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Tim Allred Interview on Ulster County Chamber Radio

Williams Lake Project Manager Tim Allred was interviewed for “Spotlight on the Ulster County Regional Chamber of Commerce” on January 11, 2015 by Ward Todd. You can listen to the full interview here where Tim discusses the project, what has been done, and what will be accomplished in 2015.

Ward: We’re talking economic development in our region this morning with Tim Allred, a good friend of ours from the Williams Lake Project. Good morning, Tim. Great to see you.

Tim: Good morning, Ward. Thanks for having me.

Ward: Good to see you. You survived the holidays.

Tim: It’s always a challenge, but we made it through. We’re happy to be here.

Ward: And as we are looking at this brand-new year 2015, here’s another year, that’s gone by in your project, and you’ve actually, as they say, put a shovel on the ground in Williams Lake.

Tim: I think we can put our last newsletter out and said, “And I like to say on the radio, Happy New Year to everybody.” And then we said, “It’s finally, respectfully with regards to the old place, time for out with the old and in with the new and we have begun the project finally.”

Ward: Tell folks for those who don’t know because the show is broadcast up and down the Hudson Valley, where is Williams Lake located and what is the Williams Lake Project?

Tim: Okay. Well, the Williams Lake Project is a proposed resort, residential community at the former Williams Lake Hotel site. The Williams Lake Hotel was a really important part of this community for 80 years and it’s on beautiful property with three lakes and 800 acres of great trails and topography. We started working on building a new resort, some seven or eight years ago. Long approval process, but we’re all done. And we just awarded our first contract, for some tree clearing to begin the project. I guess, we’ll start next week.

Ward: Wow.

Tim: Yeah, finally.

Ward: How does that feel?

Tim: Oh, it’s great. I mean we’ve always been very excited about the vision for this project. Honestly, it takes some work to stay excited over all this time, but now we really get to focus on the future and the future is great. The vision is a resort that will really have two or three main focuses or themes. One is sustainability. It’s a green resort and another one is outdoor recreation. We are really going to take advantage of those trails and the terrain for events and outdoor programming. And the third is wellness. It’s a wellness themed resort, great spa and fitness center. Get people outdoors and burn off those calories from the holidays, for example.

Ward: How much of the outdoors did the old Williams Lake involve? And they did a cross-country skiing, remember?

Tim: Yeah. It’s kind of a funny thing. They have this beautiful property, they really didn’t use very much of it. But what they did do, they did very well. So the old place began with a sauna on the lake and I think it was a hot dog stand before there was any kind of hotel there. And grandpa Williams built the sauna because of a Nordic tradition of, sort of polar bear swimming. So there was a sauna right on the lake and they cut the ice out every winter and people would take a steam and then jump into the water, which if you have never done it…

Ward: Have you?

Tim: I have done that.

Ward: Invigorating right?

Tim: It will wake you up.

Ward: So have I, it’s wonderful.

Tim: Yeah, it really is. I think there are probably some signs around when it’s not good for you. Some people might want to be careful, but I love it. And then the original resort also built in these great Nordic ski trails. The topography of the site is really up-and-down and the trails were terrific, and are terrific. So much so that the Olympic ski team for the U.S. trained there, I think in the 70s and in the 80s. So couple training teams came to Williams Lake on their way to the Olympics. We will bring all that back and continue with those kinds of events. We also have brought back some years ago now and we are probably in our fifth or sixth year of bringing it back the Williams Lake Classic, which is a mountain bike race, with our partner at the local bike shop, Favata’s Table Rock Tours, and that event keeps growing. It attracts a couple hundred riders including professional riders from around the country. What they say, I mean not by just enough to, to sweat, but what they say is that it is of the best terrain in the northeast because of this unique geology that we have.

Ward: So you came here in 2005 or 2006, somewhere around there we first met then, and you began this process, with the hopes it would be done long before this right? You want to just talk a bit about how the SEQR process in New York State can work sometimes well and sometimes not as great as we wish that it would?

Tim: I’ll talk about it more. Well, I hope not to talk too much about it because it has been my life for many years now. The short version is that we started looking at the property in 2006, we formally engaged the SEQR process in 2007. Our approach was as an environmentally responsible company that we knew that this had to be done right. We voluntarily offered a positive declaration which is what makes you do SEQR. We said, “Yes, we should do it.” Because they’re endangered species on the property, there’s sensitive water resources etc. And we went ahead and did a very thorough and complete effort. A good-faith effort, cooperative, collaborative with all the agencies. It took seven years. So I think anybody can agree that, that’s too long to get to the end of a process that is going to tell a land-use proponent, somebody who’s got a project on the table that you can or you can’t move forward and how. I think there are obvious ways to streamline that process. We did make it through, that’s the good news. It took seven years, that’s not the good news. On the flip side as we try to… as we get started now, we would’ve been challenged to begin in earnest in the middle of the great recession. So it’s not, you know, there is that to balance off the fact that it took this long. The main message we’re really excited to not talk about SEQR anymore, to begin focusing on how this brings positive benefits to the community and also for us to get this resort opened.

Ward: We do mention it, I think, because I’m not sure everyone understands how a business can go through that number of years, spend just millions and millions of dollars on engineers and attorneys and all of the things that are required in SEQR. And you know how many years are you before you can begin to get a penny back to pay back all of that upfront expense and so from the consumer standpoint, as we go through this process all the time with development projects, I think it’s important for folks to remember this is a real leap of faith because there’s no guarantee at the end of the day that they’re even going to get the approval, right?

Tim: There’s no guarantee about approvals, there’s no guarantee that you will get to see the hotel financed and built, right? Just because we believe in it, it’s still an entrepreneurial venture. The hotel finance world is coming back, but the capital markets have been hurt by the recession, and we are not in New York City or San Francisco or London. So if we were to build a hotel in New York right now, it would be much easier. That said, we know we have a special project and we know we’ll get it done. The other part about the SEQR process and that long run of spending money on everything to get to the starting line, is that it really adds a layer of costs on our financial model now going forward. So we have to be able to absorb all of those seven years along with some pretty serious infrastructure numbers because of our commitments to green infrastructure, and be able to cover all of that and still have a successful project. So if those seven years had been three years, it would’ve been easier to do all the good stuff that we want to do. Now we’re looking very hard and we have to just be very thoughtful. It does have to be not just successful for our investors but it has to be something that presents well to the financial markets so that they can say, “Sure, we’ll lend some money to help you build this.”

Ward: Great. Tim’s already our guest from the Williams Lake Project. Project Coordinator? Is that correct?

Tim: I’m calling myself Manager, I’m the Vice President of Hudson River Valley Resorts. After some years our men will have at least a title change.

Ward: Fantastic. Tim is also a member of the Chamber’s Board of Directors, so we thank him for his volunteer service and helping to make our organization as effective as possible here in the Hudson Valley. So talk about… you are just beginning this week, some removal of trees, what are some of the other projects coming up in the near future, in the coming months in 2015?

Tim: So our plan for 2015 module is exciting. We are really focused on getting the project ready to go for the heavy construction of the first phase which is really the hotel and spa and related amenities. Now, what that means is we need to have a road, our new access road will be cleared this week… next week I should say, and that will allow us to put infrastructure in this year. We hope to have a design and a start on the hotel by the end of 2015. But certainly in ’15, we will clear trees to put in our new access road. We will do the work for cleaning up the site which is really taking down the old buildings and then begin the infrastructure construction. So water, wastewater, utilities go in along with roads. That’s a lot, there will be plenty for 2015.

Ward: So we certainly enjoy getting the trades that our local here in our Ulster County Region employed, which specific trades you’re going to be reaching out to this year to do some work? You’ve got tree removal folks already.

Tim: The tree removal folks and I’ll talk about that in just a second a little more detail, after that we will have some work to do to remove a couple underground fuel tanks that are underneath buildings. We couldn’t get them back at the beginning because the buildings were there, asbestos abatement for the old buildings, and then demolition companies to take the buildings down, responsibly recycle materials, etc. Get the site ready for the next step. When we get into the site work, then all the site work folks, road construction, sewer line, and water infrastructure will be reaching out to folks to do that work.

Ward: Wow. Big branch I think…

Tim: It’s exciting, it’s a 150 some million dollar project and we will really make a… this year that we finally get to say we’re started.

Ward: And you’ll certainly make a difference in our local economy. You’ll be employing a lot of folks who will be spending their paychecks right here in our region, hopefully.

Tim: The thing that I probably would like the audience to hear most from this radio spot is that we made as part of our process, we made a very strong commitment to local contracting. It’s I think above and beyond what other folks have done in the past. We wrote it down as an agreement with the Town of Rosendale and we’re bound by that agreement to hire contractors and construction employees for the future resort and vendors along the way to a target of 75% local, which is something that nobody has seen documented elsewhere. Local for us is Hudson Valley. So everybody who’s listening to this is probably local. And we have preferences where if you are a contractor from Rosendale, you get preference ahead of Ulster County, which gets preference ahead of the rest of the Hudson Valley. In our tree clearing procurement process we just went through, we had eight bidders and we chose not the lowest bid, but the lowest local bid and it turns out it was a group that’s terrific call J&J Tree Works from Saugerties. We’re very happy to have them start the project with us. The rest of the bids were, with the exception of one from Brewster, which was the low bid, but they were too far away we thought. We had Gardiner and New Paltz, Rosendale, and Kingston, all represented. The Ulster Chamber of Commerce and Board, thank you for doing this and helped us reach out to folks who we did not have in our database. I encourage anybody listening to the show here that wants to be part of our project, to go to our website and find the bidders section and just leave your information for us. That information is, what do you do, what kind of work do you do and when we have that kind of work coming up, we’re going to let folks know so that they can have a shot at being part of the project.

Ward: Wonderful! That’s great news for everyone in the region as we are still in some respect suffering through this tail end of the recession. We just saw, you know, very sad news the other day about one of our major retailers closing their door soon around here. So the more we can get back and put back to our economy, obviously, the better. And I just want to digress for a moment because I began thinking about you and your project. As I said you were earlier, when I saw the news that there’s going to be a planning board review up in the town of Shandaken for the Belleayre Resort project which began their process in the SEQR back in 1998 I believe and still has no final. So SEQR has done for them, but they still need to go to the town of Middletown and Delaware County and the town of Shandaken [inaudible 00:14:54] County planning board for a final site plan sign off. So there is tomorrow night and that’s Monday night, at 6 p.m. a public hearing at the Shandaken Town Hall. If you have followed this project and if you’re in support of the Belleayre Resort Project, we urge you to come up and speak or go to the Chamber’s website, you will find information about how you can just write a letter and support of this economic development project which has been in the process of planning as we set for a long, long time and I think I heard estimates at one point that the developer had about $20 million in investments so far. And again as we mentioned before without any pay back yet. So good luck to them and up with the Belleayre.

Tim: Yeah, it is a risky business for sure. And I hope they make it, you know, when we first came on the scene more than I met you, the Ulster Tomorrow had just been completed. It’s a strategic plan for the region. More recently, Governor Cuomo created these regional development councils for economic development. All of the strategies when anybody looks at the region and especially Ulster County, they focus on natural assets of the county which translates to tourism and other things. So bringing a destination resort, building a ski resort makes a lot of sense because we’re bringing people up to the region to spend money and leave it behind in the local economy. So we were thrilled, we were named a regional priority project by the Mid-Hudson region. We wanted a CFA grant which was a great validation of our vision. But people need to understand that tourism is a big driver, and if we don’t support tourism we are not playing to our strengths as a county.

Ward: And it probably should be mentioned also because I guess the matter about what it is there are folks who say it’s not what we should be having, but the jobs that will in fact be created by the Williams Lake Project from what I’ve seen are good-paying jobs.

Tim: Yes, we have a schedule of our project employment. It’s on the website, it might be hard to find but we can make it easier to find. It is a commitment to hiring locally. We know that for our vision, sustainability, wellness, outdoors, all that programming, all those wellness practitioners are here. There are all going to be local hires. Hospitality, we can hire locally for most of those positions as well. Construction, design, most of that will be locally hired. We have a 75% target and there will be a couple things that aren’t provided. There’s a geothermal heat exchanger for the lake, very specific technology. We probably have to go outside the region for something like that. But all the site work, all this infrastructure construction, the trades, there’s a lot of people here who’re looking for work, we’ll be very happy to employ.

Ward: And do you anticipate that folks when they come to the Williams Lake, not going to be called that? It’s going to be called?

Tim: I don’t know yet.

Ward: Okay.

Tim: The Ward Todd…

Ward: Question of the day. What do you eventually going to call it?

Tim: Well, we are talking simultaneously, so we’re started now and we’re out speaking to a lot of folks. We’re also speaking to hotels and resort operators. So all of that is too early to say anything but we have been in conversation with some exciting folks that would or would not bring their own name. It’s very possible that it could still be called Williams Lake something, but we don’t know yet.

Ward: And so when folks come to this unnamed resort in a couple of years, will they have an impact on our local economy? What do you anticipate will be the average the typical vacationer? Will they stay on the property for the entire time or will they explore our region?

Tim: They will explore, there’s no doubt about it. I mean Rosendale has already… just its main street is exciting to go down and check in restaurants, bars, cafes, the Rosendale Theater and then the region is fantastic. So I think if you tried to tell people that they weren’t allowed to, they’re going to go skiing, they’re going to go to the Fisher Center. They’re going to go to all the arts and culture and they’re going to come uptown to Kingston to go out to dinner etc., no doubt about it. Beyond that, we did plan the project with that in mind. We have restaurants on campus and… because that you have to but really, there’s no retail, there’s nothing else inside of Williams Lake that… when folks going to need something, they’re going to go find it. It’s a residential community. Folks will likely come and have second homes and vacation homes. And there will likely be a lot of folks who come discover the region like everybody else does and start shifting more and more full-time. I think both of those populations support the local economy.

Ward: Fantastic. Listen, congratulations. We are so delighted that, actually today this week, we’re saying work is getting started. We can’t wait for the doors to open and bus-loads of folks to arrive.

Tim: Thank you for that and thank you for the opportunity. Happy New Year to everybody. Please stay tuned if you’re interested in what we’re doing. We encourage you to sign up for a newsletter, we will let you know about our events. We do have an event schedule for the community events that we do. It’s on through the construction year. So that’s on our website and if you are a contractor looking to be part of our project’s construction, please go to that website as well.

Ward: Fantastic. Congratulations again, continued success.

Tim: Thanks a lot, Ward.

Ward: Thanks. Tim Allred from the Williams Lake Project, our guest on the program. We thank him for taking time out of his busy morning to be with us and explain what’s happening as we are so delighted for this project.