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Friday, 20 March 2015 10:59

Making the Case

By | News

Saratoga National Proposes ‘Destination Resort’

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Saratoga National Golf Club is proposing to expand its facilities over 15 additional acres on its property. This would provide additional amenities that would make it a year-round destination resort. They made their case for the expansion, supplemented with supporting data from business and civic leaders, at a panel presentation on Monday, Mar. 16 at the Gideon Putnam Hotel. 


However, in order for this plan to proceed through the city’s land use review boards, the City Council will have to approve a motion in the Saratoga Springs Comprehensive Plan for a zoning change: Making an “Open Space Resort Overlay” exemption at the site, as it is inside the city’s Conservation Development District, or Greenbelt area where this is currently prohibited. 


The plan, as detailed by Tom Newkirk, CEO of Saratoga National, represented what he called a “once in a lifetime opportunity” would add several new facilities, including: 


  • -A hotel with up to 100 new lodging rooms with related amenities
  • -A Spa and Fitness/Wellness center with expanded locker facilities
  • -Up to four golf cottage units for group overnight accommodations
  • -Up to 100 residential condominium units
  • -Connection to the Greenbelt Trail system and other nature trails
  • -Year-round amenities to attract destination tourism, such as winter sports and kayaking


Additionally, the plan calls for enhancements to existing facilities, such as Prime restaurant. 


In return for the ability to develop the additional 15 acres, Saratoga National proposed to put the remainder of its property, a total of 378 acres, or about 93 percent of their property (including the existing golf course) into a Conservation Easement Agreement that will prevent any future development or change to the current open space unless approved by both the city council and a (to be) designated environmental group.


Newkirk noted that 80 percent of his customers and revenues come from outside Saratoga Springs and that Saratoga National was not seeking any tax breaks. Their presentation listed the following estimate of potential benefits arising out of getting the Resort Overlay approved:


• Create an additional $10 million of economic impact within the City of Saratoga Springs

• Generate an additional $2.5 million in annual tax revenue

• Create an additional 260 jobs and payroll of $2.8+ million


Each member of the panel offered a range of perspectives that made a case as to why they felt this project deserved support.


Michael J. Toohey, Esq. brought up the ironic point that under current zoning, Saratoga National is permitted to build 50 to 73 houses on the property, which would obviously have a more intrusive visual and sprawl impact than what Saratoga National was proposing. This was not an option being considered at this time, Toohey noted, and the proposed development would be set back a minimum of 3000 feet from Union Avenue. 


Michael Phinney, president of Phinney Design Group, detailed the proposed phases in which the project would be rolled out. He also detailed how resorts in outlying areas of cities successfully interfaced with historic downtowns, citing Lenox, MA as an example. He emphasized the sustainable design of this project, with significant wetland remediation at its core. 


The need for a destination resort in Saratoga Springs to be competitive was emphasized by Todd Garofano, president of the Saratoga Convention & Tourism Bureau. He noted that in 2014, Saratoga Springs lost 20 group opportunities to neighboring destinations (such as the Sagamore in Lake George or Equinox in Manchester, Vermont) that were looking for a luxury golf/spa resort location. This resulted in the loss of 13,000 room nights and over $7 million in economic impact. 


Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, noted that both the primary and secondary target audiences that they have identified for external marketing have prime interests in the exact amenities the proposed destination resort would provide or enhance: Sports and cultural attractions including bicycling and resort golf opportunities. 


Jeff Olson, a principal at Alta Planning and Design, spoke about Saratoga National’s investment in a key link of the 24 mile Greenbelt trail system on it’s property and the benefits to all residents. Once completed, the Greenbelt trail system will place Saratoga Springs “at the hub of a county-wide trail system” that will yield health and mobility benefits for all residents in addition to economic ones. He concluded by asking if someone were proposing a major community asset, such as SPAC or Skidmore College today “would they be allowed to build it?”


And that is the ultimate question: will the City Council approve a zoning amendment that allows this project to even be considered? Right now, it’s a plan with admittedly widespread support from several sectors. But without a pathway to proceed, it stays on the drawing board. 


The public comments from the audience were mostly supportive of the project, with minor concerns expressed. For instance, Pat Izzo, a resident of Piping Rock Circle, was not opposed to the project, but felt that the traffic impact on the intersections of nearby Gilbert Road with Union and Lake Avenues should be addressed. 

But significant public comment against the concept of any encroachment in the Greenbelt led the City Council to unanimously approve a resolution prohibiting any Planned Unit Developments (PUD) in the Conservation Development District on Dec. 2, 2014. Whether they will consider a Resort Overlay proposal remains to be seen. 


A leading organization in opposition to any Greenbelt development is Sustainable Saratoga. Their representatives were invited to participate in Monday’s forum, but declined to attend. In a release, Harry Moran, chair of Sustainable Saratoga characterized the meeting as  “…a marketing event to launch a specific development project which is exactly the opposite of the comprehensive perspective we find appropriate for this level of planning.” Several members of Monday’s panel expressed regret that Sustainable Saratoga declined to participate, noting that they were seeking a balanced, open discussion on the topic. 



However, there is no doubt that the discussion is far from over, and ultimately this subject may do as much to define the character and direction of the current City Council as the casino issue. 


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