The city of Glens Falls received a double dose of bad economic news over the past year with the loss of the state public high school boys basketball championships next year and the loss of its American Hockey League franchise this season.
The public high school boys basketball championships have been played at the Glens Falls Civic Center since 1981. The weekend of high-level hoops brings large crowds to the city’s restaurants and area hotels in March.
The 4,774-seat civic center had also hosted American Hockey League teams for many years, starting with the Adirondack Red Wings from 1979 to 1999 and more recently the Adirondack Phantoms, the Philadelphia Flyers farm club, from 2009-2014 and the Calgary Flames’ farm club, the Adirondack Flames, in 2014-15.
But city officials and local business leaders say all is not gloom and doom for the city of 14,000 along the Hudson River in Warren County. Good things are happening both at the civic center and the city in general, they say.
After losing the public high school basketball championships to Binghamton for three years (2017-2019), the committee that has hosted those championships, headed by Doug Kenyon, was awarded the Federation state high school basketball championships starting in 2017. This championship has been held at the Times Union Center in Albany since 2010.
The state Federation of Secondary School Athletic Associations selected Glens Falls as the site of its Basketball Tournament of Champions for three years. The Federation tournament features Class A, AA, and B winners from independent high schools, Catholic high schools across the state, and the New York City Public Schools Athletic League.
Professional hockey also remains in the city with the Adirondack Thunder, the Calgary Flames farm club in the ECHL. The 28-team ECHL used to be called the East Coast Hockey League but since 2003 is just known by its initials because midwestern teams and teams from the now-defunct West Coast Hockey League have joined the ECHL.
In April 2015, the Adirondack Civic Center Coalition Inc. entered into a $600,000 lease-purchase agreement with the city of Glens Falls, which has owned the civic center since it opened in 1979.
The coalition is a group of business leaders in the Glens Falls-Warren County area who want to preserve the civic center as a venue for sports and entertainment and make the money-losing center fiscally sustainable. The city was pleased to finally remove the operational costs of running and staffing the civic center from the city budget.
Daniel Burke, a regional president of NBT Bank and president of the Civic Center Coalition, said losing the public high school state basketball championship was “very tough.” Losing American Hockey League-caliber hockey was also difficult for the city.
But Burke said the volunteer committee that so successfully coordinated and hosted the boys basketball championships since 1981 is still in place and will run the Federation championship next year. The committee plans to keep the organization together and bid on the state public school championships in three years.
“We may have lost this round but have not conceded defeat,” Burke said.
In early February, the state announced the Civic Center would be getting $2 million on top of a nearly $700,000 state grant announced in 2015 to upgrade the 38-year-old facility.
The Economic Development Corporation of Warren County, on behalf of the city of Glens Falls and Adirondack Civic Center Coalition, submitted a funding request to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office following direct discussions with the governor, said Edward Bartholomew, EDC president and CEO.
The money will be used for a new four-sided video scoreboard, locker room improvements, new portable chairs for floor seating, floor covering (when a cover is placed over the ice surface) and other projects within the building.
The earlier state grant money has been used to erect a new outdoor marquee sign, install LED lighting in the arena, improve Wi-Fi service throughout the building and upgrade the sound system. State Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, was also able to secure an additional $150,000 in state money for painting the steel beams within the main arena.
Bartholomew thanked Cuomo, Little, Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, and the Adirondack Civic Center Coalition “for their ongoing advocacy and commitment to this facility and this region.”
“This level of funding will significantly change the landscape and improve the abilities for this center to compete for shows and events,” Bartholomew said.
He said the improvements will be completed and showcase the Civic Center in time for next year’s ECHL all-star game in January 2017.
The coalition has hired a new civic center manager, Jeff Meade, who grew up in Glens Falls. Warren County has also dedicated $250,000 in county bed tax money per year for three years to the civic center coalition.
“We have a great working relationship with the coalition,” said Glens Falls Mayor John “Jack” Diamond. He said having the coalition take over the civic center operational and other costs saves the city about $500,000 per year.
Diamond said it was a disappointment to lose the American Hockey League team but that the Adirondack Thunder is having an excellent season.
“They have one of the best teams in the [ECHL],” he said.
Nonetheless, Brian Petrovek, president of the Thunder, said attendance for the Thunder has been down “considerably” from the American Hockey League Flames of last year.
“It’s a work in progress,” said Petrovek, who is affiliated with the Calgary Flames organization. Calgary plays in the National Hockey League and is the parent organization to the Thunder. He said the pricing of tickets, especially season tickets, was an issue early in the season because of a new $1 surcharge on the tickets not in place last year.
Earlier in the season numbers were down from average attendance of 3,573 for the Flames to 2,363 for the Thunder. However in recent weeks attendance has been better and the Thunder have been in first place in their division for much of the year, according to Petrovek.
The team has introduced a $10 per ticket program for Friday night games and some other new ways to attract more fans.
“They are one of the top teams in the league. We are trying to get stronger and better,” Petrovek said. He hopes the hockey fans who have come to the Thunder games will “spread the word” that the ECHL is high-caliber hockey and Glens Falls has a winning team — unlike the most recent American Hockey League teams in Glens Falls, which failed to make the playoffs.
“There’s not a bad seat in the house,” said George Normandin, president of Normandin Marketing in Glens Falls, about the civic center.
Normandin renovated an old office building at 18 Exchange St. in downtown Glens Falls over the past year for his two-person marketing business. His office space is upstairs and he rents out the downstairs to a retail handcrafted furniture business downstairs.
He is a member of the marketing committee that helped promote and host the state public high school basketball championships and has also coordinated local events such as the Jimmer Jam, honoring college basketball star and professional basketball player Jimmer Fredette, who grew up in Glens Falls, and Take A Bite, a weekly summer event in city park involving local restaurants.
Normandin came back to Glens Falls, where he grew up, leaving a job with a large marketing firm in Albany. He feels Glens Falls can become a special, locally oriented community with strong retail and hospitality elements that many people find attractive.
“There is more private investment here than anywhere in the state,” Normandin said.
Mayor Diamond said more than $50 million in private capital has been invested in Glens Falls over the past year.
Bartholomew, an attorney and former Glens Falls mayor in the late 1970s and early 1980s before he become head of the EDC, said the city has been blessed with major private sector projects in 2015 and 2016.
Finch Paper, one of the city’s largest employers, has undergone a $19 million modernization project. Bartholomew said the paper-making company provides 600 well-paying jobs and its upgrades show “confidence in the region and quality of workers in the Glens Falls area.”
“Finch Paper is one of the last few integrated paper mills in the country,” Bartholomew said. He said the paper mill on the banks of the Hudson starts with logs harvested in the Adirondacks and turns them into high-grade paper products.
Another major project is a $26 million mixed-use structure at 14 Hudson Ave. near Glens Falls Hospital. Saratoga Springs developer Sonny Bonacio, in partnership with the Galesi Group of Rotterdam, has started work on the six-story building that will include 87 luxury apartments, retail space and medical office space right near the center of the city.
This Bonacio Construction Co. project is on property once used as a parking lot for Glens Falls Hospital. This past summer and fall, a large parking structure was completed by the city on land off Park Street also near the hospital to be used by hospital employees and the general public, including civic center fans. This 504-space parking deck cost $7 million, $3 million of which was covered by a grant from the state’s Capital Region Economic Development Council.
Bartholomew said four vacant, tax-exempt properties were purchased by private sector businesses over the past year and will be returned to city tax rolls. These projects include:
— The Bonacio/Galesi mixed use structure at 14 Hudson Avenue.
— Local developer Peter Hoffman’s purchase of the old Glens Falls Post Office on Warren Street from St. Mary’s Church. Hoffman plans to renovate the old post office into a $1 million office/commercial project.
— JUST Beverages bought the former St. Alphonsus Church on Broad Street and turned it into a bottling operation for its new spring water business that already has customers across the United States. The water for the business comes from a well in the town of Queensbury.
— The former Salvation Army headquarters on Chester Street, vacant in recent years, was purchased by Capital Area Plastic Surgery and will be renovated for use as offices and residential space.
Edward Moore, a developer of two outlet store plazas on Route 9 near Lake George and secretary of the Adirondack Civic Center Coalition, recently purchased the large, historic Sawyers plumbing and heating building on Glen Street hill across from the civic center.
“There are a lot of good things happening, a lot of money is being invested,” said Diamond.