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Saranac Lake village Mayor Clyde Rabideau is pushing hard to see two new hotels built in his community. Photo:  Brian Mann
Saranac Lake village Mayor Clyde Rabideau is pushing hard to see two new hotels built in his community. Photo: Brian Mann

Rabideau's second term Saranac Lake bucket list

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Clyde Rabideau has been a political fixture in the North Country for decades, first as the long-time mayor of Plattsburgh, and for the last four years as mayor of Saranac Lake. As he begins his second term as village mayor, Rabideau says he has a long list of projects he hopes to push to completion in the next four years.

Topping the list are two new hotels and a parking garage proposed for the downtown area. One of those hotels, on the shore of Lake Flower, has sparked questions about the size and the environmental impact, as well as concerns that the project might lie inside the Saranac River's flood plain.

Rabideau sat down this week with Brian Mann to talk about those challenges.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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Brian Mann: Let's start with a moment looking back, four years you have been village mayor. Tick off a couple things that you think are particularly good, exciting accomplishments.

Clyde Rabideau: Well first off, I could not have accomplished anything without great boards; I have really worked with tremendous people.

The Hotel Saranac's gift shop and restaurants once anchored the village's downtown. Photo: Susan Waters
The Hotel Saranac's gift shop and restaurants once anchored the village's downtown. Photo: Susan Waters
BPM: Let me jump in there, because one of the things that is interesting that has happened in the first four years is a really radical shift in the tone of your board. We have talked about this before, but it seems like that fairly amicable, collegial tone. You even ran on a ticket that included Democrats and Republicans.

CR: Yes, and part of that is learning from experience, in the first 10 years of being mayor of Plattsburgh it was a knockdown, drag out, thumb in the eye, in the mud type of existence...Very contentious boards we had and there was a lot of in-fighting and out-fighting. And as I look back on it I realize that even though we accomplished a lot, maybe we could have accomplished a lot more.

And Saranac Lake it is a smaller town too, and there is no need for that, so right from day one I said all the mail that I get, I want everyone to get a copy. I call everybody, I want them to call me, and I have been around so long my feathers don't get ruffled if somebody else has a great idea and they announce it, god bless them, do it, spread your wings a little bit and fly.

BPM: So with that team again coming back to things you think that are high points of the first 4 years?

CR: Well, first off we put together a biotech cluster with two biotechs in our downtown, which is quite exciting, and won some state wide recognition and awards. And in addition we went after our infrastructure, we rebuilt a lot of streets, we had a million dollar bond program to fix up the sidewalks, we finished a $13 million water project, we had tarmac concrete pipes flying around for four years.

We fixed up a lot that needed fixing and there is still more to do, I understand that, but we reversed the trend. But moreover, there's been an attitude change that I can feel in Saranac Lake. People are very positive about our future.

BPM: You know one of the things that is getting a lot of attention are the two hotel projects. First of all the hotel Saranac, the historical structure right in the heart of the village. Give me a sense of how that project is proceeding?

CR: It's proceeding a little slower than I expected but notwithstanding. We have a great developer and operator at it and I know that they are going to deliver a great product. In addition to this hotel retrofit in historic nature which takes time and effort and a lot planning, we are also talking about a large parking garage structure that goes with it. So we can give it some slack, they have a lot on their plate, its progressing, its moving in the right direction, the money is there and the commitment is more than there.

Malone developer Chris LaBarge faces scrutiny for  his new hotel plan for Saranac Lake, which would sit on the shore of Lake Flower. Photo: Brian Mann
Malone developer Chris LaBarge faces scrutiny for his new hotel plan for Saranac Lake, which would sit on the shore of Lake Flower. Photo: Brian Mann
BPM: Pivoting then to the project that has drawn a lot more debate, a lot more concern from some members of the community, is the waterfront hotel, the completely new project that would replace the motels that exist now. Characterize where that debate is at, at this point? Obviously the letter to the editor column has been full of questions, you've responded to some of those with your own essay. Where do you think the community is at right now?

CR: We need this hotel in addition to the Hotel Saranac to give us that critical mass of good class lodging facilities so that we can attract conferences and conventions and be a real tourist destination. With just one hotel we are not there yet. We need the second one.

BPM: What do you think about the questions and the skepticism that's come from local residents?

CR: Interesting that you should say local residents because I look at the addresses of the people who write the letters and 80 percent of them live outside the village. Most of the village residents are overwhelmingly in favor of this. Now I don't want to start any kind of schism between in village and out of village but I am the mayor of the village residents. I have to do what is best for us; we have the most skin in the game.

BPM: One of the things that Chris Knight and the Adirondack Daily Enterprise have reported is this question about the technical concerns of the flood plain and that seems like a fairly significant new question.

CR: Well, it is a significant question that has been overlooked by everybody in Saranac lake for decades, nobody really knew about it, but as part of the due diligence and the proper planning that the developers are doing, they uncovered this and had to deal with it. They are dealing with it now and feel very confident they'll overcome this flood plain issue. It's going to be very costly, it's going to take commitment and determination on their part, but they have shown that and we should be over it very, very soon.

Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau said his village is poised for an economic "renaissance" (Photo: Mark Kurtz)
Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau said his village is poised for an economic "renaissance" (Photo: Mark Kurtz)
BPM: Another thing going beyond the hotels, another thing that's really been a pressing issue, and folks outside the village I think it might be hard to understand how big a deal this is, is the condition of roads leading into the community, especially between Lake Placid and Saranac lake, a lot of our visitors come on that road and it's in terrible shape.

CR: Brian, it's embarrassing. That road, Lake Flower Avenue, is embarrassing. The state knows it, we know it. It's a state highway we depend on them to fix it but I can tell you that in another week or two in May we are going to start our whole new reconstruction of the road. It's not the total $20 million price tag reconstruction; it's more on the scale of 3 million. We are going to fix the sidewalks, fix the drainage, and put an overlay of pavement there and thank God, none too soon at all.

I am the mayor of village residents. I have got to do what's best for us. We have the most skin in the game.
BPM: In terms of Saranac Lake's future as a community, one of the things that have really moved to the center of the debate in a lot of Adirondack and North Country communities is the future of the public school system. I know this is outside, you are not on the school board, and you're not head of the school board. As mayor of the village and of the community, do you have concerns about that? People in other communities are talking about approaching educational bankruptcy; we are seeing a lot of teacher lay-offs. What do think about the future of the public education system in your village? Do you feel like it is on a sustainable track? Is it something that is on your radar screen as a concern?

CR: It's definitely on my radar screen and our radar screen in fact last evening after our board meeting we had an in-depth prolonged conversation about our local school district and how important it is to attracting the industry that we just talked about.

A lot of people, yourself perhaps included, come here and stay here because their children are going to be in one of the finest public schools in the state of New York, bar none. We are very concerned of state spending, putting pressure on every part of state government, local government, to consolidate, conserve and to find cost savings. I hope that our local school district can withstand it, we do have shrinking population of students and that is of concern, but not unlike anywhere else in the United States.

BPM: Let me put it to a final question which goes to one of the things that Governor Cuomo has pointed to and it is kind of tied into this school district issue but with the village it has been a concern, is property taxes. One of the things that people lament all the time is that property taxes are higher once you step inside the village; people outside the village pay much lower taxes even though they do a lot of their business and live much of their lives here. How do you see that affecting the village's future? Is there a remedy for that?

CR: It's a very cogent question because it is not sustainable for the village the way it is right now. The big difference if you were to combine the water and sewer rates with tax rates is one department, our Police Department, it accounts for 43 percent of our tax levy. But we need the police department; this is a village, a thriving village that needs that protection and that kind of service. So right there in the crux is the whole nut, right there.

The only answer is to increase our tax base to the greatest extent possible. What we are doing in Saranac Lake is leveraging our water and sewer service and acquiring an annexing property and you will see more of that in the years ahead. And that is one answer to that nagging and vexing question of sustainability for any village in New York State.

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The same day that Brian spoke with Rabideau, the mayor released a "nuts and bolts" list of projects and initiatives now underway in the village:

Broadway Project (from Dorsey St. to Bloomingdale Avenue): Set to start at 6 pm tomorrow evening. (Editor's note: This road project is now underway.)
Lake Flower Avenue Re-build: Set to start first week of May with village crews executing drainage work and sidewalk reconstruction beginning the following week by Luck Bros. Construction.
No. 1 Chinese Restaurant: The owners recently boarded the windows and cleaned the debris around their building after a survey indicated there was no asbestos contamination. The owners are in the process of applying for a building permit to restore the building.
Catastrophic Water/Sewer Loss Relief Bill: This measure was submitted to the board last night and is aimed at offering financial relief to those suffering catastrophic financial losses from frozen and broken waterlines and other causes. Full text of the bill.
A public hearing on the bill will be held during the village board meeting on April 28 in the village offices at 39 Main Street at 5:30 PM.

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