DANC launches $2 million regional tourism loan fund to give industry boost

Hotels, marinas, wineries and recreational businesses now will have a chance to secure loans for tourism-related projects across the north country.

A $2 million regional tourism revolving loan fund was established Wednesday by the Development Authority of the North Country’s board of directors, thanks to state funding secured in 2012 by the North Country Regional Economic Development Council. The regional council, which covers seven counties, designated DANC to serve as the administrator of the loan. Low-interest loans will be funded up to $250,000.

The funding was applied for by the regional council’s tourism work group, which is comprised of about 20 tourism directors and municipal officials.

After hosting public meetings in 2011, the tourism group decided that funding was needed to improve lodging in the region, said Gary S. DeYoung, executive director of the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council. The group heard feedback from business owners in Clayton, Potsdam, Ogdensburg, Lake Placid and Port Henry.

“We heard consistently that there is a need for lodging upgrades — the destination, quality lodging that’s aimed at serving tourism areas,” said Mr. DeYoung, co-chairman of the tourism group. “It became clear that we had a lot to do for investment in lodging and recreational facilities in the region, but there aren’t a lot of tools given to economic-development agencies to help tourism businesses.”

The loan fund is expected to assist a miscellany of regional projects, Mr. DeYoung said. Hoteliers are looking to expand and modernize properties, for example, and developers could seek loans to fund multimillion-dollar lodging projects. Loans also may be acquired by municipalities on the waterfront that rely on seasonal tourism. The city of Ogdensburg, for instance, plans to seek funding for waterfront development projects.

“We also have historic and recreational properties that need renovations,” Mr. DeYoung said. “Or some communities may need help to develop a marina business on the waterfront.”

James W. Wright, executive director of DANC and a member of the regional council, said the fund will help entrepreneurs and small businesses in the tourism industry that might have been denied funding by financial institutions. He cited the network of wineries, restaurants and resorts along the Thousand Islands-Seaway Wine Trail as an example of an area that could benefit.

“Seasonal tourism has suffered because of the lack of accommodations here, and lots of small businesses will be able to take advantage of loans,” Mr. Wright said.

If the $2 million fund starts to run dry due to high demand, Mr. Wright said, the regional council eventually could award more state money.

“The fund’s shelf-life will depend on its success,” he said.

-Ted Booker, Watertown Daily Times