Power Player: Dave Kenny, Mr. Lake George

If you want to know what’s happening in Lake George, just ask Dave Kenny. One of the area’s most prominent real estate developers and hoteliers, he’s one of 12 kids
in an Irish-Catholic family from Montauk, NY—quite the difference both geographically and in mindset from the verdant hills and isolated, lakeshore life of his adopted Upstate hometown.

After working on fishing boats throughout his youth, Kenny worked for several years as a pipe fitter before moving Upstate and starting what would become the family’s hospitality empire with the purchase, in 1978, of the 22-room Highway Host Motel. Kenny would come to develop numerous properties in the area—including hotels, shopping outlets, a family entertainment complex, the picturesque Sun Castle Resort and, most recently, the 119-room, $25 million Marriott Courtyard in the heart of Downtown Lake George, which threw open its doors last year. (Today, Kenny and his siblings operate some 800 hotel rooms in Lake George.)

saratoga living sat down with Kenny to talk history, hospitality and what’s sure to be another hot season at Upstate New York’s other big vacation destination.

Lake George, Reimagined
“There’s a push for Lake George to reinvent itself. It’s always been among the No. 1 summer resorts in the country, but now it’s trying to become a more year-round destination—and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be. We’re still a place that has a lot of T-shirt shops and pizza places—like Coney Island—but that has to change.”

Playing The Long Game
“Everything I’ve done—from the outlets to Sun Castle, where we’re booked with weddings every weekend—has been to create year-round attractions. We want to keep giving people a reason to come—and we want to keep people employed. Seventy percent of my employees are year-round. I’d like to see my children and grandchildren have the opportunity to grow up in Upstate New York, get jobs and stay here, rather than see all our talent exported.”

Staying Competitive
“A lot of the locals are afraid of change. Going back many years, Lake George was where all the horsemen who came through Saratoga stayed. It used to be that Saratoga Springs was run-down, and Lake George was the destination. We want to attract younger customers. We’d like to have a convention center—and we may get one. Lake George is only an hour from Albany, and it’s such a beautiful area.”

Hospitality’s Changing Tides
“Online reservations, third-party sites and low interest rates have led to all these hotels being built up and down the interstate. What hasn’t changed is that, when you go on vacation, you want to feel important. It’s the little things; someone saying, ‘Hello!’ and ‘Good morning!’ Probably 80 percent of our business is repeat business. You don’t want a customer to leave your property, for any reason, in the wrong state of mind. It’s pretty easy to be nice to people.”

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