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The largest proposed development project in recent Catskills history — a private, luxury resort at the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center — is under final review at the DEC. Proposed in 1999 and disputed since then, its scope and design have changed many times, but remain problematic and contentious.
Developer Crossroads Ventures LLC has applied for 629 rooms — more housing covering more land than nearby hamlets. It's so huge and precariously positioned in a declining resort market that it is unlikely to succeed and could undermine the Catskills' economy.
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So says new analysis commissioned by the Catskill Heritage Alliance, conducted by Public and Environmental Finance Associates, a Washington consulting firm. It found a revised economic study by Crossroads' contractor HVS underestimated construction costs by hundreds of millions of dollars (two of Crossroads' own consultants, among others, contradict HVS's estimate).
Market conditions for filling Belleayre's rooms at five-star rates don't exist nationally, let alone in the Catskills. Ski resort room revenues are declining. Big resorts like Montana's Yellowstone Club and Idaho's Tamarack Resort folded in recent years. So have golf resorts and casinos (Atlantic City will lose four casinos this year and several Catskills casino applications were withdrawn).
The state Comptroller's office warns upstate casino projects intended to draw downstate and out-of-state customers would likely attract local residents and not grow the local economy. So would the Belleayre resort, likely discounting rates deeply to fill rooms, thereby undercutting existing businesses. Crossroads would use state money to buy the former Highmount ski area and enable ski-in/ski-out capability for private guests, and could cost more in services than it paid in taxes.
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Such shaky economics need rethinking. So do the environmental impacts of regrading to build on Highmount's high elevations, worsening local flooding and threatening reservoirs supplying New York City and other communities.
The DEC's Unit Management Plan envisioned a workable way to avoid such problems by not spending public money to develop Highmount or build lifts to connect skiers at the Wildacres Hotel site. That alternative saves millions but still offers expert terrain and new high-speed lifts, serving a resort with fewer rooms (about 300) and greater chances of success.
The question is, how should we develop the Catskills: by subsidizing economically implausible, bigger-is-better projects, or encouraging right-sized projects that work with the existing local economy and environment?
You can read the entire article HERE.
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