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September 23, 2014
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Tourism in the age of casinos; The challenge of retaining local charm and scenic natural assets


By ALAN SORENSEN

With the prospect of at least one casino destination resort coming to Sullivan County, it is not too early to begin to plan for the transition from “Desperation Economics” (i.e. taking any economic development that comes our way) to “Growth Management” where we begin to shape new development to enhance our built environment.

Indeed our long-term economic vitality depends on creating a quality built tourism environment that gives visitors a reason to want to return time and time again.

Communities like Saratoga, NY or the State of Vermont historically have understood this principal for decades. They have become not only tourist destinations, but also places where businesses have chosen to locate due to the aesthetically pleasing built environment, protection of natural resources and the quality of life these communities offer their residents.

Now, with casinos and other major projects coming in the near future to Sullivan County, we need to aspire to such standards.

Without question, Sullivan County boasts some of the most scenic natural resources in NYS including, but not limited to, the Shawangunks, the Bashakill, the Neversink River Valley, the Catskill Park and the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River—the latter a unit of the National Park Service.

We also have the world-class Bethel Performing Arts Center, which is an excellent example of smart development that is aesthetically pleasing and well-placed within the bucolic landscape that surrounds it.

So here are some important questions:

Will the new nonresidential and residential development around these new resorts and projects become attractive gateways to the entrances of our new resort hotels, or will they instead become a landscape of billboards and strip retail establishments that forever scare the natural scenic beauty of our county? In the future, will the recreational amenities only be those available to the people who visit the resorts?

Will county and local governments work together to develop rail-trails and other public recreational and cultural amenities to improve the quality of life for all residents, while also enhancing the visitor experience?

In other words, should we evolve into the next Saratoga, NY or Burlington, VT or do we devolve into just another honky-tonk landscape, which are a dime a dozen throughout the United States?

These are questions we need to start asking today.

I would argue the long-term sustainability and economic viability of Sullivan County depends upon our communities working together to shape new development and tourism infrastructure around these resorts in an aesthetically pleasing manner, which complements rather than detracts from the natural scenic beauty of Sullivan County.

We have a unique opportunity to differentiate ourselves from nearby competition in the Poconos and Atlantic City, by shaping the built environment around our resorts that is first class.

Now is the time for smart development in Sullivan County.

Bottom line: In our new era of economic development, visitors who enter Sullivan County in the future should have a sense that they are entering a unique environment where new economic development harmonizes with the natural exquisiteness of our region.

If we provide that experience, we will not only draw visitors who come to our resorts, but also attract other companies and residents who want to locate in an area that offers such a high quality of life.