With a $9.1 million capital improvement appropriation announced last November, the state-owned Belleayre Ski Center at Highmount is poised for success, or so says Mike Pratt, president and chief executive officer of the Olympic Regional Development Authority which operates the facility.
Pratt, ORDA chief for the past 22 months, was invited for an update Thursday night at the Boiceville Inn by owner and ORDA board member John Parete. Parete is also a former county legislator from Olive-Shandaken. About 30 people attended.
Pratt, 57, has spent his career in the ski resort business. A 30-year employee of ORDA, he was general manager of the Gore Mountain ski facility before assuming his present position.
Pratt displayed a working knowledge of the history, landscape, issues and players at Belleayre. At an interview by Catskill Mountain News previous to his address to the dinner crowd (hosted by Parete and served by his daughter Patty), Pratt was asked about Belleayre being seen as the “stepchild” of the far-flung ORDA operation.
“They gotta get over it,” he said. “Gore and White Face didn’t get a new gondola. Belleayre did. We have a great relationship with all the special interests” to include DEC, DEP, the Catskill Heritage Alliance, Friends of Belleayre, public officials). We have great respect for all their concerns.”
Asked about ORDA’s relationship with the decades-delayed Resort at Belleayre (immediately adjacent to the ski center) Pratt said, “Great. We’ve talked to them (no agreements are in place), we’re ready for them” to begin construction.
The developer, Crossroads Ventures, has cleared “every legal hurdle,” according to Catskill Heritage Alliance spokesperson Kathy Nolan, reached on Friday. “There are no other challenges, there are no impediments” the county legislator said of the project first advanced in 1999 and vigorously opposed by CHA. Developers are currently involved in raising the $300 million necessary to construct the project.
Of immediate concern to those in attendance was when construction on buildings and other planned improvements at Belleayre would begin. During a question and answer period, several speakers worried that construction could extend into the early ski season, thus disrupting activities. Pratt assured them that every effort was being directed toward a March-April construction start.
Pratt, in his impromptu remarks, spoke to the “very tired and very inefficient facility we inherited” (in 2012 when Belleayre came under ORDA’s supervision). “The goal,” he said, “was to increase snowmaking. It’s what it’s all about.” And attendance.
Belleayre drew 137,000 visitors in its last year of operation, according to an ORDA spokesperson. “There’s no excuse for not hitting 200,0000, not to be at 250,000 and going from there,” Pratt said. Toward that end, ORDA has ramped up its presence on social media to plumb an area with tens of millions of people, five hours from the facility.
Pratt also spoke to a “serious lack of beds” around Belleayre and that “we don’t have a vibrant village to hold people. “We are therefore reliant on day traffic,” he said. He did not suggest that a Belleayre resort with its hundreds of or rooms might ameliorate that situation. In front of the audience, he did not address the resort project at all.
While the governor’s pre-election announcement of over $9 million in immediate capital funding drew praise, Belleayre supporters have been prevailing on state government to authorize the full $72 million earmarked for Belleayre in a DEC Unit Management Plan. Part of that plan is the state acquisition of the idle nearby Highmount Ski Center. “The groundwork has been laid (for Highmount) to come under state ownership”, he said.
Pratt also introduced Belleayre’s new superintendent, Bruce Transue, hired two months ago. His predecessor, Tim Maxwell, remains as director of technical services.
The session ended with a member of the audience expressing appreciation for Pratt’s attendance on a snowy night, but calling for “less talk and more action” on the pursuit of short-term attainable goals on what locals call “the mountain.” Pratt assured his audience that ORDA was of similar mind.