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ORDA CEO Ted Blazer (Photo:  Chris Morris)
ORDA CEO Ted Blazer (Photo: Chris Morris)

ORDA builds appeal despite state budget cuts

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The state Olympic Regional Development Authority is having one of its best years ever. ORDA operates and maintains a variety of Olympic venues across the Lake Placid region, including ski centers at Whiteface and Gore Mountains. State officials say heavy snowfall and a strong Canadian dollar translated into financial success.

As Chris Morris reports, ORDA is looking to build off that success by getting creative with its marketing.

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Chris Morris
Tri-Lakes Correspondent

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A crowd of onlookers gathered inside ORDA’s new high-tech board room this week to receive some good news.

“We ended the year $1.8 million to the good, prior to audit, and after debt service, $296,000 to the good – it was a great accomplishment and I want to thank the staff for all their hard work and perseverance, because under those conditions, it is not easy," said Ted Blazer, ORDA’s president and chief executive officer. The “conditions” he speaks of include a loss of about $2.2 million in state appropriations.

Blazer was all smiles during Wednesday’s board of directors meeting. He said the authority was able to pull through the fiscal crisis by getting creative with marketing initiatives and by utilizing its resources efficiently.

Blazer did note, however, that some outside factors played into ORDA’s recent success. “We did have some weather on our side, and we did have some great play with the Canadian dollar with people coming across the border,” he said. “We will say we didn’t do it all ourselves, we had some help.”

By the numbers, ORDA had hoped to be about $47,000 in the black after the ski season. The agency bettered those projections by a factor of six, running nearly $250,000 ahead of expectations.

Whiteface saw about 20,000 more visitors this year than last, while Gore’s numbers jumped by approximately 7,000.

ORDA spokesman Jon Lundin said those numbers are the best anyone has seen in about a decade.

Liz Mezzetti, ORDA’s director of marketing, said outside of terrific snowfall and hordes of Canadian visitors, some clever marketing worked wonders. “Essentially, Ted came to us and said, ‘you guys, we need to accomplish some goals this year because we’re facing a huge deficit, you need to go OTW,’” she said. “We said, ‘what’s that?’ He said, go ‘off the wall.’ He said we need ideas, we need to run and get people here and get people excited about Whiteface and Lake Placid.”

In some cases, going “off the wall” meant flooding the urban markets with billboard campaigns and a host of television and radio advertising.

Mezzetti says her marketing team also got fans of Whiteface to do some work for ORDA.

“The ‘Road Warriors’ was the highlight of the OTW campaign,” she said. “It was wildly exciting; we went to Albany, Saratoga, Plattsburgh, Lake George, some of our main key markets, and asked people to meet us on the road and find us in our locations dressed in their ski gear in the middle of the summer to earn lift tickets to ski Whiteface.”

The new marketing campaigns coupled with ideal weather and improving tourism created a sort of “perfect storm” for ORDA, and its success has officials at other state agencies taking notes.

“I think ORDA is just a good example of how it can be done, where you can tighten your belt and continue to thrive. They’re just a good example.”

Joe Martens, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation and former chairman of ORDA’s board of directors, says getting creative and becoming more efficient needs to become a statewide trend. “It’s difficult, but the fact of the matter is there’s not going to be any new state resources anytime soon so we just have to adjust,” he said. “I’m proud of ORDA and agencies like DEC for adapting to a new fiscal reality.”

Pat Barrett recently succeeded Martens as ORDA’s chairman. He and others say they hope current trends at the agency will help it continue to thrive next year, with or without Mother Nature’s help.

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