State grant may fund housing, lakeside walkway, patriot burial site
By Tim Rowland
Lake George officials hope the community’s use of a $10 million state Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant will be transformational and serve as a model for other Adirondack communities.
From housing shortages, to effective use of commercial space, to a proliferation of short-term rentals to development of a year-round economy, Lake George is often an Adirondack canary that warns of trends that will soon affect the park as a whole.
Dan Barusch, director of planning and zoning for the town of Lake George, said the DRI grant will help tackle some of these issues, as well as the general streetscape and beautification work that is typically part of such grants.
While Lake George boasts a thriving tourist economy that many other Adirondack communities would be envious of, Barusch said that very economy creates issues of its own, and the DRI will hopefully help solve some of these problems, and perhaps suggest ways forward for other communities.
“We put together a strong package of projects,” he said. “You can make the argument that this is not based on need (versus other communities) but is based on possibilities. We see this as an opportunity for transformation.”
For communities across New York hoping to add some pop to their downtown business districts, the DRI is the coveted crown jewel of state grants, fueling new ideas and poking the long-smoldering embers of promising private projects that have languished for a need of capital.
“This investment in Lake George will be transformative, making what is already a beautiful community even better,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said in announcing the grant.
Heavily dependent on seasonal workers, housing for those workers began to dry up when property owners discovered there was more money to be made renting their space on Airbnb than over a short summer season.
Two housing projects are proposed in the DRI application, including a 100-unit development at the site of the dilapidated Harbor Hotel for seasonal workers, which would include a parking lot and a streamside park along West Brook. This project would be specifically for seasonal workers.
Because of the lack of seasonal worker housing, Lake George still hasn’t returned to its pre-Covid functionality. “People are back, sales are back, but some businesses still have to be closed on Wednesdays because they can’t find enough employees,” Barusch said.
Another goal, common to many Adirondack communities, is to attract commerce in seasons where tourists are typically scarce.
Barusch said Lake George’s workforce in winter is only 15% to 20% of what it is in summer. It’s hoped the DRI can help winterize the business district’s economy, by providing natural gas connections along Canada Street and a pool of funds for businesses to update facades and improve properties to make it easier to stay open the year around.
Other ideas include a streetscape buildout connecting beautification projects that have already been completed by the town and village on the south end of Lake George; turning a vacant lot into a farmers market/ice skating pavilion; creating a “lake walk” by extending McDonald’s Pier over a section of beach that’s too risky for swimmers because of a sudden drop-off; helping the owner of Adirondack Brewery develop an distillery/culinary campus and event center; improve broadband; and encourage public art projects.
Public input has already been gathered, and since not all projects can be funded, Barusch said much of the coming year will be spent planning with state officials and paring the list to a final slate of projects.
Honoring Revolutionary War soldiers
One that seems to have universal support, he said, is reinterment of the “First Patriots” whose remains were unearthed during construction in 2019.
The DRI application states, “It is believed what was found was the site of a cemetery associated with the military and smallpox hospital at Fort George from the period of the Revolutionary War, which has been one of modern history’s most important archaeological findings to date in Lake George.”
The project envisions an attractive setting with interpretive signage and commemorative memorials at the Lake George Battlefield State Park and that it “is set to be a nationally renowned heritage tourism site for years to come.”