SARANAC LAKE - Chris LaBarge tried to buy the hotel that was once an icon for this village, but it didn't work out.
Now he wants to build a five-story, high-end hotel on the shore of Lake Flower that he says will become "an icon that will define" Saranac Lake.
At a Wednesday morning press conference in the village offices, the Malone real estate broker and developer outlined plans for a $15 million to $18 million hotel that would be located on the site of three Lake Flower Avenue motels: the Lake Flower Inn, the Adirondack Motel and the Lake Side Motel. LaBarge is under contract to buy all three, contingent on getting all the necessary approvals for the project. The motels would be demolished to make room for the new hotel.
This sketch of the proposed hotel is included in Chris LaBarge’s variance application to the village of Saranac Lake Zoning Board of Appeals. LaBarge said a more detailed plan should be ready in time for the board’s Aug. 8 meeting.
(Image — Chris LaBarge, courtesy of the village of Saranac Lake)
The yet-to-be-named hotel would have 90 rooms, a 105-space parking lot, a 200-person banquet and meeting facility, a spa, indoor-outdoor pools and a small, high-end restaurant within the hotel. Another restaurant and bar, which would be open to the public, would be located in a separate building on the water's edge. LaBarge also wants to put docks on the lake for 25 to 30 boats.
"This is a huge investment," said village Mayor Clyde Rabideau. "We haven't seen an investment of this magnitude here in Saranac Lake in generations."
LaBarge, a native of Ellenberg, developed the Holiday Inn Express in Malone. He's also working on a similar project in Oswego.
He credited Franklin County Legislator Tim Burpoe, who lives in Saranac Lake, with encouraging him to look at hotel opportunities in the village.
"He's been on me for four years since we brought the Holiday Inn Express concept to fruition," LaBarge said. "He's consistently said, 'You need to come look at Saranac Lake.'"
The site LaBarge currently plans to build on wasn't the first he considered.
"We looked at the Hotel Saranac, and we did have discussions with the owner, but we weren't able to come to a mutual agreement," he said, "so we looked for an alternative solution."
LaBarge said Saranac Lake has the right combination of attributes to make the project successful, "from the water, from the business, from the retail - a lot of other communities don't necessarily have all those components.
"The Adirondacks is extremely limited in terms of full-service hotels on the water. In Saranac Lake, there's limited opportunities in terms of where there could be properties for development. These three acres give us the opportunity to design something that creates a destination in Saranac Lake."
The rectangular-shaped hotel would be just over 300 feet long, parallel to Lake Flower Avenue. Parking spaces would be on the road side of the hotel and wrap around its south corner. The separate building housing the restaurant and bar would be in the southwest corner of the property, where an existing pool is located.
What would the hotel look like? LaBarge held up pictures of one of the village's historic hotels - the Riverside Inn - which he said he's using as guidance in designing the building's exterior. Originally called Blood's Hotel, the four-story Riverside Inn opened in 1860 and was located in what is now Riverside Park, at the corner of Main and River streets. Its look is marked by multi-story, wrap-around porches. It was demolished in the 1930s.
Asked if the hotel would be affiliated with a chain, LaBarge said he's "moving in the direction of a non-branded hotel," but if he did go with a chain, he said it would be a high-end hotelier like Marriott. Rooms would rent from $150 a night in the winter to $300 to $350 during the peak season in the summer.
The project, in its current form, would need multiple variances from the village - for height, parking and shoreline setbacks. LaBarge's company, Lake Flower Lodging, submitted a variance application to the village's Zoning Board of Appeals on July 22. A public hearing has been set for 5:30 p.m. Aug. 8 in the village offices. The Enterprise obtained a copy of the variance application Wednesday through a Freedom of Information Law request.
A height variance is needed for the hotel because the building would be taller than the two-story maximum height permitted in the area's B2 zoning district, village Community Development Director Jeremy Evans wrote LaBarge in a July 22 letter. The number of parking spaces proposed is less than the 146 that would be required for the project under the village code, and the size of those parking spaces is less than permitted, Evans also wrote. The setback for the building along the lake is listed as zero feet in the application; the requirement is 50 feet.
LaBarge's application says the project would not be economically viable if it had to meet the current regulations in the village land-use code.
"The requested area variance for height is substantial, however, consistent with other building(s) that are or have been within visual site of Lake Flower," the application reads.
LaBarge said he would create overflow parking off site for the hotel's up to 70 employees, and guests if needed, although he didn't say where. His application also notes that the parking space size proposed on the hotel property is allowed under state code.
As for potential environmental impacts, LaBarge said the project would have less impervious surface than what is there now, which would presumably mean less runoff into the lake. He also said it would reduce the total square footage of structures within the 50-foot setback from the lake, and the property would have a "more robust" stormwater mitigation plan than what's there now.
In addition to approvals from the village, the hotel would need a state Adirondack Park Agency permit because it would be taller than 40 feet. LaBarge said the APA will require a visual analysis as part of its review process. Approvals from the state Environmental Conservation and Transportation departments would also be needed, LaBarge said.
Rabideau said he recognizes that the height of the building may be a big issue. He said five stories is about the same height as the Masonic building on Broadway, home to Jreck Subs, and about half the height of the village's two high-rise apartment buildings.
"It can fit in," Rabideau said.
The mayor also noted that the village of Lake George, just this week, passed a law that allows for buildings of up to six stories on its main street, a change sparked in part by a proposed major chain hotel project. Asked if the village would do the same, Rabideau said he wouldn't want to change zoning for one project but said the village should look at easing its height restrictions.
"Given the small hamlet area we have, we've got to go up in certain places," he said. "The trick is to balance the feel, texture and character of Saranac Lake with these larger buildings."
LaBarge didn't go into much detail on how his hotel project would be financed although he said he's pursuing both private and public funding options. Asked if he would seek tax incentives, like a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes plan, he said that hasn't been determined, but "if we do, we will not request anything less than the current taxes on that property today."
A feasibility study for the project is underway and more detailed designs of the hotel should be ready in time for the Aug. 8 ZBA meeting, LaBarge said.
If all the necessary approvals are received in the next six months, LaBarge said construction of the hotel could begin in the spring.