A proposed partnership between a county in New York State and Jamaica’s bobsled team would see county money used to create a headquarters for the Jamaica Bobsled Team as they practice sliding at the region’s Mount Van Hoevenberg in the winter of 2024., but legislators want more information before supporting it.
Supporters of the plan say it would bring international recognition to Franklin County the village of Saranac Lake and the town of Harrietstown. The local sports promotion organization, the North County Sports Council (NCSC), serving as a broker for the deal, is managing the partnership and holding the contract with the county. The sliding track on the mountain that would be used by the Jamaica bobsledders is located in Essex County, but the hotel is in Franklin County.
The deal and the pitch
The president of the Jamaica Bobsleigh Federation and brakeman of the team that debuted at the 1988 Winter Olympics, Nelson “Chris” Stokes, shared in October 2023 how much he wanted to make Lake Placid the headquarters of Jamaican bobsled. In a request presented to the legislators of Franklin County, the NCSC asked for the county tourism fund to provide $135,000 to pay for the athletes’ rooms during training. According to NCSC executive director, Matt Dougherty, the rooms were being offered at a major discount. A report from the director of the county’s Office of Economic Development and Tourism stated the amount would cover at least 900 nights of room stays at the Hotel Saranac. At that time, the legislators decided to delay any decision until they had met with stakeholders to ensure their support before taking any action.
Proposal put on ice for now
While the proposal had general support, Harrietstown Town Council Supervisor Jordanna Mallach said there were many details yet to be addressed. Council members agreed the partnership is a good idea, but expressed a need to more about it. Questions arose about how it would impact the town’s budget and wanted to make it clear they did not have the funds to put toward the plan themselves. Franklin County legislator Andrea Dumas also said she wanted to put money toward this, saying it was a “large ask” out of the county tourism dollars. Franklin County legislator representing the Saranac Lake area, Lindy Ellis, felt the focus should be on community benefits and marketing rather than rooms, noting that having an Olympic team training in the area would inspire young people to participate in athletics, while Harrietstown councilman Jeremy Evans called the proposal “an experiment” that required everyone to work on trust that things will work out. Consequently, on January 24, 2024, nearly three months after the proposal was made, the Franklin County legislators decided to put a hold on their decision to move forward on the proposal and referred the matter to the Tourism Advisory Committee at this time.
Team training to begin soon
Jamaica’s bobsledders are already in and out of the area for training as bobsled season has begun. The team, which rocketed to fame with the film, “Cool Runnings,” in 1993, which was loosely based on the experiences of Jamaica’s first Olympic bobsled team, is a favorite with fans. While the dominant bobsled teams represent other countries like the United States and Germany, everyone in the world knows about Jamaica’s team. Jamaica stopped competing regularly at the Olympics in 1998 but made a comeback at the 2022 staging of the Games. According to Stokes, there is a “sort of renaissance” of bobsled in Jamaica, and he has been involved in a recruiting program called “Back to the Well” that scouts for prospective athletes in island communities.