The North Country’s big hotel boom

The faded Hotel Saranac was once a centerpiece of the village economy and social life (Photo:  Susan Waters)

The faded Hotel Saranac was once a centerpiece of the village economy and social life.  A new redevelopment effort could bring it back to life. (Photo: Susan Waters)

For years, tourism experts in the North Country have complained about the lack of modern, up-to-standard hotel rooms, in a region that increasingly relies on visitors to drive local economies.

The age of the roadside motel ended a couple of decades ago (at least) but there was little interest and little investment in upgrading to a new generation of resort or hotel.

That bottleneck seems to have ended.  Lake George is wrestling with proposals for not one but two major new hotels.

In Saranac Lake, developers are moving forward with plans to redevelop the historic Hotel Saranac, while also building a new waterfront resort on the shore of Lake Flower.

A new hotel is also in development in Clayton on the bank of the St. Lawrence River, designed to offer more rooms in the 1000 Islands region.

Also waiting in the wings is the Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake, where developers say they hope to eventually open a hotel as part of the real estate and ski hill project.  That project is tied up in the courts.

A lot of these projects are receiving funds and support from the North Country Regional Economic Development Council, but I’m guessing the hotel boom has more to do with the reviving economy and years of pent-up demand.

So what do you think?  Is this surge in hotel construction long overdue?  Do you worry that new, big hotels could transform the feel of communities?  Do you welcome the construction jobs and the new employment these resorts will bring?


17 Comments on “The North Country’s big hotel boom”

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  1. The Original Larry says:

    At first thought, a surge in hotel development seems a no-brainer good thing in a region long dependent on tourism and lacking sufficient accomodation for the hordes of tourists many hope will come. Things have changed since the heyday of Adirondack tourism and I hope people don’t blindly endorse a 75 year old solution to today’s problems. Like most no-brainers , there’s much more to this question than meets the eye. An example: is tourism the only answer to economic problems and are there now many living here who don’t want to see increased tourism?

  2. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Yes, long overdue. The differential between land values elsewhere and lakefront property in the ADKs was so small that too many people built too many vacation homes over the last few decades helping the construction business but hurting tourism and small community businesses. Vacation property sales also drove up property taxes on locals who could no longer afford desirable property.

    Now the same people who thought they got a great deal on lakefront and built expensive camps vociferously complain about an increase in taxes that is driven by demand from other people just like them…or maybe richer than them.

    Having tourists stay at hotels (and hopefully a revival of mom and pop cabin colonies…tho unlikely) is better in the long run for the local economy since tourist will get out more in the community and take advantage of recreational opportunities, restaurants, etc, instead of hanging around the camp preparing meals from food brought in a cooler from NJ or CT and popping in a Netflix movie at night.

  3. The Original Larry says:

    “Vacation property sales also drove up property taxes on locals ”

    How, exactly? The surge in vacation home building increased the tax base and provides additional funds without having to provide additional services (school taxes paid by people whose children will never attend school here). Idiotic and wasteful spending is what drives up taxes.

  4. Dan Murphy says:

    The regard to the Hotel Saranac, if this hotel does not get a complete overhaul, including a change in management/ownership, it would be better for tourism to just burn the place to the ground.

    I had a relative who was not able to get a room in LP, so they stayed here. Their bed appeared to have already been slept in (stains, hairs, and other stuff in the sheets.). The room was so gross they ended up sleeping in their car rather than in their room. And the worst part, the manager would do NOTHING for them. He basically shrugged his shoulders and said “oh well…”. They have disputed their credit card charge.

    Look at trip advisor:

    My favorite review is the person that is upset that there is not a way to rank it lower…

    Nostalgia is all well in good, but when a place gives tourists such a bad experience they will never come back to your region, then something has to change.

  5. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Sorry Larry, I was referring to the increase in the differential in property values for lakefront property which many locals used to own and have had to sell.

    And while you are correct about costs of services increasing the tax rate, I think most of our local officials have been struggling to cut their budgets to the bone and there is little in the way of idiotic and wasteful spending in budgets funded by property tax.

    Of course I was trying to encapsulate a very complex idea in a very few words so it is a very general point I’m trying to make. But here’s more: in many small ADK towns, like Old Forge for example, people from elsewhere have bought not just lakefront property but even homes in town to use mostly on weekends in the winter to go sledding. Sure they pay property tax on it, but removing a home in a hamlet from availability for local families drives up the cost of housing in communities that already have a high cost of living (in food, fuel) and few jobs.
    Is that a factor in young people being driven out of those communities so that there are fewer kids in school and towns being left as primarily retirement and vacation communities? I believe that may be a significant factor.

  6. Pete Klein says:

    Indian Lake and Blue Mnt. Lake could use hotel/motel with + 50 rooms, indoor pool and restaurant.

  7. newt says:

    My favorite review compared the Hotel Saranac with the one in “The Shining”. Unfavorably, as I recall.
    There should be on-line reviews of travelers . Any who are so naive as to not check on-line reviews of lodging before they reserve deserve 0 stars.. Unless your car breaks down in a strange town in the middle of the night, there is no excuse not to. Actually, my car did break down outside of Glenn’s Ferry, ID in September. Hansons’ Cafe and Restaurant was rec’d. Not bad for $59.00 Garage across the street fixed the car when he opened at no charge. Rock stuck in break drums.

    The new owners of the Hotel Saranac will have a lot of work, and even more explaining, to do. Good luck to them.

  8. Brian Mann says:

    Yeah, Pete is right – despite the sudden boom in hotel building there are still some big, big patches where there’s nothing doing. A lot of smaller communities have actually been LOSING beds, as hotels have closed or been turned into second homes.

    – Brian, NCPR

  9. Will Doolittle says:

    Is a handful of hotels a boom? I don’t think so, especially not when one of them is the Hotel Saranac, which has been around for decades. Besides that, what do you have? Proposals for new hotels in Lake George, already hotel central (although mostly of the roadside variety, which haven’t entirely vanished); one in Clayton, a really beautiful spot; and one in Tupper Lake that will very possibly never materialize. Not a boom, although it is nice. Certainly nothing that could transform the feel of the communities. They might make an incremental improvement.

  10. dave says:

    I’m not sure I understand the economics of this.

    I would assume it was supply and demand.

    Especially when it comes to smaller communities. If there was a need for more rooms, why would hotels be closing? Isn’t that an indication that the demand is not there?

    Or is the implication here that if you build it, they will come?

  11. Walker says:

    Will, the Hotel Saranac hasn’t really been much of a hotel for the last half dozen years. Until the Best Western was built, it was the only hotel in the village for since the 1970s, and its recent sharp decline in quality has been painful to watch. So if it undergoes a major renovation that brings it back to anything like its former state, it really will be a new hotel.

    And a third hotel in the village will be a big deal. We’re not like Lake Placid, with a half-a-dozen large hotels in place.

  12. The Original Larry says:

    “I was referring to the increase in the differential in property values for lakefront property which many locals used to own and have had to sell.”

    Are you referring to the obscene practice of basing property taxes on current market value? If so, I agree that market value assessments are driving people from their homes. On the other hand, “local” people control tax assessment and they should remember that those who try to screw others usually wind up screwing themselves. As for wasteful spending that eats up tax dollars, let me just mention two examples: schools that have to recruit foreign students to remain marginally viable and local police agencies acquiring and using military vehicles and hardware. It’s “local” people driving that too.

  13. Will Doolittle says:

    I agree it’s a big deal for SL, Walker. I’d love to see the Hotel Saranac fixed up and thriving. But I wouldn’t call it a boom and I doubt it will transform the village.

  14. Walker says:

    Will, to a lot of people it felt like a transformation in a very negative sense when Paul Smiths College sold the Hotel Saranac. Whether what was lost can be regained remains to be seen.

    Getting two large hotel built here won’t, by itself, cause a boom. But if they are filled with new tourists much if the year, it will have a significant impact on village businesses. While it is true that Saranac Lake isn’t as dependent on tourists as many places in the Park, they still count for a lot here.

    Other than filling some now-empty storefronts, though, I hope you’re right that it won’t transform the village. The last thing most of us want is to become Lake Placid West.

  15. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Larry, much as I enjoy tangent I don’t want this to turn into a discussion of taxes but let me make make a couple of points.

    First, property tax is based on property value. The higher the value the higher the share of tax. It is just plain simple math. And waterfront land is more expensive than most other land – ask any realtor. People who buy waterfront property tend to build much more expensive homes than those not on waterfront – because people who can afford expensive property tend to want to spend more on amenities than those who own inexpensive lots. I don’t understand how you find that obscene – that is just how things work.

    I completely agree, however, that basing funding local government basically on property tax alone is a very regressive situation. I have long been a proponent of changing the system to fund more of government on a fairer system. The problem is that if you try to fund through income tax many people get upset with that, even though it is a much less regressive form of taxation. And no matter what system you develop the very richest among us will be able to find ways to skirt the system and not pay a fair portion.

    Also, I believe we can agree that there are far too many unfunded mandates that local officials have to deal with which should, in fairness, be paid at the state or federal level. We can try to get that situation changed, but until then local government and schools need to pay their bills – and that is done through the property tax, like it or not.

  16. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    So back to the topic at hand, my hope is that the way people decide to vacation is changing back to an older form in which there are far more hotels and motels and fewer vacation homes. I believe a change of this sort will be an economic boost to small towns which may, over time, help curb the loss of population among younger people which will in turn stabilize school enrollment and local economies. And when the economy is better people don’t worry so much about paying their taxes.

    But there is another aspect to owning a vacation home. I believe that since 9/11 many people from downstate have bought property partly as vacation home but also partly as apocalypse redoubt. We still need to work residual fear out of our local economies and return things back to a more stable and logic based system.

  17. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    By the way Larry, my own livelihood depends pretty heavily on the vacation home market. More construction means I have a better shot at making more money. But, personally, I would rather there be fewer ridiculous vacation homes built and more modest primary homes with people raising a family – people who would not likely be my customers.

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