The first of four economic development forums was recently held at the Catskill Center. Two members of the Center's board, Geddy Sveikauskas and Steve Berg, lead the effort to host this series of events throughout the winter.
Organized around programmatic areas of the Catskill Center, this first event was an initial conversation starter with business and community leaders invited to speak representing Hunter, Livingston Manor, Woodstock and Andes, alongside the general public.
The next meeting, scheduled for Saturday, February 27th at 10 am at the Catskill Center, will focus on the economic impact of recreational tourism. Upcoming meetings will focus on the second home market and the digital services economy.
Members of the general public and those invited leaders generally discussed the common business problems found across the region. Town Leaders described efforts to protect the uniqueness of each hamlet, examples including the development of a new rail trail with a soon to open renovated train station in the town of Andes. Towns described plans to redevelop river walks linking Main Street more directly to the surrounding environment, developed in a way that protects the surrounding hamlet from future flooding. Communication across an area with a geographic size rivaling Rhode Island, and how to coordinate events, was also discussed; along with the problematic role of limited to no broadband Internet access.
Towards the end of the discussion there was a mention of the impact of Airbnb on towns that previously had minimal accommodations to handle a growing volume of visitors. Woodstock has benefited tremendously from this change enabling businesses to stay open all week long, year round, due to increased levels of visitors, all without building major new accommodations. At the same time issues were discussed around gentrification and the growing influence of wealthier part-timers encroaching on the region. All the while the importance of protecting what makes the towns and hamlets of the Catskills unique, showcasing their regional character, while protecting the natural environment and scenic beauty of the region, were central issues throughout the region.
In the end, Geddy Sveikauskas summed up the Catskill Center's role describing our full official name, the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development. As an organization that has worked since 1969 to protect equally our natural environment and our communities, we will continue to play a role that works towards a balance between these two central drivers in our region.
On behalf of the Catskill Center, we thank everyone involved for joining this important conversation. If you're interested in attending future events, please contact Erik Johanson at firstname.lastname@example.org at your convenience. We welcome all to get involved and join this effort. And many thanks to all of the businesses, groups and organizations across the region working on projects like this.
Click here to read the Watershed Post's account of the day, titled Not Your Grandfather's Catskills.