Dear Governor Cuomo,
It’s been hard to miss the ongoing “Start-up NY” TV advertising campaign that promotes the benefits of new regulation and tax policies designed to encourage businesses to relocate to upstate NY. We support this message and these efforts.
As you know, New York has more ski areas than any other state in the country, and the economic impact of this sector is significant.
Your own office estimates the impact of Gore and Whiteface at $100 million per year. A 2015 study conducted by RRC Associates of Boulder Colorado concluded that NY ski areas added over $900 million to the state’s economy each year through both direct and indirect spending.
In our view, supporting the ski business in New York is a no-brainer. Keeping NY skiers in state and attracting others from points south is a pure win for New York. But there is one issue that is more nuanced: the funneling of public money to New York’s state owned ski areas.
Issues surrounding public and private competition in the parks are not new. In the 1960s, New York employed a double standard for ski area signage in Adirondack Park that put private areas at a significant disadvantage. Today within the blue line, publicly financed competition, combined with other factors, has all but eliminated private alpine ski areas.
In the Catskills, in the 1950s, there were a dozen ski areas. Skiers grouped them into “the Big 3 and the Little 9.” The Big 3 — Belleayre, Hunter and Windham — are still serving skiers and creating jobs in New York. Of the Little 9, only Plattekill remains.
In 2013, in reference to the approval of $74 million for improvements at Belleayre, Snocountry quoted Chip Seamans of Windham:
“…it’s tough to compete with free money and no taxes. We want (Belleayre) to succeed, but not at our expense. I am not aware of any resort that can invest that kind of money.”
This summer work has begun on the next step for Belleayre, a new gondola that will rise from the Discovery Lodge to carry skiers and riders to the summit. This highly visible investment is exciting and concerning all at once.
Like any skier area owner, New York must maintain and improve their assets in the Adirondacks and Catskills to thrive. But the question remains: How can private business compete with the flow of taxpayer funded grants that go to New York’s three state-owned ski areas?
We’d like to resurrect an idea that was first proposed on these pages back in 2013:
New York should consider offering low interest financing to private NY ski areas for projects that will help them compete in the northeast marketplace. Successful proposals should be required to demonstrate the potential to create or preserve jobs in our state.
In our view, upgraded snowmaking capacity and efficiency should be a priority to get NY areas operational early to take advantage of the crucial December holiday period. In addition these kinds of improvements could decrease the environmental impact of skiing. But proposals should not be limited to snowmaking upgrades.
An independent review board could estimate each proposal’s viability and make approval recommendations. Approved proposals would be eligible for publicly funded long-term low interest loan to be repaid in full. The initiative would improve competitiveness, encourage skier visits and create jobs in the state.
We know this idea is much easier said than done, but this is true for almost any worthwhile project. The Start-up NY commercial says that the new New York is ready to embrace bold ideas: “If there is something that creates more jobs and grows more business, we’re open to it.”
Let’s grow the ski business in New York for the benefit of all.