the '32 Rink but we don't have the breakout space, we don't have the infrastructure and  we don't have the level of finish to attract the groups."

Hammond says his office will start looking for qualified design and construction firms this week. Key to the effort is finding a company that can meet ORDA's specifications with the 18 million dollar budget cap.

Hammond says ORDA will save money by renovating the 1932 Rink into a dual-purpose event hall.

"That's a great thing, it doubles as a space now, we put in lighting that's good for hockey and good for conferences. We add acoustical controls so the echoing isn't so bad. It won't hurt any hockey performance but when someone's speaking in there, it'll sound be better."

ORDA had pledged to build its new conference center to silver or even gold certification through the U.S. Green Building Council.

ORDA Chairman Joe Martens noted that the $2 million it has received by the power authority requires the conference center to meet heightened energy efficiency standards.

Martens said the new plan calls for reusing about 17,000-square-feet of the existing building which in the eyes of the building industry is akin to recycling.

"Because we are re-using more of an existing building, I think we will get additional points. Whether we will achieve gold or not, I think that remains to be seen."

James McKenna of Lake Placid;s visitors bureau said his office has been turning groups away because of the lack of meeting space in Lake Placid.

Mayor Jamie Rogers also said a conference center would be a boon for the economy.

"I do commend them for moving sooner than later."

A regional group led by the Plattsburgh North Country Chamber of Commerce is also asking the incoming Obama administration for roughly 14 million dollars in additional funds for the conference center.

The money would come from the planned stimulus package now being developed in Washington.

ORDA board member Cliff Donaldson said the project will create construction jobs - but will also have a long-term impact on the region's economy.

"Once the project is done, yes it will put money in people's pockets to build it, but that it's going to have an ongoing economic impact for local businesses, for local governments and the state as well."

For North Country Public Radio, I'm Jacob Resneck in Lake Placid

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