ORDA boss to appear in Phoenicia on Thursday

By Jay Braman Jr.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA), known locally as the guy who now runs Belleayre Mountain Ski Center, will make his first public appearance in the region on Thursday, August 2 when he comes to Phoenicia as the keynote speaker for the opening ceremonies for the annual Phoenicia Festival of the Voice.

Ted Blazer will deliver the opening and welcoming remarks at 7:30 p.m. from the main stage at Phoenicia’s Parish Field, where the voice festival begins its annual four-day celebration with the operatic spoof, The Benefit.

Changes contemplated
Many in the region are curious about what changes, if any, will take place at Belleayre now that ORDA is in control.

Since the 1940s when it was built, Belleayre has been run by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The facility has had its ups and downs over the decades and most recently the DEC’s operation of the ski center was blamed for much of the trouble, with critics saying that the department was guilty of mismanagement and incapable of running a ski center because it was too busy with other responsibilities.

In January 2011 there was public outcry for a replacement of management after the DEC laid off dozens of full-time Belleayre employees and replaced them with part timers.

Losing money
When Governor Cuomo took office one year later he called for ORDA to take control of Belleayre after the SAGE Commission, created by the governor to “modernize and right-size state government, improve performance, increase accountability and save taxpayers’ money,” announced that the operation of Belleayre should instead be handled by ORDA, the authority that operates Whiteface and Gore Mountain ski centers in the Adirondacks.

According to the SAGE report, released on December 15, Belleayre has lost money for the past five years, requiring extra cash from state coffers to cover those losses and make capitol improvements.
It also states that under DEC’s reign, the operation of Belleayre is restricted and therefore the ski center cannot respond to market needs.

Has the expertise
“ORDA has the expertise to manage ski centers for the state with the expectation that Belleayre could become self sustaining over time,” the report concluded.

At the annual meeting of the ORDA Board of Directors on June 19, Blazer announced that staff has been visiting Belleayre, going over the facilities and discussing marketing plans for the upcoming ski season.

But Blazer and company are going to take things slow as they get acquainted with both the ski center and the region.

“We plan to take a good amount of time to see how Belleayre operates,” he said.
“We’re going to work with the staff and the community to move the facility forward. We will be surveying visitors and others to see what is good and bad, what works and what doesn’t work, what they like and what they don’t like, before major marketing and facility infrastructure decisions are made. So were really going to take a close hard look at how that facility operates through the summer and into the winter before we just jerk our knee,”Blazer added.

Blazer added that the state has given ORDA $1 million for capital projects at Belleayre. The state also gave ORDA $4 million for capitol projects at Whiteface and Gore.

The Benefit is an operatic comedy starring festival co-founder and mezzo soprano Maria Todaro and soprano Michelle Jennings. The whirlwind farce answers the question of what happens when an operatic benefit recital is accidentally double-booked. The show is performed by the operatic comedy duo whose passion for theater, opera, musical antics, stage combat, and physical comedy are all packaged into this 80-minute comedy.