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Plan in the works to save Adirondack Visitor Center

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The Adirondack Park Agency and Paul Smith's College are working on a memorandum of understanding to preserve the popular Visitor Interpretive Center near the college.

The center is on college land, but the Park Agency owns the buildings. The MOU would allow the college to buy them. State comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has to approve the deal, but local leaders, including college president John Mills, are optimistic. Chris Morris has the story.

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It's been about five months since Governor David Paterson's executive budget called for the closure of two Visitor Interpretive Centers owned and operated by the Adirondack Park Agency.

Since then, local leaders and advocacy organizations have talked about how to save the popular VICs.

So far, the efforts have largely been headed up by the private Adirondack Park Institute, which has long supported education programs at the centers.

At this week's annual Conference on the Adirondacks in Lake Placid officials showcased a conceptual design for what's being dubbed the Center for Outdoor Life, an extension of the VICs that focuses on outdoor recreation, research and education.

Meanwhile, officials from the APA and Paul Smith's College are working on an agreement allowing the college to buy the state-owned VIC facilities.

Dr. John Mills is president of Paul Smith's College, which owns the land surrounding the Visitor Interpretive Center's main building. He says the college is negotiating with the state to purchase the building itself by the end of the calendar year, "We're close to reaching an agreement with the APA for us to take over all of the facilities there," he said. "The land is ours, but the building is owned by the APA."

Mills say the process has been slow, but is nearing completion and that both sides are optimistic a deal will be reached.

The APA's Keith McKeever confirmed that the two entities are working toward an agreement, "The Adirondack Park Agency has had productive conversations with Paul Smith's College regarding the facilities at the Paul Smiths VIC," he said. "We hope to have more to report in the near future."

Mills says college ownership of the both the lands and the facilities at the VIC takes away a degree of uncertainty that exists with the groups fighting to keep the resource running, "Now that we know the entire facility will be in our possession, it allows for a much more focused planning effort," he said.

Martha Van der Voort is director of the Adirondack Park Institute. She says negotiations between the APA and the college is welcome news because the status of the building itself was the elephant in the room. She said,  "The college was not in position to pay the fair market value and we are in no way in position to pay the fair market value. I think there are many, many pieces to this puzzle, but the sticking point right from the start in terms of planning was the disposition of the building. So it's huge."

Officials are finalizing the language contained within the memorandum of understanding, but Mills noted that it's too soon to start talking about exact numbers. "We're working on a deal with the comptroller that would set an appropriate price that we can all agree on, and then we just make the purchase," he said. "It's in our lease agreement that we can purchase the building from the APA."

Mills said Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has the final say on the price, but a deal is forthcoming. If negotiations are successful, Paul Smith's College would take over the building starting January 1. The college still lacks the resources to run the facility, but Mills says maintenance and upkeep would not be a problem.

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