ARISE, Adirondack Club Resort and Big Tupper

ARISEWhen 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.

View of Simon Pond from Top of Trail 1
View of Simon Pond from Top of Trail 1

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

20 comments on “ARISE, Adirondack Club Resort and Big Tupper

  1. Wow, seems very ambitious for the current economy. As a skier, I’d want to see a well functioning ski operation before I’d consider a real estate purchase. But maybe they view skiing only as a secondary amenity to the primary draw of the beautiful summer season??

  2. I a very much in favor of this project, but I agree that most buyers want to see a fully functioning ski area before they will plunk down major $$. Case in point is the Ski Bowl and Front Street. Front Street and the NYS knew that the interconnect would need to be done, to help motivate sales. (And just for the record, I am NOT in favor of NYS being in the ski business).

    But, I must disagree with Mr. LaValley in his statement that the high end market is the one to target first. Here in North Creek, the high market is very slow, and all of the action is in the under 200k area. Hopefully with the snail’s pace that their project is moving at, by the time they are ready to put shovels in the ground, the economy will be back to a healthy pace.

    Tupper Lake’s/ARISE’s biggest obstacle in my opinion is the fact that it is not easy to get to, and therefore, people will go somewhere else.

    I wish the best for ARISE and all of the inhabitants of that area, we should all be able to earn a good living in the area that we love.

  3. I’m looking forward to learning more about how people brought BT back from the dead.

    I’m not a real-estate person, so I have no idea about the development's chances for success, but as Kris Kristofferson said, “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

  4. I am curious about the demand for 1000 units in a remote location like Tupper Lake. It would appear that Ottawa/Montreal and Albany/Syr./Roch. are close enough to make it an attractive purchase. Are there enough buyers to absorb 1000 units in those markets? Would anyone from Boston or New York want to travel that far to a second home?

  5. Good points, all. Hope it works. The Park needs “some” development. The ADK park is just so darn big that without some development in the Park center, it is just too far a drive for Day trips.

    Check This Out: A mega Ski Home at Tupper would be a Three Mtn Ski Home. 45 miles/one hour to Whiteface. 57 miles/one hour 10 minutes to Gore. Plus Big Tupper Ski Area itself right outside your door. That would be sweet!!! Especially if BT offered night skiing.

    Plus….A Big Time Summer Bonus comes from all those lakes around Tupper. You don’t get that with most Ski Homes. A Ski House in Tupper would be rocking all seasons, not just winter. I want one of those Tupper Lake Great Camps! 😉

    Wonder if they come….Lakeside/Slopeside? Wouldn’t that be cool!

  6. I grew up as a kid, swimming in the River in the summer and skiing with some crazy local kids in the winter. Driving that extra 1 + hour to get to Tupper has always been worth it. Not 100% about the idea of 600 + more homes up on the mountain, but let me say the economy is really bad way downstate too.

  7. I grew up in Tupper learning to ski on Oval Wood Dish Ski Area, a rope tow off #3 hole of the golf course. Saw the building of Big Tupper which gave a winter boost for a small town. Even today skiing is a big part of my life with the National Ski Patrol. Reading & seeing what the ARISE group have done, goes to show when people have the right leaders with sensible goals, what can get done. And being done by volunteers & not with a big budget. It’s a shame the Adirondack Park Assoc. has to make it more difficult for the ARISE. But over several years of following growth in the Adirondack, its been obvious – if not being developed in Lake Placid, where majority of the board members are from & where they make they’re MILLIONS, it will not get approve without a hassle costing developers big bucks!

    Was able to ski Big Tupper once last year & hope to get up there more this coming season. Hope they get the snow.

  8. Don’t mean to be a downer, but how exactly is this going to work in today’s economy? Historically, even in good times, people have been reluctant to commit to vacation homes at small ski areas, no matter what glowing future the developers promise.

    Witness Evergreen Valley in Maine, Haystack and Ascutney in Southern Vermont, and others that tried to build large home/condo communities at a small, remote area. People are reluctant to be among the first to commit, and for good reason, especially in this age of foreclosures, builder bankruptcies, and half built subdivisions.

    Skiers who want a vacation home typically want a big mountain already in place with top notch snowmaking that guarantees a lot of ski days and a lot of Vertical: Stratton, Sugarbush, Killington, Sunday River are among the most successful in this area.

    Even North Creek’s Ski Bowl village looks like it will take years to sell/develop, and that’s connected to one of the biggest (and my favorite) mountain in the East!

  9. Sorry, but this is just so tragically sad. An act of desperation, which is the way I hear it, because it’s all about saving a town, supposedly, although one has to wonder about who will walk away with enough money to retire to Colorado (ha) with the construction profits. And, I’m not putting forth some sort of evil capitalist rapes the wilderness with condo argument, because, there is just no way this will work in today’s or the next few decade’s economic environment. I don’t think it would have worked in the boom times of ’00-’06, but that’s history, and you won’t see that kind of real estate mania again in your lifetime if you’re an adult.

    First, this is a business model that has been proven a failure over the last decade or so. Remember ASC, Intrawest, even Vail Corp., which is very sick? All focused on real estate, with skiing and gold as an amenity. How’d that work out? And, they were established ski hills with a long tradition and multi generation customer base. How in the world are you going to convince a limited skier market (we’re talking basically NYC metro and north – Vermont gets them AND Boston AND the middle Atlantic) to drive way out of their way to a town with no bars or places to eat to ski over Vermont? Let alone spend a million dollars on a second home when you can spend half that for a palace at the base of Stowe or Killington in this depressed market? Hell, at that level, why not buy a half million condo out west and save the change for plane fare? And, suppose this thing finally gets built at Gore? Since Gore is easier to get to, and has an established, well funded ski area, that will just divert whatever amount of millionaires to North Creek, right?

    It’s not build it and they will come, people. It won’t work that way.

  10. >Bennie, your logic is correct. As I said before, the most difficult thing for this project to overcome will be the distance of drive time. Tupper is 1.5 hours from Gore on a good day. On a snowy day, that 1.5 hours can easily turn into 3 hours. Not to mention all of the other obstacles that have been previously hashed out.
    The Tupper Lake area is in desperate need of some type of entity to help its' inhabitants be able to live AND work in their town. Hopefully some sort of miracle can be brought about.
    How about this… Lift accessed backcountry tours with yurts or huts to stay in for overnight stays. Just cut glades on the entire property! Between Gore, WF, Big Tupper, as well as all of the Slides and NYS land stashes, The Adirondacks will be known as some of the best glade/backcountry skiing anywhere!
    It's good to think positive…

  11. Benny, your observations are right on the money. From what I’ve learned the developer has no money or experience with ski areas. He is depending on tax revenue from the sales of homes to pay off his infrastructure costs through a PILOT program (payment in lieu of taxes) Some estimates are as much as 50 Million dollars. His projected sale prices are ridiculous. Like you said, you could go to many existing well established ski resorts and buy homes for less, with much more hill to offer, Stowe comes to mind right away. Additionally this is a very small ski area with maybe 800′ of continuous vert at best, a few good short steep sections of trails but nothing to get to worked up about. And with State areas so close (Whiteface & Gore) this project seems destined flop if it ever even gets off the ground.

  12. I really hate to put the whole project down, because it seems that the parties involved are generally good hearted, and, hell, anybody who is into starting up a ski area is OK in my book, but this just won’t work. Do they have a marketing plan? Or, are they just running on hopes and dreams? First, one must ask oneself why Tupper went under in the first place, and start from there.

    Look, it’s simple. Let the market decide. So, if there was a market for million dollar homes in the area, wouldn’t you think that a lot of those homes would exist down in North Creek all the way down to Warrensburg on 28? What do you see as you drive by? If there was a demand, private developers would have come in and done it down there, with the easy access to a fine ski area right off the Northway, right? At least renovated the existing stock to a more “luxurious” level, right? Where are they? You already have the state spending zillions in seed money, effectively, by operating Gore, but the second home market just hasn’t followed. Hell, Warrensburg should be a chic and hip little ski town if that kind of money was up there, nestled between Gore and Lake George. Have you driven through that town off of 9 lately? So, how can anyone expect such a project an hour further into the park to be successful?

    Eh, I made enemies on another board last year when the whole “Save Magic Mountain” thing started up, and I tried to talk reason. I guess I should just shut up.

  13. Yep. Yep and Yep. While we like the idea, it’s got a slim chance IMO. The saving grace maybe the lakes in close proximty and the Placid area. If i were shopping high end, I’d wait a while and be picking up prime property on the cheap at bigger mtns.

    The economy’s gonna get far worse, IMO. There’s a quiet but steady, plodding of businesses closures here. It’s consistently growing stronger and more prevalent. When the Gov. goes broke it will get far worse.

    How is the North Creek Ski Bowl Village progressing? All the hoopla has long died down. There’s been no announcements of buildings completed. No announcements of Open House days. No nothing! What’s going on there? I suspect the answer is “There’s nothing really happening there.” I believe a few homes and public buildings were supposed to be done by now.

    Benny is right, the real question is Why did Tupper close in the first place?. The answer is likely who’s gonna drive waaay past Gore/VT to go to a much smaller MTN?

    Tupper lake area, by itself, probably doesn’t have enough population to sustain Big Tupper. That said, I wish them all the best success.

  14. Hmmmm………I like it, I like it, Darkside. I’m there.

    But, something tells me that granola munching tele backcountry types aren’t going to even think of buying real estate beyond said Yurt. Yurt. One of my favorite words.

  15. Everyone seems to agree that the New York/Boston demographic is not going to drive past LP/Gore/So. VT all the way to Tupper. What about the Syracuse/Rochester or Ottawa/Montreal population? Is there a demand for second homes? Are there people that would be happy with a home in the mountains, near lakes with a little skiing nearby? If there isn’t, than I would have to think this development is not viable.

  16. I’m certainly in favor of seeing Big Tupper operate as a viable ski mountain. And I’m in favor of seeing the ACR project move forward. The Adirondack Council’s endorsement of the project is a solid indication that the proposed development represents a fair balance between any environmental impact and much-needed economic opportunity for Tupper Lake. I also think it’s great that the people of Tupper Lake, through ARISE, have gotten together in to advance their community. Their achievements to date in re-opening Big Tupper are impressive.

    But I can’t help being skeptical about chances for success. Prospective buyers of the $5 to $10 million Great Camps (Jim LaValley’s figures) have a lot of choice properties available to them in locations like Aspen, Lake Tahoe, Martha’s Vineyard, etc. It’s difficult to imagine a buyer in that price range choosing Tupper Lake. But LaValley states that the project is going to start with those high-end Great Camps. If the rest of the project (including development of the ski area) is contingent upon success with the Great Camps, it could be a very long time before a revitalized Big Tupper ski area is a reality. And since most of the economic impact of the project would come from the 500+ “mid-range” units and from operation of the revitalized ski area, rather than from the relatively small number of Great Camps, it may take a long time for the economic benefits of the project to be felt by the people of Tupper Lake.

  17. Benny P post 9/23/10 12 pm. You made the comment, “let the market decide” and that should be the way any development sinks or swims. The problem with the ACR is that the developer knows that there is no market for this without taxpayer subsidy, aka PILOT(payment in lieu of taxes). here is the way it works. Franklin county IDA issues bonds to cover the cost of water, sewer,roads, electric, all infrastructure costs the developer should be paying for up front, out of HIS pocket. Current estimates are as high as 54 Million $$$ and will not be paid off for up to 30 yrs. the way it gets paid off is through a scheme that takes over 50% of the new homeowners tax money and uses that to pay off the Bond. Any $$$ left over will be spread between the taxing entities, school, town and county. Keep in mind the bond payment is primary. the whole scheme is ridiculous, the wealthy second homeowners get subsidized by the existing taxpayers. If home sales fall below the crazy predictions or don’t sell as fast as predicted or below the crazy prices, the taxing entities may not see any increase in tax revenue taken in or a lot less than the developers rosy figures. if that happens the town will still have to plow all the extra miles of roads, sand them and provide whatever services are being demanded by the new wealthy second homeowners.With no new tax revenue coming in the locals will see their tax burden go up disproportionately to cover the extra expense of providing services to the new homeowners of the ACR.

    The APA application states the project is not viable without the PILOT, if that's the case it should be totally reworked. don’t ask the local taxpayers to give up future tax revenue so this PA lawyer can make a profit. it is especially troubling that the developer didn’t pay his own taxes on the mountain for over 3 yrs, until the county was ready to put the property up for sale. Look it up in the Plattsburgh Press republican, July 2009.

  18. You know, it’s ironic, but, the smartest mayor out there right now trying to “revive” his town is Dave Bing of Detroit, because he’s the first to actually stop thinking up taxpayer supported schemes to drum up non existent demand and create businesses out of thin air – he has actually proposed a plan to tear down useless housing and industrial sites, create parks, consolidate services, and shrink expectations. And here we have someone trying to build, essentially, a town in the middle of a beautiful park, with no apparent demand for it. Strange.

    Be careful what you wish for, people of Tupper. Go visit Aspen or Vail or Sun Valley or Jackson out west, and see what happens when you base an economy on second homes for the wealthy. You may sell you shack for something, but your kids, or anyone who decides to service that economy, will be living the life of a servant, driving 20 miles to work because they can’t afford to live in the horribly skewed economy they created.

  19. Benny, I know you are just stirring shit up here (i love to stir the shit up!), and you have brought up some worthwhile points. But in this same thread of comments you have scoffed at the ‘burg and it’s environs, while warning (albeit skeptically) the people of Tupper of the potential future of a dislocated service sector economy.

    Warrensburg is a relatively affordable place for people who work (somewhere in the park, in GF, in Saratoga, in Clifton Park, or wherever) to live in the mountains. The housing stock is generally old, and there is a far smaller percentage of mostly empty 2nd homes than in the surrounding communities. When people live in their own homes, developers don’t just come in and gentrify the place to raise the rents as they might in a city or resort locale. It is just not a “luxurious” town, and most people there like that, or at least accept it.

    Tupper Lake village seems (to me) even a little more rough around the edges than Warrensburg. It could absorb a shitload of growth, gentrification, and luxury before there is too much risk of sending the working class further out to the hinterlands. Skepticism is healthy (and necessary in regards to this project), but let’s remain within a few degrees of reality here!

  20. Just heard about this site from a friend. Big Tupper looks like a nice little hill. I just don’t see it as a resort area for wealthy skiers/riders. to far from everything. Many bigger well established areas much closer to everything. Good Luck. Hope the area can stay open though.

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