The Catskill Heritage Alliance, a local environmental group that has long been critical of the proposed Belleayre Resort project in Highmount, has released a study that claims the resort will fail unless scaled back.
The study, commissioned by Washington, D.C.-based firm Public and Environmental Finance Associates, takes aim at another study commissioned last year from national hotel consultants HVS by resort developer Crossroads Ventures. In documents prepared in 2013 for the state's ongoing review of the project, Crossroads relied on the HVS study to make a case for the resort's financial viability and economic benefits to the region.
At the time, HVS issued a glowing review of the Belleayre project, stating that if built, the resort would be "an extraordinary asset that can reasonably be expected to gain recognition as one of the premier destinations and vacation ownership communities in the world, and the top-quality facility of this sort in the Northeastern United States."
The Catskill Heritage Alliance now claims that HVS's study was flawed. In an analysis of the HVS study (embedded below), PEFA's Michael Siegel writes that Crossroads is "seeking to charge champagne prices for a resort that is to be built on a beer budget," and relying on grossly inflated estimates of the resort's potential revenue.
The PEFA study recommends that Crossroads build only the lower portion of its two-part proposed development -- the "Wildacres" site -- and scrap plans to develop a hotel and lodge at the upper elevation Highmount site.
"A Wildacres-only scenario would be more supportive of the regions’ existing communities and lodging sector. It would reduce or eliminate adverse environmental impacts and allow the State to focus its resources on improvements to the existing Belleayre Mountain Ski Center," Siegel writes.
Among the criticisms Siegel lobs at the HVS study is that it assumes potential revenue for the Belleayre resort will be on par with the revenue made by top-flight five-star ski resorts in the Rocky Mountains. Compared to Belleayre, the Rocky Mountain resorts have longer ski seasons, better terrain and natural snow, proximity to commercial airports and interstate highways, and are not dependent on the state government for upgrades to ski centers, Siegel writes.
In a statement issued in response to the PEFA study, Belleayre project coordinator Gary Gailes questioned PEFA's credentials and expertise, and characterized the firm as an "anti-development consultant."
"In response to the so-called economic analysis contracted by the Catskill Heritage Alliance to support their longstanding opposition to the Belleayre Resort project, I would only ask readers of this report to compare the credentials of the internationally renowned consulting firms of HVS, Inc and Ragatz Associates employed by Crossroads to evaluate the economic viability of the project versus the firm of PEFA (an anti-development consultant) hired by the financial backers of the Catskill Heritage Alliance," Gailes wrote. "Perhaps if the Catskill Heritage Alliance revealed the source of their funding to hire PEFA, one might better understand the conclusions reached by PEFA."
The Catskill Heritage Alliance also commissioned a 2011 study from PEFA that was critical of a plan to transfer the state-owned Belleayre Ski Center, next to the proposed resort, from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA). That plan was put into action by the state legislature in 2012, and Belleayre is now under ORDA's management.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation is still working to produce a final environmental impact statement for the Belleayre Resort project, which will include analysis of its economic impact on the region. Project developers expect that statement to be issued later this year. Once the environmental impact statement is complete, the project will go to local town planning boards for review.
Below: PEFA's critical analysis of a study commissioned from HVS by Belleayre Resort developers Crossroads Ventures.