Resist the wishful thinking


To The Editor:      
Editor/Publisher Richard Sanford’s thoughtful editorial asserts that tying the proposed private resort at Belleayre to Ski Center expansion—the “biggest” development option now being considered— is “the last hope for a sustainable economy in the central Catskills,” and in a “guest” editorial, real estate broker Eric Wedemeyer equates that development option with “the common good.” Yet neither man ever connects the dots as to just how the development will fulfill either claim. Sanford characterizes the current economic situation here as “a mess,” a characterization with which few would argue, and Wedemeyer asserts that the region could use an “economic boost”—again, no argument there. Yet the reason Mr. Sanford offers for why the Belleayre project can fix our mess and provide the boost is that “there is no other solution in sight.”

So it is for want of anything “other” that the project becomes the magic bullet that will cure the region’s poverty, population decreases, and shuttered main streets? Here comes the private developer on his white horse to save us all from the Global Great Recession, nationwide unemployment (even in the resort ski towns of Maine and Vermont invoked by Mr. Sanford as examples we should follow), a busted housing market, and everything else that ails us. Build it and they will come—deep-pocketed time-share owners magically materializing to populate the new city on the mountain (although not our hamlets and villages) and to generate careers that will induce people’s children to remain in the area. It’s a lot to ask of a real estate speculation aimed simply at returning a quick profit to its investors, and I’m dubious about the transformative powers Mr. Sanford ascribes to it.

A range of alternative options is available in the documents recently released by the DEC. The leap by Messrs. Sanford and Wedemeyer to the biggest, most extensive, most environmentally destructive, and most costly option for taxpayers, $74 million of public money would go to buy the land, seems rushed; the gentlemen protest too much. Another option, on land already publicly owned, would expand the ski center’s trails substantively, adding expert terrain at Cathedral Glen, and could be combined with upgrades for the ski center facilities and a less obtrusive hotel resort that would still greatly increase the number of rooms the region could offer.

In short, there isn’t just one development option on the table but several. None of the options, the biggest one least of all, can single-handedly deliver the central Catskills from economic despair; it’s a real estate development, not the arrival of the Messiah. As the DEC considers the options before it and asks for public comment, let us not confuse wishful thinking with clear thinking, and for heaven’s sake, let us not be so shortsighted as to assume that what’s needed now is something—anything—and the dollars will flow our way.

   Susanna Margolis,