Business community welcomes resort
By Jay Braman Jr.
Just as some groups have continued their decade-long opposition to plans for the Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park, others groups have continued to voice their support for the $400-million plan.
As the public comment period on the latest set of plans begins, both sides are expected to offer opinions similar to those they voiced during reviews of previous project incarnations.
But, according to Ward Todd, president of the Ulster County Regional Chamber of Commerce, at least one variable has changed, making those calls for the development of the resort ring louder and clearer.
“There’s no question that much has changed in the 15 years since the project was first proposed,” said Todd during an interview Tuesday. “While we didn’t know it at the time, the economy was much more vibrant in 1998, and in years to follow.”
Todd, a lifelong Shandaken resident, notes that since the project first appeared, no less than 15 restaurants have closed in his town alone. “Fortunately, a few have reopened in the last year but many vacant buildings and vacant lots still dot the landscape as you drive through town,” he said.
The chamber, he said, first gave public support to the resort project in 2001 and has stood by the plan during the past 12 years of review.
“The chamber believes that now is the best time to support the Belleayre Resort Project,” he said.
With the next several weeks being the last opportunity for public input before the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) determines whether to allow the project to move forward, Todd said it is clear that the region needs the project more than it ever has.
“Our residents, the vast majority who leave the area to work elsewhere, are desperate for jobs,” he said. “The construction jobs alone would have a tremendous financial impact on our town. The permanent jobs, many of them good paying, would have a lasting impact for generations to come.”
Similar sentiments came from Carol O’Beirne, executive director of the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce, who said one does not need look very far to see the need for the resort project.
“No one can deny that our Main Streets are too quiet,” she said Tuesday. “No one can deny that our tax base is dwindling as residents age and housing sales remain sluggish. No one can deny that our school populations are dropping dramatically year after year because our working families cannot find jobs and move away.”
Like Todd, O’Beirne feels that the public input portion of the review is an opportunity. “The time is now,” she added. “We cannot wait any longer. The Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce has supported the Belleayre Project in the past and we strongly urge that this project be approved and becomes reality for the sake of our future and our children’s future.”
Pointing to the poor economy, O’Beirne believes the resort project is tailor-made for a regional renaissance. “What we need and have needed is a major ‘stimulus package’ that will provide not just one kind of job but a varied selection of jobs that will employ local residents and bring in new residents so that we can rebuild and sustain our communities into the future. The Belleayre Resort project is just such a project and one that has been vetted, adjusted and updated to respond to concerns.”