SARATOGA SPRINGS – Parking spaces make for sacred places during the Spa City’s heaviest trafficked times, inspiring motorists to navigate a busy Broadway seeking a free spot of convenience to temporarily stash their vehicle.
The Collamer lot, as it is often referred to, stands just north of City Hall and for several decades has hidden amid the camouflage of plain sight, a welcome respite for wheeled roadsters yearning for rapid runs to any one of the many fine sidewalk coffeehouses lining main street or aid in the undertaking of some quick storefront shopping, alike.
With quiet suddenness one recent morning, the lot, long unbothered save for a two-hour parking limitation, was discovered in an altered state festooned with a proliferation of tall metal poles upon which were posted signs warning all who enter: Private Parking. All Others Will Be Towed. Of course, the new, mammoth city parking structure welcoming motorists stands a mere few dozen yards away. But, still.
So, what gives?
As it turns out, the city of Saratoga Springs, which owned the lot, sold it about 16 months ago to Algonquin LLC for approximately $1.2 million.
“They finally, I am told, exercised their control over it,” said Saratoga Springs City Attorney Tony Izzo, when asked about it. “It was a situation where they needed to do that, because the public was essentially still viewing it as a public parking lot. Now that they’ve put the signs up, it should be very clear to the public that it’s a private parking lot.”
Izzo said there were some discussions with the owner’s attorneys regarding whether or not the city might subsequently lease a part of the lot, but that did not happen. “The city wanted to sell it and be done with it.”
The space had once sited the Pavilion Hotel – built in 1819 and felled by a fire in the 1840s. In 1857, the First Presbyterian Church was built atop the lot at a cost of $3,000 and supplemented with an organ to provide the public “the pleasure of hearing its tone and power,” according to published reports of the time.
The church stood for 119 years, itself destroyed by a fire of suspicious origin in the pre-dawn hours of the last Thursday of January 1976. Flames from the blaze shot up as high as 200 feet according to eyewitnesses and was first discovered by then-23-year-old Saratoga Springs patrolman Frank Max. Max, now 70 years of age and still living locally, said when contacted for this article last week, that he vaguely remembers seeing smoke coming from the building while he was walking his beat. As a result of the fire, three policemen and a firefighter were injured and 60 residents of the adjacent Algonquin apartment house and the Collamer building were evacuated from the safety of their abodes.
Nearly a decade ago, the parcel was to be coupled with a land sale in an acquisition that sought to develop an east side fire station. And in 2008, the city contemplated various proposals from three different development groups that included the sale of the so-called Collamer and High Rock lots in exchange for a new public safety facility, a parking garage, retail/residential buildings and potentially a city-wide paid parking system. None of the proposals ultimately came to fruition.
A plaque fixed to a stone outside the building told the history of the church, although that plaque has gone missing and today only a naked stone remains.
More changes are planned for the lot in the future. A site plan filed with the city of Saratoga Springs last September calls for a proposed mixed-use project to include approximately 4,000 sq. ft. commercial space and 112 residential units on the upper floors. The proposed project is titled Algonquin Properties Re-Development. The applicant is The Algonquin, LLC, of Monsey, N.Y.
There are also plans for a portion of the parking area of the lot itself.
“We’ve rented a number of the spaces to a number of people in the Collamer (building) and at City Hall,” says Will Borchers, manager at the Algonquin. “In a couple of weeks, we’re also going to implement a paid parking system - by the hour, or by the day.” That system will be using an app and a QR code and will feature somewhere around three dozen spaces.