The state Assembly passed legislation Wednesday that seeks to create a commission to try to bring the Winter Olympics back to Lake Placid and another municipality in the state.
Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake, drafted the bill and state Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, introduced a companion bill in the Senate Wednesday. Assemblyman Matt Simpson, R-C-I-Horicon, said Thursday that the bill received unanimous Assembly support.
Jones said the state Senate still needs to pass the bill before it can become law and a commission could be formed. The governor would also have to sign the bill for it to become law.
Simpson said Thursday that the bill started out more informally, as a letter. He said that outside of Stec and Jones, there were other members of the Assembly and Senate that had been talking about proposing the commission. When the idea of the letter “popped up” at a recent conference, Simpson said, he talked to his colleagues about taking a step back and making sure everyone was on the same page about the commission. That’s how Jones ended up drafting a formal bill. Simpson said it worked out better for everyone to take a step back and let one person lead the way.
Local officials only recently heard about the bill, though Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism CEO Jim McKenna said Thursday that discussions about co-hosting the Winter Olympics here in the future have been underway for a while.
Lake Placid village Mayor Art Devlin, who was in Greece on Thursday, said he got a phone call about the bill from a state Senator on Long Island on Saturday. Devlin thought he was “looped in” to the conversation because the mayor of a hopeful Olympic village is the one who formally confirms an Olympic bid. He was supportive of the possibility.
“It’d be great if we could make it happen,” he said.
North Elba town Supervisor Derek Doty hadn’t heard about the bill yet when reached by the Enterprise on Thursday.
“Wow,” Doty said.
While he said there’s a slim chance that Lake Placid could handle another Olympics alone, he thought it would be “very feasible” to host the Olympics here along with another municipality in the state. Devlin agreed.
With more than $700 million dollars being funneled into upgrades at local Olympic facilities, Doty said, it makes sense to put those venues to work. But Doty thought that, for now, the state Olympic Regional Development Authority is more focused on hosting events of a more “manageable size,” like world cup and championship events.
When asked about the extent of ORDA’s involvement in creating the bill, ORDA Director of Communications Darcy Norfolk responded with a statement from the authority.
“ORDA appreciates the Assembly’s ongoing support for our venues in Lake Placid,” the statement read. “The 2023 Lake Placid FISU World University Games will showcase the North Country and New York state’s ability to host successful events. We are proud to be stewards of our heritage and environment as we plan an exciting future.”
Down the pike
McKenna said he first heard about the bill “three or four weeks ago” from Jones and Stec’s office.
“If they were encouraged to do that, we certainly did not discourage them,” McKenna said.
He added that his only concern with the bill is time. Salt Lake City is already the candidate city for the U.S. for either the 2030 or 2034 winter games, so Lake Placid wouldn’t be eligible to host those years. McKenna said that if the Olympics happen in Lake Placid again, it’d be “way down the pike.” He said that if state officials want to look into hosting the Olympics after 2034, “we’re supportive.”
It’s not uncommon for an Olympic bidding process to start years in advance, according to McKenna, who thought that the bidding process for the 1980 Olympics started in 1968.
It’s also become more common for the Winter Olympics to be spread across rural and urban regions. For example, the 2022 Winter Olympics were held in three different regions across China.
McKenna echoed Devlin and Doty’s thoughts — that Lake Placid couldn’t host the Olympics on its own and would benefit from an urban partnership. McKenna said there’s been some talk about hosting opening ceremonies at the Yankee Stadium and ice events at Madison Square Garden in New York City. He mentioned that Saratoga Springs has an indoor rink for short-track speedskating, and Lake Placid could better host events like bobsledding and ski jumping. There’s also been some talk in the past about co-hosting the games with Montreal.
McKenna thought that the bill was a continuation of the state’s commitment to Lake Placid’s sports facilities, even if Lake Placid is decades away from even possibly hosting another Olympics.
“Having a goal like that — even if it’s well beyond 20 years down the pike — it sort of keeps this region, and possibly other areas of New York state, in the Olympic mindset,” he said.
Bringing the Olympics to Lake Placid again would mean bringing another large, international sports event to this village, which could have varied effects on the people who live here. But the Olympics wouldn’t necessarily come here without residents having the opportunity to weigh in on whether or not they want the games here.
McKenna said that the International Olympic Committee now requires a referendum of public support from regions that are potential bid sites before the IOC considers them as a candidate.
“That’s sort of in the first go-around,” McKenna said.
Doty said he thought residents might have a mixed reaction to the possibility of hosting another Olympics here. He thought the overall detriment of hosting the games would be the multi-billion dollar price tag that often comes with the responsibility. He wondered if the local economy could spend that much money and produce the results it takes to return those investments.
However, Doty and Devlin agreed that Lake Placid is a sports village, and the state has funneled millions of dollars into keeping it that way.
“We are still a winter sports capital of the world,” Doty said.
McKenna thought the Olympics could provide an opportunity to increase housing in Lake Placid, similar to how the MacKenzie Outlook housing complex is being built with athlete housing during the 2023 FISU World University Games in mind as its first use. McKenna said a lot of regions have used the games as a vehicle to do community benefit projects.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story included the incorrect date that the Assembly passed the legislation; it was Wednesday, May 25, not Thursday, May 26. The Enterprise regrets the error.