Our first impression of a new, five-story hotel planned for the Lake Flower shoreline is a good one.
Time will reveal more details, but as of now, we like Malone-based hotelier Chris LaBarge's proposal. His yet-to-be-named hotel on Saranac Lake's Lake Flower Avenue would have 90 rooms, a 200-person banquet and meeting facility, a spa, indoor-outdoor pools, a high-end restaurant within the hotel and another restaurant and bar on the water's edge. LaBarge also wants to put docks on the lake for 25 to 30 boats. Rooms would rent from $150 a night in the winter to $300 to $350 during the peak summer season.
The three motels it would replace are nice ones, well maintained, but Mr. LaBarge's plan would still be a step up for the village's economy and appearance.
The latter would depend on what the new hotel will look like, of course. The sketch Mr. LaBarge offered Wednesday was rough but promising; he downplayed it in talking to us, saying his architects haven't done their work yet. He emphasized that he is making architectural beauty a top priority here to build "an icon that will define" Saranac Lake, recalling the days when the village was home to many grand hotels such as the Riverside, Berkeley, St. Regis and Alpine.
It would need variances because it would exceed the village codes for height, parking and shoreline setbacks. We have no problem with the height: The village already has taller buildings, and the motels already block one's view of the lake.
Economically, this would be the village's only truly high-end hotel, which would be interesting in several ways.
First off, it would provide more jobs than the motels do, so that's a plus.
It would compete to a certain degree with hotels in Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, but this isn't a zero-sum game. The more and better visitor facilities our area gets, the higher the tide of tourism rises, lifting all boats.
Also, the new hotel would probably boost bed tax revenue, which is used to market Essex County destinations to potential tourists - again helping the whole area. One can reasonably expect 90 higher-priced rooms to generate more bed tax revenue than the 47 total rooms at the three motels.
Mr. LaBarge's initial plan was to buy the Hotel Saranac, which looms nearly empty over downtown Saranac Lake. That would have been good, too. It was a bustling hub of local activity until 2007, when Paul Smith's College sold it to the Arora family. Since its decline, several people have offered to buy it, but Sewa Arora has driven a hard bargain - too hard for any deal so far.
Both Mr. Arora and Mr. LaBarge declined to give details about any negotiations between them. Mr. LaBarge was polite in declining comment. Mr. Arora, by contrast, took the opportunity to call the Enterprise "the lousiest newspaper in the world" and to call its editor names too foul to publish.
Oh, well. We sincerely hope Mr. Arora is successful in selling the hotel as soon as possible to someone who will revive it.
Meanwhile, Mr. LaBarge said he likes his new plan better. He said he came up with it by examining the village's comprehensive and waterfront revitalization plans, fitting his proposals to them. This is a good example of the reason why communities do such planning - because many developers prefer clear guidance about what locals want.
Plans do nothing, however, unless someone steps up with the money and initiative to make them happen. Therefore, Saranac Lakers should be grateful to Chris LaBarge - even if they're hesitant about his plan - for wanting to make such a huge investment in the village.
A hotel, even though it's built largely for visitors, can be a source of local pride, an icon symbolizing a community's hospitality. That sensibility was much stronger a century ago than in recent years, when hotel building has mostly traded outward symbolism for inward-looking functionality. Pragmatism is good, of course, but we're also happy to welcome back a splash of old-style hotel glamor to Saranac Lake.