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New ORDA Board Chair Joe Martens talks about improvements at New York’s Olympic facilities

ORDA Board Chair Joe Martens
Olympic Regional Development Authority
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ORDA Board Chair Joe Martens

The Olympic Regional Development Authority – commonly known as ORDA – has a new Board Chair. Governor Kathy Hochul’s selection of Joe Martens was approved June 5th.

Martens has had a long career in the public and private sector. He was Commissioner of the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation from 2011 until 2015. In the private sector he has led the Open Space Institute and the New York Offshore Wind Alliance. Martens also previously served as chair of the ORDA Board from 2007 until 2011. In part one of their conversation, Martens tells WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley why he is returning to the ORDA board after 11 years.

I have always been, not only interested in ORDA, but strongly supportive of what they do and their mission. So the initiative was purely mine. I let the administration know that I was interested. It was not something that I lobbied for or sought. But I just let them know that, you know, if there were board positions opening up that I'd clearly be interested. I relatively recently retired to Lake Placid. So I had both the time and I'd be right here living in the community. I was contacted by the administration and, lo and behold, they did submit my name to the Senate and the Senate confirmed me. So it all fell into place without much fanfare and it was great. I'm just delighted to be back. As I said this is an exciting time for ORDA. And I think, you know, they've always done a really remarkable job in maintaining facilities that were built largely for the two Olympics that were held in Lake Placid. And, you know, now they've got the University Games coming up in 2023 (FISU World University Games). And the state has invested millions and millions of dollars upgrading the facilities and I think now we have some of the best facilities literally in the world. And we're going to see a lot of activity here, not just in the next year, but for years to come.

You last served as ORDA board chair from 2007 to 2011. So it's been just over a decade since you were in that seat before and I was curious your perspective to how ORDA and the facilities have changed in that decade?

There's been a tremendous investment in the decade since I was last chair of ORDA. And most recently, in the last several years, I think it's probably well beyond $100 million that has been invested in the capital facilities. I mean virtually every one of the venues has had a significant investment, the speed skating oval, the complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg. And when I visited them when we moved back up to the Adirondacks, I was just stunned and amazed at all the improvements that have been made. They look remarkable. And as I said, I think they're going to attract, they have attracted, international attention. I think the ski jumping facilities are ranked among the best if not the best in the world. So we're going to attract a lot of events. And the improvements haven't been just for competitive sports. There's been a lot of improvements that are going to be, you know, that are available to the public at large. Improvements at the ski centers, from Belleayre to Whiteface, and improvements at the cross country facilities. So this is going to benefit everyone, the public at large and the competitive athletic world.

Joe Martens, as you work with the board obviously you have to come to consensus. But do you have any specific goals for ORDA that you want to try to convince the board to move forward with?

In the short term the focus is on the World University Games which appear in January of 2023. And you know, that has to be the focus. So literally the world will be watching. We're going to have athletes from all over the world. We're going to have more athletes here during these games than were here during the 1980 Olympics. It's just a huge event. And again with all of the improvements that have been made it the facilities, we of course expect to provide just an extraordinary positive experience for both the spectators and the athletes themselves. So that's clearly the short term focus. And longer term we will be focused on continuing to attract future events, provide an exceptional experience for the public that will again come from literally all over the world to visit the Olympic region here in Lake Placid and also at the ski centers in North Creek and at Belleayre in the Catskills. You know, our facilities are fairly geographically widespread and it's just a huge task to keep them up, to keep them exciting, to make investments over time that are going to continue to attract visitors to the venues. So, you know I'm sure that as I learn from other board members and from the staff what their vision is for the future I will form my own. But short term I think we have our work cut out for us to be ready for the Games next year.

In the second part of our conversation ORDA Board Chair Joe Martens will ponder the possibility of a third Winter Olympics in the region.

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