Bashing the Adirondack Club and Resort developers

This Guest Commentary is a reaction to last week’s front-page headline by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise about property foreclosures and the Adirondack Club and Resort. This piece contained errors which were later noted, but was it an unfair attempt to cast the developers in a negative light? In my opinion, the piece went on to imply that the developers are unable to finance the project. This wasn’t just factually incorrect. It seemed personal, and a correction does not undo the perception that has been cast.

So why did the article run that Saturday? Was it just coincidence that the ADE staff was researching this article at the very same time that local project opponents were emailing the same information over to the ADE staff? Editor Peter Crowley called me to say that it was, in fact, coincidence, and I take him at his word. It certainly was not helpful that ACR investors were meeting with lead developer Tom Lawson that very weekend.

Facts were mixed up, but it also appears to me that the ADE does not recognize the distinct difference between the ACR project developers and the ACR investors. While reporter Jess Collier defends her position in reporting the foreclosure of Tom Lawson’s private residence in her blog, that fact has absolutely no bearing on the ultimate success or failure of the ACR. Private investment funds and EB-5 monies will be available to finance this project once the frivolous appeal is thrown out by New York state. Tom Lawson and Mike Foxman are not the major investors, and they have never implied that they were. However, as the developers, they have already poured millions of dollars into this project with zero return on investment. That is the real news here. Why should it take eight years and counting to bring some much-needed economic development to Tupper Lake through a project deemed acceptable by the Adirondack Park Agency? And why are there still opponents with narrow agendas trying to derail this opportunity?

Why have some lost sight of the big picture? Without more state aid, the Tupper Lake Central School District could face extreme layoffs with deep cuts to sports and the arts, and the district may even consider selling off the Civic Center. The ADE article “Dire warnings for Tupper Lake school budget future” (Feb. 5) could have noted that the increased property tax base created by the ACR would have a significant positive impact on our school’s budget. Depending upon the final ACR buildout value of between $350 million and $581 million, the local school district would benefit from total ACR tax payments from $5.4 million to $11.2 million. That’s significant news. Regardless if you believe any of the future projections of the ACR or not, our county, town, village and school leaders support the ACR.

While the ADE went to great detail to note the status of each property owned by the Lawsons, why did they not go further to “connect the dots” and also explain why? The “why” is simple: The Lawsons are “all in” on the promise of seeing the ACR start and succeed. Over the years, they have invested in this village from one end of the business district to the other to help set the stage for a thriving commercial environment. You can certainly fault them for being overly optimistic. Never expecting this process to drag out into a decade-long process, they have become cash poor while holding dozens of Tupper Lake properties and other real estate holdings. Many of the buildings they own have tenants who are not required to pay rent. I am the treasurer for the Adirondack Public Observatory. We have an office at the 95 Park St. storefront that Tom and Susan own. We have not paid rent for three years, which allows the APO to spend scarce funds on other expenses. This is just one example of kindness that reflects the true character of a couple that is portrayed as tax cheats. There are many other examples, but they apparently don’t make for good press.

Does anyone like to see their name plastered in the newspaper with their personal business exposed for all to see? Of course not. Was this “news” or something else? There are vocal local detractors. While they get personal in attacking Tom and Susan Lawson, I have to ask them to point out where they have invested in Tupper Lake. It’s easy to snipe while sitting in the cheap seats. How about getting into the game?

For those who say it’s not getting personal, consider this. At the same time that the Enterprise was receiving an opposition email pushing foreclosure information, another email was circulating around, suggesting that those against the project “make on offer” on the Lawson’s property, and it ended with a hurtful anti-Semitic remark. Susan Lawson is Jewish, as is Michael Foxman. Would the Adirondack Council sign on to tactics like this? I think not. So why would Protect the Adirondacks and the Sierra Club be involved with people who do? It’s time to ask them that question. Now there’s some real news.

Mark Moeller lives in Tupper Lake, is president and CEO of CBNA Insurance Agency Inc., and is spokesman for Tupper Lake Business Community Inc.