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Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:03

New Visitor Center Aims to Recharge Local Economies

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SCHUYLERVILLE – The Historic Saratoga-Washington on the Hudson Partnership has received a $350,000 grant to create a visitor’s center located on the site of the former Saratoga Town Hall.  The partnership will couple that money with $191,000 in state funds received last month to create a new gateway visitors center, one that they’re hoping will help jump-start the local economy. The money was awarded as part of the $785 million Gov. Andrew Cuomo allotted to the state’s regional economic development councils back in December.

“This is one of the things that we’ve spoken about for years now, driving the economy up and down the river.  All of these small villages’ economies have been hit hard over the last 30 years,” said Tom Richardson, chairman of The Historic Saratoga-Washington on the Hudson Partnership. 

The center’s main goal will be to promote tourism, not just for Saratoga Battlefield, but for the surrounding towns and villages where lesser-known historic events took place. The partnership is made up of 15 municipalities located in Saratoga and Washington counties, many of which have their own historic landmarks that tourists may not otherwise get the chance to see. 

“Well it’s going to provide a home in which to house both people and exhibits promoting all of the culture and historical assets we have in the area here,” said, Saratoga Town Supervisor Thomas Wood.

“It will serve a location in which tourists can stop in and learn about all the attractions and opportunities that are available to them, and hopefully they will go visit these places and spend some money,” the supervisor continued. 

The partnership is committed to protecting the battlefield and making sure it remains as pristine as it did when the Battle of Saratoga took place back in 1777. The partnership also hopes to prevent some of the commercialization that has plagued other battlefields or
historic sites. 

“If you’ve ever been to Gettysburg, there’s a T-shirt stand on every corner, and that’s what we’re hoping to avoid,” said Richardson.

The site of the future visitor center holds historic ties to the American Revolution. The building sits on top of the actual location where General John Burgoyne’s British army surrendered to the United States in October 1777. The landmark is often referred to as the “Sword Surrender” site, as General Burgoyne physically surrendered his sword to American General Horatio Gates, which eventually led to the United States’ victory in the Revolutionary War.  A painting of the event hangs in the United States Capitol building rotunda. 

Despite the property’s historical significance, the existing structure comes with quite a few logistical problems. The building currently located there is in dire need of renovation. The foundation for the building has shifted, leaving questions about whether to knock it down, or lift the existing building up and excavate underneath to make sure the structure rests on solid footing.  The Town of Saratoga moved their offices from the location in September of 2008, citing the building’s continued deterioration and that is was simply not big enough to accommodate the town’s business any longer. 

Construction is expected to take a large chunk of the available funds for the project, but Supervisor Wood did not indicate a preference of the two options, and says he will wait until the engineers and architects determine which is more reasonable. 

“If it’s more economically efficient to demolish that building and start all over again, I’d be in favor of that, or if we can use that building in some way, I would support that as well,” said Wood.

Richardson feels the money they’ve raised so far will be sufficient, but is hopeful the partnership will receive more grant money for the project. The property will cost around $115,000, and from there the rest of the money will go to either the renovation of the building, or construction of a brand-new facility.

Once purchased, the deed to the land will actually be held by Friends of Saratoga Battlefield, a nonprofit organization that supports the historic site through programming, and fundraising

Between the Saratoga Battlefield and the Locks to Lakes passage, over a quarter million people will visit the area this year, and Richardson thinks it’s time tourists know more about what happened in these surrounding towns and
“What we’re trying to do is work together with these communities to protect the battlefield, but also to become an economic engine to help all these small communities make a comeback,” said Richardson. 

The partnership was formed in 2006, when then assemblyman Roy McDonald and current assemblyman Steven Englebright worked with former Senator Joe Bruno, to preserve, enhance and develop the historic, agricultural, scenic, natural and recreational resources and the significant waterways within the partnership region.

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