LAKE PLACID - Three years after securing $5 million in taxpayer funds to try and attract world-class winter sports events, including another Olympics, the Lake Placid Regional Winter Sports Committee has spent a little more than $300,000 and hasn't brought a single event to the area.
But the committee says much of its work, including an ultimately unsuccessful push to get the 2012 Youth Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, has been happening out of the public eye. The group's director and board members say they have used some of the money to support several winter sports events and programs over the last three years, but they're being conservative with the $5 million.
"We don't want to do anything frivolous," said Ed Weibrecht, who sits on the committee's board. "We have a responsibility for that money, and it could be very beneficial to this whole region. We want to make sure we shoot the bullets at a really good target."
Created in the fall of 2006 in the last months of George Pataki's 12 years as governor, the Winter Sports Committee is a nonprofit, all-volunteer group that was formed to "enhance New York state's economy, quality of life, image and development of regional, national and international sports." The committee is an eight-member board of influential business and political leaders in the Lake Placid area and beyond.
By the #s
Breakdown of what the Lake Placid Regional Winter Sports Committee has spent so far
$225,000 to ORDA's 2008-09 winter calendar of events
$50,000 in consulting fees to sports management agency IMG
$25,000 to support World Fest, a series of community social events held in conjunction with the bobsled, luge and skeleton world championships in February of this year
$15,000 - $5,000 each of the last three years - to support ski school programs at Whiteface Mountain
Its members are as follows:
-Weibrecht, who also sits on the state Olympic Regional Development Authority Board of Directors and owns the Mirror Lake Inn and part of the Whiteface Club and Resort
-Sergei Lussi, an ORDA board member whose family owns the Crowne Plaza Resort
-J. Patrick Barrett, another ORDA board member and part-owner of the Whiteface Club and Resort
-State Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury
-Kay Stafford, the widow of the late state Sen. Ronald Stafford
-Arthur Spiegel, a Plattsburgh-area businessman who also owns a home in Lake Placid and is a former ORDA board member
-Betsy Kenny-Lack, the wife of longtime media executive and former NBC News president Andrew Lack, who owns a home on Lake Placid.
Sandy Treadwell of Westport served as chairman of the Winter Sports Committee's board until last week, when he resigned because he's moved to California. Treadwell ran unsuccessfully for Congress against Kirsten Gillibrand, served as New York's secretary of state under Pataki and is a former chairman of the state Republican Committee.
David Catalfamo, Pataki's former communications director, is the committee's volunteer executive director. He currently works with several other former Pataki administration officials at Capitol Public Strategies, an Albany-based public relations and lobbying firm.
The committee really got its start in December 2006 when Pataki, who was just about to leave office, held a press conference at the Olympic bobsled, luge and skeleton track at Mt. Van Hoevenberg - built with state funds under his tenure - to announce he had secured $5 million to bolster the committee's efforts to attract world-class events to Lake Placid.
"This $5 million is another important investment in the region and will help us bring more national and international competitions to the North Country," Pataki said at the time. "There is no better area to host world-class competitions, and maybe someday a future Winter Olympics."
What it's been doing
Since it was formed, the committee has worked to try and bring the Winter Olympics back to Lake Placid.
Little said the committee made an effort to push for a joint, international Olympic bid that would involve Lake Placid and Montreal, but Canadian officials weren't interested because of their focus on the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The committee also discussed the idea of a regional games involving Lake Placid, Albany and Plattsburgh.
Then came an effort to try and assemble a bid for the first-ever Winter Youth Olympics in 2012. Created by the International Olympic Committee in 2007, the Youth Olympics are a multi-sport event for amateur athletes ages 14 to 18.
But Lake Placid's chances of hosting those games were dashed by the U.S. Olympic Committee's attempt to get the 2016 Summer Olympics awarded to Chicago - an effort that was ultimately unsuccessful.
"A lot of what our board did was try to stay in front of the decision makers at USOC and let them know of our interest in trying to bring a games to the region," Catalfamo said. "But with all the focus on the Chicago bid, any other bid considerations took a back seat."
The 2012 Winter Youth Olympics were eventually awarded to Innsbruck, Austria.
Much of the committee's work has been behind the scenes, Catalfamo said.
"It's something we've done regularly and not with a lot of fanfare," he said. "Our goal is to help bring the Olympics to the region. Doing things such as talking about a Winter Olympic bid while Chicago was bidding would have been viewed as very counter-productive by the U.S. Olympic Committee."
The committee's board only met in person three times last year and just four or five times in 2007, but it communicates via teleconference more often, Catalfamo said.
What it's spent
The Winter Sports Committee has so far used about $315,000 of its $5 million state allocation.
It provided $225,000 in sponsorship funds for ORDA's 2008-09 winter calendar of events. It spent $25,000 to support World Fest, a series of events held in conjunction with the bobsled, luge and skeleton world championships in February of this year. The committee also provided $5,000 to support ski school programs at Whiteface Mountain each of the last three years.
Catalfamo said they used another $50,000 to bring in the sports management agency IMG to consult with the committee on developing a strategy to bring an Olympic Games back to Lake Placid.
He said they've been deliberately conservative.
"We could have spent more money, but we want to spend it on what it was intended to do, which is to help bring the (Olympic) games to the region," Catalfamo said. "We've tried to be very economical and frugal, understanding that an Olympic bid is a costly undertaking and you need to have resources for that."
Catalfamo said the committee doesn't spend from a $5 million pot of money. The group spends its own private dollars and gets reimbursed.
Now that Chicago's Olympic aspirations are out of the way, the Winter Sports Committee has its eyes on the 2016 Winter Youth Olympics. Catalfamo said they were excited to hear that IOC President Jacques Rogge asked Lake Placid officials at a recent summit to consider bidding for those games.
"We think that would be a terrific fit for Lake Placid, and it's something we're going to follow up on as part of a team with ORDA, the Lake Placid/Essex County Visitors Bureau, the village and the state," he said.
Weibrecht was less certain about the decision to submit a bid. He said there are a lot of "unknowns."
"On the surface it seems like it would be a great idea, but nobody's really sure what it would cost to put that on," he said. "Once we find out what it would cost to put that on, nobody's really sure where that money will come from. A good idea could become a very expensive good idea, which would make it a bad idea."
Weibrecht said the committee may have a better sense of the costs and benefits of putting on the Youth Olympics after Innsbruck in 2012.
Little said getting the Youth Olympics in Lake Placid would be "tremendous" for the area.
"I think the purpose of this committee, and Gov. Pataki's purpose as he left office, was to keep this going," she said. "A lot of groundwork has been laid, and not a lot of money has been spent. Now, I do think you're going to see a lot more activity. I think we're going to try and get the Youth Olympic Games."
Catalfamo said the committee is also working with ORDA and the Visitors Bureau to have some kind of presence at this February's Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver "that would showcase Lake Placid and the region."
The committee will be meeting next week to pick a new chairman.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.