McKenna has headed organization for more than 40 years
By Mike Lynch
Jim McKenna, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, announced today that he is retiring from his current position.
His final day will be April 30, 2024. He doesn’t plan to retire completely though. He said he is full of energy and will pursue another opportunity that has presented itself.
“The past four decades leading ROOST have been rewarding in so many ways,” the 72-year-old McKenna said. “I am proud of the great distance the organization has come, the impactful things we have done to make our communities stronger and more sustainable, and the excellent team we have built.”
Under McKenna’s leadership, ROOST grew from a Lake Placid-based organization that had two employees in the early 1980s to one that has 32 now and represents several Adirondack regions.
The organization has morphed several times.
It started as a convention bureau funded by the town of North Elba in 1982, then became the Lake Placid Visitors Bureau several years later. In about 1990, the nonprofit became an Essex County tourism bureau.
A big change came in the late 1990s, when the organization started receiving 3% of Essex County’s lodging occupancy tax.
About 15 years ago, as the organization started to expand its reach outside of Lake Placid, it changed its name to its current one, coming up with the ROOST acronym. That decision helped the organization evolve, but it took heat from the public.
“I took more grief for that than I’ve taken for anything because people were sending me roosters,” McKenna said.
But as opposition to the name faded, ROOST grew to represent places in the central and northern Adirondacks. It now represents communities in the Champlain Valley, central Adirondacks, and Whiteface Region, in addition to Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake.
“I think Jim McKenna did a lot of good things for the area,” said Lake Placid Mayor Art Devlin. “He’s the kind of guy who didn’t take credit for most of what he did. He was just happy in the background. He was instrumental in securing the money to upgrade the Olympic facilities, which is going to pay big dividends for years to come.”
McKenna is co-chair of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council, an economic development body in Northern New York.
Over the years, he’s played a big role in bringing events to the region, including revitalizing the Empire State Winter Games more than a decade ago and helping recruit the 2023 World University Games to the Lake Placid region.
“For decades, Jim McKenna has been the face and voice for Adirondack tourism,” said Governor Kathy Hochul. “He’s been instrumental in supporting and preserving the region’s winter sports legacy, and promoting the area’s incredible year-round events and attractions that welcome visitors from around the world.”
But ROOST hasn’t been immune to criticism. In recent years, some community members in Lake Placid and other areas have pushed back against the tourism-based economy model.
One of ROOST’s responses was to create a destination management plan for Lake Placid and North Elba, which addresses quality of life issues for local residents.
“We’re focusing on diversifying the economy so that we have some more non-hospitality related businesses,” McKenna said.
ROOST has also established the North Elba Local Enhancement and Advancement Fund, a grant program, through Essex County occupancy money.
ROOST’s board of directors will conduct a national search for his successor with the assistance of an experienced firm that has placed top executives in the destination marketing and management field across the United States. Local and regional candidates will also be encouraged to apply.
Devlin said in recent years Lake Placid has gone from “being the best kept secret to being discovered” and a big part of McKenna’s successor’s job will be managing that dynamic.
“I think the next person that comes in and takes over the job is going to be more of finding a balance between the events that come to Lake Placid and people that live here,” he said.
McKenna said one of the region’s next big challenges will be climate change, in part because the Adirondacks is a place where people will want to live. He said the pandemic gave the region a glimpse of what the future will contain, and this will be something ROOST will have to address as part of its destination management planning.
He said a big part of the solution will be changing people’s mindset.
“By talking about climate change all the time, everybody’s sort of in a rut, but what can we do to make that change?” he said. “(We need to) start thinking there’s a way to restore the climate.”