A final vote on the precedent-setting project is scheduled for January. The debate over the Big Tupper resort has drawn national attention and it's also reshaped life and local politics in Tupper Lake.
Brian Mann sat down to talk with Paul Maroun who was elected mayor in November after campaigning on a platform of full support for the development. Maroun says he still has questions about how the project will be financed and when it will move forward. But he thinks the resort will revitalize his town's economy.
Paul Maroun sits in the meeting room in Tupper Lake’s village office. He’s been in public life for decades, first as an aide to state Senator Ron Stafford, then working for Senator Betty Little.
He’s also a Franklin County legislator, and in November he won the village mayor’s seat after incumbent Mickey Desmarais stepped aside.
Maroun says during the campaign he was open about the fact that pushing for the Adirondack Club and Resort will be his top priority.
"I made it very clear that I was 110% behind the project, not just because the developers want to do A, B and C. But I want to make sure it's done properly. But I want some kind of project like that done here in this area," he said.
Maroun acknowledged that a project this big and complicated will pose challenges for the village – raising questions about everything from water and sewer service to electric rates.
Maroun says he jumped into the race because he wanted local officials to figure out ways to make the project work.
"I wanted the mayor...to be a lot more outspoken in favor of the club. I said I don't want to hear from the department heads that we can't do it. I want to know what the problem is and see where we can go to get a solution for it," he explained.
That attitude has sparked fierce criticism from opponents of the resort, who say Maroun may not be skeptical enough to negotiate good arrangements with developers Tom Lawson and Michael Foxman.
But Maroun says he is pushing to make sure that tax- and utility-rate payers in the community don’t have to bear the costs of the project.
And he says he still has big questions about the plan the project’s backers have put forward to pay for the resort’s huge start-up costs.
The current proposal being reviewed by the APA would have private homes in the resort remain in a payment in lieu of taxes arrangement that would divert property taxes to pay off debt bonds.
Maroun says he’s not sure that’s workable or legal.
"That's been one of the biggest questions I've heard from people," Maroun said. "They say, 'Paul, we like the project, but we don't think it's right that after a home is built and someone moves in, that they should have a pilot.' I've talked to some learned jurists on this, and they think that after a certificate of occupancy is issued there shouldn't be a pilot."
Even if the APA permit is granted, the resort will also still need the green light from at least three other state agencies, as well as the Franklin County Industrial Development Authority.
But Maroun thinks all those issues can be sorted out.
And he’s convinced that bringing the resort to life – with new jobs, new seasonal residents and new amenities like a marina and an equestrian center – will pump economic energy back into Tupper Lake.
"That is going to push us over the edge in terms of redeveloping downtown, some of the vacant lots that you see and the vacant storefronts. We've moving in the right direction," Maround said.
But he also thinks the real impact of the project won't be felt for several years. "I think realistically you're looking at five years," he concluded.
Maroun says he’s confident that the APA will grant the project a permit next month – but he says the devil’s in the details and he’ll be eager to scrutinize exactly how the permit is worded.
"My concern is in the wording of the conditions...two or three words in a condition can really harm a project."
This year’s election campaign was fierce and the debate over the Big Tupper resort has divided this community for years. Maroun says now that he’s mayor and the project seems to be moving forward, he hopes to begin healing some of those wounds.
"I know that I've lost a lot of friends over my position on this. People that I grew up with. I'm really going to try to weave some of these friendships back by saying, 'Here's what I think we can do to solve some of your legitimate questions on the mountain project.'"