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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 28, 2011

For lack of money, Empire State Summer Games a no-go again this year

By Jordan J. Michael

Over the last few years, the Empire State Summer Games have gone on and off like a light switch. State funding was available for Buffalo in 2010, but unattainable for Hudson Valley and Rochester in 2009 and 2011.

Are the Summer Games doomed forever?

They may be unless host cities raise enough private funding to support the Games. Buffalo lucked out last year, getting $500,000 from First Niagara Financial Group. Another quarter-million dollars came from all the tryout candidates that paid a $10 registration fee. Together with some state money, it was enough to put on the event.

Rochester was chosen to host the Summer Games in 2011, but “the cost was too great for local donations,” said Noah Lebowitz, spokesman for Monroe County. News of the cancellation came back in November, but Monroe County’s effort for private funding over the ensuing six months came up short, he told The Enterprise this week.

“We tested the waters, but it wasn’t enough,” Lebowitz said. “An attempt was made in earnest. Our sports commission engaged in multiple conversations with local businesses but weren’t able to come close to the figure we needed.”

Talking to The Enterprise in November, Lebowitz said Monroe County expected “$1.2 to $1.3 million” from the state, but got none. The state parks department says that $1 million is required in private funding to keep the Games afloat.

The Summer Games started in 1978 and ran for 31 summers straight, in various locations throughout New York, through 2008, when the state’s fiscal crisis led to their cancellation in 2009.

The games in 2009 were slapped with a pay-to-play proposal. Open and Masters divisions were cut and scholastic athletes were asked to pay a $285 participation fee. The chairman of the Hudson Valley committee, Steven Lant, backed by his committee, rejected the pay-to-play standard and the Games were cancelled.

Dan Keefe, spokesman for the state parks department, said this week that the Summer Games have “no funding and no staff.” Keefe said that he had “no suggestions” when asked what steps could be taken to get the event running again.

Zach Nelson, of Knox, who won a gold medal in the 3000-meter steeplechase and a silver in the 1500-meter at Buffalo last summer, said this week that he was planning on competing this year. Nelson is a rising sophomore at St. Lawrence University, running for the school.

“It was an early taste of college and it set my sights even higher,” Nelson said of the Games. “I made a lot of friends and was able to watch other sports that I had never watched before. It was a great experience and a great moment.”   

The Winter Games have fared better. When funding was yanked in November, a consortium of Adirondack municipalities and agencies set out to run the Winter Games on their own. They were successful, hosting about 900 athletes for three days of competition without the $300,000 they had initially expected from the state.

It was the 31st consecutive Winter Games hosted in Lake Placid. Organizers relied on the same streams of revenue the state had –– minimal registration fees, tickets, and merchandise sales –– as well as local private investors. James McKenna, president of the Lake Placid Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, said the Winter Games bring over a million dollars in business to the Adirondacks.

“You can’t predict anything with all these fiscal challenges,” said Lebowitz of the future. “If the state is able to bring it back, then we’ll be glad to have it.”

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