SARANAC LAKE - The biggest village government news of 2011 was carefully and quietly being crafted for more than a year before it was officially announced on June 30.
At a press conference in Riverside Park, village officials revealed that they had secured agreements from two Lake Placid-based biotech companies to relocate to Saranac Lake, where they plan to expand and add more jobs. As if that wasn't enough, the deal also involves the village relocating its offices to the Harrietstown Town Hall and the reopening of the Sears parking lot to the public.
"I'm amazed that we made it this long without word getting out," Trustee Jeff Branch told the Enterprise earlier that day.
From left, Laurie Stephen, director of assay development for Myriad RBM; Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau; Laura Carpenter, research and development manager for Active Motif; and Scott Paschke, director of business development for Active Motif, pose in late June in front of their future offices. Myriad RBM will move into the village office building, at left; the village will move into the Harrietstown Town Hall, the clock tower of which is seen at right; and Active Motif will move into the village water building in the middle.
(Enterprise file photo — Peter Crowley)
Myriad RBM and Active Motif, the local branches that are spinoffs of the former Upstate Biotechnology in Lake Placid, will move their operations to a pair of village-owned buildings downtown. Myriad RBM, which has 22 employees, will lease all three floors of the village office building, located at 3 Main St. Active Motif and its eight employees plan to rent the second floor and part of the first floor of the village water department building, between the village offices and Little Italy restaurant.
In an interview with the Enterprise, village Mayor Clyde Rabideau said he approached the two companies shortly after he took office in the spring of 2010. His construction company had done some work for Myriad RBM, and the mayor said he knew both firms were looking to expand.
"We're offering them an opportunity to expand because they cannot expand where they are right now," Rabideau said. "We're going to bring in initially 30 jobs and hopefully many more jobs to downtown."
Rabideau described the deal as a key step toward making the village a cluster for bioscience, with Trudeau Institute as the anchor for that effort.
"There's a buzz about Saranac Lake now where it hasn't been in the last few years," the mayor said. "There's just a lot of good chemistry happening right now. This will kick it to the next notch."
Officials from both companies said they see their move to Saranac Lake as an opportunity to grow and expand among a nexus of other bioscience endeavors.
"The more you can work together or utilize like services, the better," said Active Motif's Scott Paschke. "The closer we are to Trudeau, the more the likelihood is of us being able to partner with them."
Trudeau officials welcomed the new companies to Saranac Lake. At an August roundtable event with U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Terry Gach, Trudeau's vice president for institutional advancement, said the concept of a biotech cluster here "is alive, well and will continue to expand.
Throughout the rest of the year, the details of the multi-part agreement were hammered out. In August, the village Planning Board approved the village's plan to lease its office building to Myriad RBM. That allowed the village to move forward with an estimated $750,000 worth of renovations to the building in preparation for Myriad's arrival sometime early next year. The biotech firm will pay the village about $70,000 a year and will also invest in retrofitting the building.
Village and town officials met several times in the fall to hammer out the details of the village's lease of office space in the town hall. The lease calls for the village to pay the town $31,428 per year. The town also agreed to reduce the village's monthly rent by $1,500 to offset the cost of its planned lease of the Sears parking lot from its owner, Paolo Magro.
The village had considered two other options, moving into the Union Depot or leasing office space in the Hotel Saranac, before settling on the town hall in part to show the public that the two governments can work together.
"We wanted to make a statement that we need less government, we need more cooperation," Rabideau said. "I think it gives a lot of people warm, fuzzy feelings that we're moving in together and working together."
"The town hall is the place for them to be, in my opinion," Harrietstown Councilman Bob Bevilacqua said. "It's centrally located. The issue was the parking, but with this deal we've solved the parking issue."
The deal also resolved what had been one of the biggest stories of 2010 in Saranac Lake - the Sears parking lot saga, a dispute between the village and the parking lot's former owners that culminated with it being closed to public parking and later put up for sale, along with the Sears building.
Magro purchased the property in July for $770,000 and reopened the parking lot to the general public. In early December, the village approved a 10-year lease with Magro that will pay him $1,500 a month.
As the year came to a close, the village was preparing to move out of the former Paul Smith's Electric Light and Power and Railroad Company building, where it's been since 1986, and into the town hall. The only part of the deal that hadn't been completed yet is the village's lease with Active Motif, which village officials say will be worked out in the months ahead.