Is Frontier Town the best use of $32 million?

Taxpayers need to be assured that this is a good investment.
Frontier Town
Frontier Town

What’s a better enticement for the Adirondacks than the Adirondacks themselves?

So we wonder just what more $32 million in state taxpayer money is going to buy in economic development that marketing what’s already there and easing restrictions on business development couldn’t do.

As part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State message, he offered $32 million as part of a plan to create a “Gateway to the Adirondacks” on the site of the old “Frontier Town,” a long-abandoned Western theme park located in view of Adirondack Northway Exit 29.

The gateway plan includes a new visitors information center, horseback riding trails and a new camping area along the Schroon River. The plan also includes “interactive exhibits in historic structures highlighting the past, present and future of the Adirondack forest products and local food industries.” (Maybe we’re off base here, but exhibits on logging and maple syrup might not exactly be the kind of activity that future Adirondack visitors are clamoring for.)

And what exactly is a visitors information center in the middle of the Adirondacks going to do to promote more economic development and tourism? By the time you get to Exit 29 from Lake George — the real gateway to the Adirondacks — you’re already 41 miles inside the park. If you’ve gotten that far, you’re already sold.

Given a tight state budget, do we really need to build more campgrounds and places to ride horses? With the state soon planning to open up the once-private Boreas Pond area just west of Exit 29 to the public, visitors to the Adirondacks are certainly not lacking activities to draw them in. How about spending more money in marketing to promote what’s already there and touting the advantages and incentives for new businesses to locate or relocate in the park?

The one element of the governor’s announcement that goes most to the point of economic development in the Adirondacks is a plan by Paradox Brewery to invest $2.8 million to expand its Schroon Lake operations at the North Hudson site. For the expansion, and the 22 jobs it will create, the state will provide up to $200,000 in performance-based incentives.

Private investment, not visitors centers and logging museums, is what the state needs to boost economic development in the Adirondacks. The state should be focusing its efforts on getting more of that. One more campground will do little to boost the tax base.

A local craft brewery is a good start. Next, use state resources to try to convince private developers to further develop the site for a hotel, maybe with an indoor park similar to the Six Flags hotel off Exit 19. How about a zip line attraction or outdoor adventure park like those in Glenville and Bolton? What about directing some of the $32 million for incentives to manufacturers or wholesalers or retailers that would cater to Adirondack visitors?

The Adirondack Park is infamous for its heavy regulation. To lure private investment, the state needs to make sure potential businesses know they can locate at the Frontier Town site, and in other specially designated areas, without being subjected to onerous regulations and expensive, time-consuming red tape.

New York needs to invest in economic development. And the Adirondacks are an untapped jewel. But that doesn’t mean the state should just throw millions of taxpayer dollars at any idea that sounds good.

If taxpayers are going to be asked to make such a large investment, the state has to make sure it’s the kind that will actually bring back a return. If not, then spend the money elsewhere.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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