Why not Clyde Rabideau Park?

I would like to second Mayor Clyde Rabideau’s suggestion, in his commentary March 27, that we “keep an open mind about the proposed hotel on Lake Flower.”

Good advice. Instead of swallowing his proposal hook, line and sinker, how about requiring the developer to downsize his project to fit into (rather than dominate) the north end of Lake Flower? Or how about finding a less intrusive location for his “destination resort,” such as the Sara-Placid Motor Inn property now for sale on the other side of Lake Flower Avenue? Or simply extending Riverside Park to include the three motel properties, on which the developer proposes to build his monolithic hotel?

As a community leader, Mayor Rabideau of course has the obligation to question the fiscal implications of extending Riverside Park around Pontiac Bay, as opposed to shoehorning a massive lakeside development into that space and reaping property-tax revenues and other possible benefits from it.

“The notion that the three existing motels should be bought, knocked down and grassed over is simply not realistic,” the mayor explained. “The village cannot afford the $2 million to buy the property, nor the $500,000 to turn it into a park; nor could it afford to lose the current $56,000 per year in property taxes from those properties.”

But how about this as an alternative? Governor Cuomo has secured $2 million in state funding to support the Lake Flower inn project. He also got behind a $5 million grant to help renovate the Hotel Saranac. Why not ask the governor to re-allocate the $2 million for the Lake Flower project, using this money instead to purchase the three motel properties? Then request an additional $500,000 to extend the park and $1 million more to make up for the loss of $56,000 a year in current property taxes over the next 15 or 20 years. That’s $3.5 million total, still well under the amount of state assistance for the Hotel Saranac. Together, these two projects will revive Saranac Lake village in every possible way: commercially, as a tourist destination and as an even more desirable place to live, work, raise a family and retire.

As for the value of extending Riverside Park, just look at what Central Park has done for Manhattan. It is hard to imagine this great metropolis without its great park. Yet there were many critics in the 19th century who questioned the wisdom of creating public open space that would not produce immediate financial returns for the city. Fortunately, long-term thinking prevailed. Is there anyone today who would not acknowledge the value of this park to New York City?

Central Park was a creation of the famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. In an interesting turn of fate, it was the Olmsted brothers’ firm in the early 20th century that projected a long-range vision for Saranac Lake village. Their plan called for a park along the shores of Lake Flower. Since then, much has been accomplished toward making this vision a reality. Now we have the chance to complete the picture and enhance the quality of life for residents and visitors for generations to come.

Such a step would add to an already impressive record by Clyde Rabideau since he moved here from Plattsburgh, following a distinguished tour as mayor of that city. In Saranac Lake, he has attracted the biotech industry to the village, and under his leadership it appears that the Hotel Saranac will once again function as the commercial and social hub of our community. As a contractor, Mr. Rabideau has improved our village by skillfully renovating buildings that serve an important public and economic purpose.

Now our mayor has a chance to build on his legacy by expanding Riverside Park to encompass Pontiac Bay. If he can look far into the future and seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, we should honor his foresight by naming this crown jewel of our village “Mayor Clyde Rabideau Park” – a fitting tribute to the man who left Saranac Lake a much better place than he found it.

Dick Beamish is a resident of Saranac Lake and founder of the Adirondack Explorer magazine.