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KINGSTON, NY-New York State, New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, a host of environmental groups and the developer of the controversial Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park project have reached a compromise that could be the catalyst for the development of the $400-million project.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer at a press conference here on Tuesday reported the agreement in principle between the parties that calls for the state to eventually pay a total of $14 million for more than 1,294 acres of land from Crossroads Ventures LLC, the developer of the Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park project. The land buy, negotiated by the Trust for Public Land, will involve 1,216.5 acres on the eastern side of the state’s Belleayre Mountain Ski Center and 78 acres on the western side, which includes the majority of the former Highmount Ski Center. A majority of the land will be earmarked for open space. The former Highmount Ski Center property will be incorporated into the existing Belleayre Mountain Ski Center. The Trust for Public Land has a contract to acquire the land, which will later be purchased by New York State. In addition, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection will be purchasing a 203-acre conservation easement on the western portion of the site from Crossroads Ventures.

While the project still has some regulatory hurdles to clear, the compromise is a positive step in what has been a nearly eight-year battle to get the Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park project approved. The project’s initial plan has been scaled back and now calls for the development of two hotels, 259 lodging units, a conference center, spa and a golf course. With the land sale, the total project site has been downsized from 1,960 acres to 663 acres.

The development was originally proposed to be built on the eastern and western sides of the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center. The scaled-down proposal now calls for development on the western side only that straddles the Ulster/Delaware county line. The project, which had originally called for two 18-hole golf courses, now includes one 18-hole course, to be built adjacent to its planned 250-room Wildacres Hotel and conference center. Also part of the project during its first five years is a five-star 120-room Highmount Spa Resort and two lodge complexes of 30 units each. Crossroads also plans to build another development of 60 detached lodges sometime in the future. The developer plans to seek LEED silver designation for the design and construction of the hotel/conference center component of the project.

“This project will simultaneously revitalize the region’s economy by creating hundreds of new jobs and protect the environment through green buildings, watershed protection and land preservation,” Spitzer said. “I thank all the parties who came to the table and accomplished great things for the Catskills. Their hard work illustrates that environmental protection and sustainable economic development can go hand-in-hand.”

Dean Gitter, principal of Crossroads Ventures, said negotiations to work out an agreement with the state and interested environmental groups began in January. With the agreement in principle in place, he says, “We are prepared at long last to proceed on a development we believe will be an anchor to economic development in the region for years to come, and will enhance and protect the magnificent environmental surroundings that have drawn visitors for over a century.”

He said his firm plans to submit a modified development plan in the form of a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to the NYSDEC. If the project secures all its necessary approvals, Gitter estimated ground can be broken on the two hotels by the end of 2008. The hotels will be open for the 2010-2011 skiing season. The golf course would be finished shortly thereafter. The project is expected to create 450 full-time permanent jobs, 150 part-time positions and 1,800 construction jobs over an estimated eight-year construction period. When built out, the venture is expected to generate annual property tax revenue of more than $2 million to the Town of Shandaken and Town of Middletown, local school districts and Ulster and Delaware counties. Annual sales tax revenue to the state and Ulster and Delaware counties is expected to be more than $2 million.

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