When I connected with David Tomberlin about visiting Big Tupper, I fully intended to do a piece on the ski area. While I knew that the ski area, Adirondack Club Resort (ACR), and ARISE were linked together, I thought to myself, “I won’t let those real estate guys push the conversation too far away from skiing.”
But it’s just not possible to separate the three entities: Big Tupper, Adirondack Club Resort and ARISE. ARISE — which stands for Adirondack Residents Intent on Saving Their Economy — is the overarching organization. Based in Tupper Lake, the primary goal of ARISE is to promote private economic development like the Adirondack Club Resort. And actually, it seems that while the ARISE mission is to promote all private enterprise in northern New York, the ACR project is the flagship project: a test case for the group.
This is the first of a multi-part series on the three entities. The first part will focus on ARISE and ACR. Followup will cover Ski Big Tupper operations and our recent tour of the hill.
We drove to Tupper Lake on September 15 to meet with Jim LaValley and David Tomberlin. Jim is the owner of LaValley Real Estate and a founding member of ARISE. He’s an affable, straightforward guy who, like most successful real estate people, is part optimist, part realist, part masochist. Jim has been selling property in Tupper Lake since 1986, so he clearly knows the market.
David is a local businessman — the president of The Well Dressed Food Company — a specialty foods wholesaler also based in Tupper Lake. He’s another local business person, with energy and web skills, who wants to see Tupper Lake thrive.
The third character we met, I use that description in every sense of the word, is Cliff Levers, Lift Manager at Big Tupper. He’s a Tupper Lake native, who has worked on oil rigs, construction crews and diary farms. He moved back to Tupper Lake and recently became one of four fulltime employees at Big Tupper.
Jim started by explaining that the ski area will not exist on a long-term basis without the resort. In his opinion, it can only survive as an amenity to the real estate project. With modest natural snow totals, the current lack of permitted snowmaking and the fact that Big Tupper wasn’t independently sustainable in the recent past, it seems like a reasonable conclusion.
NYSkiBlog: What’s the scope of the ACR/BT project?
Jim: There are approximately 6000 total acres. The largest contiguous portion of the property includes the ski mountain. There is a 1,200 acre parcel that can only be accessed by crossing a thin strip of land owned by the Nature Conservancy. In a recent ruling, the ACR and Oval Wood Dish won the right to cross the NC land to access the smaller parcel on an existing logging road.
NYSB: Who owns the land? Who’s the developer?
Jim: Currently, the land is being held in a liquidating receivership. It was originally owned by the Oval Wood Dish Corp, which was a major employer in Tupper Lake until 1964. Preserve Associates, the developer, hopes to buy the land from the receiver. This will only happen if the project is approved.
NYSB: If the entire project is built, how will the land be divided up?
Jim: The plan includes roughly 600 total buildings. Of that total, 575 are homes and the remaining number would be infrastructure — ski lodges, work sheds, and support buildings for both the ski area and the residences. Big Tupper itself is on about 600 acres. The remaining 5400 acres would include 539 multifamily units and 36 great camps. The multifamily units will be clustered tightly together and the great camps will be on parcels from 50 to over 1000 acres. The most expensive properties would sell for up to as much as $5-10 million.
NYSB: What’s your feeling about going ahead with such an ambitious project in the current economic environment?
Jim: Normally projects like this start with the high-density units followed by the more expensive units at the end. Our goal is to do the reverse. The top end of the market is currently much more solid than the mid-range.
NYSB: What do the most respected, vocal critics say about the project?
Jim: In the Adirondacks, it always boils down to different visions about the Park. Should all the land in the Park be preserved, or can some be used for sustainable, long-term growth? In my opinion, the Adirondacks could be a model of sustainability, if there are good jobs for residents. This project is part of the solution to the problems ARISE is trying to tackle.
When it comes down to it, it’s the great camps that are the most controversial. Especially the East Lake / Simon Pond tract. But without those parcels this project can’t go forward.
NYSB: Could you make the project work on a smaller scale?
Jim: When you look at projects like this, many experts would say ACR is already too small. 1000 homes would be ideal.
NYSB: What development restrictions, if any, govern the future owners of the great camps?
Jim: There will be deed covenants that will limit further subdivision, along with where and how a home is built.
NYSB: Why are you, David, Cliff and the rest of the ARISE volunteers so committed to this project?
Jim: I don’t think I’m being overly dramatic when I say that the existence of Tupper Lake is in the balance. Our manufacturing base is gone. Our school enrollments are dropping. We’re a longer drive from the population centers, and unlike Lake Placid or North Creek, we currently have only a summer tourist season to sustain us. While all North Country towns face these kinds of challenges, Tupper Lake is facing even tougher odds. We grew up here, we love this town, and we don’t want to see it die.
NYSB: Thanks Jim.
Part 2: Big Tupper Lower Mountain Tour