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Lake George's tourism transformation

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The summer tourism season is slowly coming awake across the North Country. One of the big hotspots will be Lake George, which is in the middle of a building boom. Community leaders hope to see a kind of growth that will extend the village's visitor economy into the fall and winter months.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

Million Dollar Beach, Lake George, NY. Photo: <a href="">Pamela Boudreau</a>, Creative Commons, some rights reserved
Million Dollar Beach, Lake George, NY. Photo: Pamela Boudreau, Creative Commons, some rights reserved
The village's mayor, Robert Blais, has been a fixture in North Country politics for nearly half a century. It was tourism, he says, that first convinced him to run for mayor of Lake George in 1970.

As he tells it, the previous mayor made the misguided decision to call out the fire department to drive out the college students who had taken to drinking and partying downtown. "When word got around to the area bars, and there were several, by 2 o'clock [in the morning] we probably had 2,500 young people wanting to be wet down by the fire department," Blais recalled.

It's a challenge all the people to have people move into our community... and then 60,000 motorcycles descend on our village.
He told that story earlier this month at a meeting of the Adirondack Park Agency. He recounted how the Albany Times-Union and the Associated Press reported that a riot had ripped through downtown Lake George.

After winning the mayor's office, 44 years ago now, Blais helped transform Lake George from a party and bar town to one of the premier family resorts in the Northeast. "We're extremely fortunate in the Adirondacks and in the Adirondack Park that our principal industry is tourism — no smokestacks," he said.

Boats docked on Lake George <a href="">Judy Baxter</a>, Creative Commons, some rights reserved
Boats docked on Lake George Judy Baxter, Creative Commons, some rights reserved
The last year, Blais has shepherded the village through what may be another big tourism transformation, winning approval of a plan to allow buildings downtown to grow in some areas to four or even six stories in height. There's also a plan on the books for a new Courtyard Marriott hotel. He says the goal with the new hotel is to bring some of Lake George's summertime prosperity into the long winter. "It has a conference center built into it that will be the second largest in the county. It's going to bring people into the village year round. We need a year-round economy."

Lake George's prosperity has brought a lot of growing pains. Environmental groups and some local residents have raised concerns about where growth will take the community and its small town atmosphere.

Lisa Nagle is with a planning and design company called Elan based in Saratoga Springs that has helped the village design many of its new zoning rules, aiming to shape some of the growth.

"People were comfortable saying we agree we have to grow and go higher, but we want those buildings to fit in with our character," she told APA commissioners.

But Mayor Blais acknowledged in his presentation to the Park Agency that balancing a thriving, growing tourism resort with a livable North Country community isn't always an easy fit. "It's a challenge all the people to have people move into our community...and then 60,000 motorcycles descend on our village," Blais said. He's referring there to the Americade motorcycle rally, scheduled to begin June 2, billed as the largest gathering of bikers in the U.S.

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