Speculation about Libby Pataki involvement
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
The Putnam Visitors Bureau, more commonly known as the county tourism office, could move to Cold Spring, with Philipstown resident Libby Pataki serving as new director, according to reports and trial balloons wafting from the Hudson River to Carmel. Suggestions on where to locate the tourism office focus on the inter-governmental complex envisioned for the old Butterfield Hospital grounds, at the southern entrance to the village, or on Cold Spring’s historic Main Street, close to the train service that brings many tourists to Philipstown.
Talk of moving the tourism office began after new County Executive MaryEllen Odell took over and efforts by her administration to consolidate and streamline county functions got underway this year. The discussion likewise coincides with consideration in Cold Spring of a private developer’s plan to construct a village-town-county office headquarters at the Butterfield site alongside a senior- citizen housing subdivision.
A phone message left with an assistant in the county executive’s office seeking information from Odell generated no follow-up response on Tuesday (Feb. 14). Nor did e-mail and phone requests for comments directed to Ms. Pataki’s business, DURTbags LLC, based in Garrison, bring a reply. Local officials commenting on Monday and Tuesday said they knew that the village apparently is the nexus of efforts to relocate the tourism office. Nonetheless, they advised that details remain sketchy.
At a recent meeting with Odell, “she did mention putting the office of tourism in the new Butterfield site,” Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea told Philipstown.info. “I just hope that the commitment for the seniors is as strong as the commitment to tourists.” He has advocated including a public senior-citizen community center among the facilities at the Butterfield complex.
Cold Spring Mayor Seth Gallagher said Tuesday that “there’s talk that the tourism office might be one of the county functions that would move here,” with a likely home for it to be found at either the Butterfield development or on Main Street. “I think it’d be better, in a way, on Main Street and have it double as a tourism office,” open to provide information to visitors on weekends as well, he said.
District 1 County Legislator Vincent Tamagna Monday afternoon endorsed the idea of tourism office relocation, although he expressed reservations about including it in a Butterfield government headquarters open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. In any event, “it’s not for me to make that determination,” he said. He emphasized, however, that “I’d be happy to see it anywhere in Cold Spring. The critical mass of tourism comes in through Cold Spring.” He also pointed out that his or the County Legislature’s role in the decision-making will be secondary to that of the county executive. “This is all up to the [Odell] administration. MaryEllen Odell always saw Cold Spring as the gateway to Putnam County,” Tamagna said.
But an experienced Cold Spring merchant and county tourism advisor criticized the idea of moving the office. “The Putnam County Visitors Bureau being relocated to Cold Spring makes no sense,” said Dave Cooke, of Sarabeck Antiques. “The Cold Spring Chamber of Commerce already mans a visitor’s center at the foot of Main Street — and quite successfully I might add, thanks in part to Harry Fadde,” a devoted, elderly local resident. “The Putnam Visitors Bureau (PVB) has always been in Carmel, which is central to the east and west side of the county,” Cooke observed.
New tourism director?
The departure of long-time Visitor Bureau Director Val Hickman, announced Thursday night (Feb. 9) at a county legislative committee meeting, fed uncertainty about the office’s future. At the time, Ms. Hickman told The Putnam County Press, a weekly serving Putnam’s eastern end, that Odell “told me she had a campaign promise to fulfill to move tourism to Cold Spring and Garrison.”
Hickman’s retirement sparked speculation of a possible role for Ms. Pataki, even as questions arose over county methods for selecting a tourism head. “I think there’s a lot of rumors floating around,” Tamagna said on Monday. Again, he noted that it is prerogative of the county executive to decide such appointments, with the County Legislature confirming or rejecting them. Calling Ms. Pataki “a real asset,” he voiced the opinion that “we should be so fortunate” to have her in the post. He said that when her husband George Pataki was governor, she revived the “I Love New York” promotional campaign and has recently been involved in activities for the Putnam County bicentennial. He also said that in such instances “I don’t think you always have to advertise” a vacancy and go through the usual steps of soliciting resumes and winnowing applications. “If you find the right candidate, make the appointment and let’s get on with the business of the people of Putnam County,” Tamagna recommended.
Sounding a more skeptical note, Shea questioned whether the usual job-filling application and interview process would be conducted to find applicants, given “all the unemployed and highly-qualified people in the county.” If a done-deal had occurred and someone had already been quietly tapped, he said Monday (Feb. 13), then “I may be mistaken but this feels like a little bit of cronyism.”
A leader of the Cold Spring Antique Dealers Association, Cooke rued Hickman’s retirement. “For some 16 years, I have served on the PVB advisory board and for 18 years I have owned a business on Main Street,” he said. “I know firsthand the positive impact that Val Hickman as tourism director has had to the Cold Spring business community. She has a keen awareness about advertising and special events to bring visitors to Cold Spring. Val’s stepping down is not a good thing. Her shoes will be hard to fill.”
Alison Rooney contributed reporting to this article.