Legislators question emphasis on golf course, farm
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
The Putnam County Legislature’s Rules Committee voted on Aug. 13 to add the county’s new Tourism Department to the county charter and send the measure to the full Legislature, final steps in establishing the agency.
But two legislators, Nancy Montgomery (D-Philipstown) and Amy Sayegh (R-Mahopac), questioned a provision directing the department to promote events at county-owned sites such as Tilly Foster Farm and Tilly’s Table; Veteran’s Memorial Park; and the Putnam County Golf Course. The provision also named Boscobel, in Garrison.
“If you’re going to name one, you should name all tourist attractions,” Montgomery said, while Sayegh cautioned against implying that the Tourism Department should exclusively promote county-owned facilities.
Audience members, too, questioned the wording. “It’s important that you leave this with a broad base,” said Lynne Eckardt, who is on the Southeast Town Board but said she was speaking as a resident. She recommended that references to specific sites be deleted.
But Neal Sullivan (R-Carmel/Mahopac), who chairs the committee, and Jennifer Bumgarner, the county attorney, said County Executive MaryEllen Odell wants county-owned sites emphasized because she feels they were overlooked by the previous tourism agency, the Putnam County Visitors’ Bureau.
“We’re just highlighting key items,” not diluting the message about other visitor draws, Sullivan said. “We’re going to leave that language in there.”
Odell named Tracey Walsh as the Tourism Department director on Aug. 7, a day after the Legislature approved funding. The move followed the dissolution of the Visitors’ Bureau, with which Legislators had expressed dissatisfaction.
Walsh, a Carmel High School and Syracuse University graduate, spent the past nine years at the American Cancer Society, most recently as senior community development manager.
The county received about 20 applications for the position, according to Bumgarner. The committee that selected four finalists for Odell’s review consisted of Legislator Ginny Nacerino (R-Patterson), Putnam County Finance Commissioner Bill Carlin Jr., Deputy Commissioner of Highways and Facilities John Tully, and Putnam County Golf Course General Manager Mike McCall.
Tourism generates $63 million annually in spending in Putnam County, according to the most recent data compiled for New York State by a consulting firm.
The draft amendment sent to the full Legislature instructs the Tourism Department to work closely with the Putnam County Economic Development Corp. (PCEDC), which, like the former Visitors’ Bureau, is a nonprofit that depends on county funds and uses county office space. Its mission is to promote Putnam to businesses to add jobs and broaden the tax base.
Kathleen Abels, a Southeast resident and former manager of community outreach and development at New York State Electric and Gas Corp., was named director of the PCEDC last month, succeeding Jill Varricchio, who left in December.
Abels spoke to the Legislature’s Economic Development Committee on Aug. 13 about her plans, which include repurposing buildings “with an eye toward historic preservation”; encouraging the re-occupation of vacant structures; attracting firms in the life sciences, information technology, film and television, and other professions; and aligning the interests of the various players. “If we’re all rowing in different directions, the boat just goes around in a circle,” Abels said.
She pledged to concentrate her efforts on supporting infrastructure, such as two sewer projects pending in Mahopac and Brewster and a distillery in Carmel that, she said, Odell considers priorities. In addition, she cited the need to support projects that reflect innovation and entrepreneurial initiative.
Abels said her immediate agenda also includes meeting with town supervisors and other elected officials. Responding to a question from a member of the public, she said she would suggest to the PCEDC’s board that its meetings be opened to the public.