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Olympic venues are worth investment

March 1, 2012
Editorial by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise: Publisher Catherine Moore, Managing Editor Peter Crowley

First of all, we heartily congratulate the state Olympic Regional Development Authority for putting on a fantastic Presidents Week. It helped that it finally snowed, but the lineup of events and ORDA's good maintenance of Whiteface Mountain Ski Center would have made it a good week regardless of the weather.

Whiteface was mobbed, but so was the Olympic Center with the Harlem Globetrotters and the hockey playoff match between archrivals Lake Placid and Saranac Lake high schools. Also, hundreds of people skated on the Sheffield Olympic Speedskating Oval and visited the Olympic Jumping Complex.

Perhaps biggest of all, in importance if not in attendance, was that on both weekends, ORDA hosted the bobsled and skeleton World Championships at Mount Van Hoevenberg. The world's best sliders raced there at breathtaking speeds, and Americans did better than they have in a long time. Congratulations go to skeleton champion Katie Uhlaender, champion bobsled driver Steve Holcomb and his crew members: Steve Langton, Justin Olsen and Curtis Tomasevicz. All of them are familiar to year-round local residents, since they've lived in Lake Placid while training, and we're proud of them.

That brings us to a different topic - ORDA's plan for an International Sliding Sports Museum at the sliding track at Mount Van Hoevenberg. It's a wonderful idea.

ORDA plans to fill underused spaces in existing buildings beside the track with informative displays and bobsled, luge and skeleton artifacts from collections such as that of the Lake Placid Olympic Museum. The main room would be upstairs at the Lamy Lodge. The Sled Shed and the 1980 half-mile start house would also be involved, as would a self-guided walking tour of the old bobrun.

It's nothing super-fancy - no Wild Center of sliding - at least not at the beginning, but it's a good start for a worthy venture that doesn't exist anywhere else in the world. This museum would give people more reason to go to this venue and more ways for more people to engage with it and with the sports, which the local area was integral in developing.

Even more important, ORDA is laying out a vision for future development of its venues, and an excellent one at that. The authority announced that it would like to establish museums commemorating other Olympic sports like biathlon, ski jumping and Alpine skiing at their respective venues. A mini-museum at each venue would add value for visitors, even prompting people who have seen them many times before to return to check out the new facilities. These are not yet developed plans, but they are great ideas, a framework that can play out over years as money becomes available.

Funding, of course, is a major obstacle, but New York's Olympic venues are worth the investment. They are the foundation of Lake Placid's booming economy, and Lake Placid is an engine that increases the number of visits throughout the Adirondacks. Investments in these venues help the North Country economy.

That includes the oval. As shown in an enterprising article by freelance journalist Kate Brindle, which this paper published Feb. 18, ORDA has chosen a conservative path for running the oval, not risking money or safety by having it open as much as some people - especially speedskaters - would like. That makes sense amid recent state budget cuts, but renovation and more extensive use of the oval also make sense and shouldn't be put off too long. A new electronic timing system is one of several upgrades needed if this track is to host its first speedskating competition since 1989.

The oval is a treasure: one of only three 400-meter outdoor speedskating tracks in the nation, home of Eric Heiden's five Olympic gold medals in the 1980 Winter Olympics and also of Lake Placid's own Jack Shea's two in the 1932 games. It's also right in the middle of downtown, in front of the middle-high school and next to the Olympic Center. Speedskating used to be a huge spectator sport here. It's a healthy, relatively cheap sport that could be big again. Plus, national and international speedskating officials are falling in love with fresh air again, as evidenced by big outdoor races this winter in Hungary and Minnesota. The head of U.S. Speedskating says he wants to have new events at the Lake Placid oval, which is great, but it has to be brought up to speed first.

Again, these Olympic venues are worth the investment in keeping them attractive and up to standard. New York as a whole should contribute significantly, since these venues reflect well on the entire Empire State, but we can't expect New Yorkers to fork over the entire budget for such capital projects - especially since the most direct beneficiary is Lake Placid, which is relatively well off. There is money in this town to pay for some of this stuff, and several of the venues are actually owned by the people of the town of North Elba. A combination of state spending, town spending and local business fundraisers might be an appropriate mix.



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