Thomas Dimopoulos

Thomas Dimopoulos

City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
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SARATOGA SPRINGS – A scatter of workers amble through the vintage chambers of Universal Preservation Hall, exploring the possibilities. Design plans sprawl across tabletops beneath stained-glass windows and free-standing easels boast colorful images of what will be. Soon, the heavy lifting will begin.

When the $8.7 million restoration of UPH is complete, in late 2019, the 19th century building will provide Saratoga Springs with something it has sorely been missing: a mid-range capacity venue with state-of-the-art sound, open year-round and expected to stage more than 200 events.

“It’s going to be a huge performance venue,” says Teddy Foster, whose association with UPH goes back more than a decade - from board member to president to its current campaign director.

“We’re going to be a huge music room, that’s how it’s being designed. We anticipate doing some Broadway cabaret and some live theater; we will be a place of collaboration for SPAC, for Caffe Lena, for people from the community, you name it,” Foster says, standing in the middle of a vacant 20-foot by 24-foot space on the main floor where the staging area for the 700-seat theater-in-the round venue will be constructed.

Tiered seating will be installed at the far end of the main hall – where the current stage sits – and at the opposite end, the balcony will be extended and fitted with seats that descend to the main floor. It will be handicap accessible with an elevator that navigates between floors, and a glass atrium will serve as the new entry way, off Washington Street, in “a super cool alleyway inviting people to come in,” Foster explains.

Event booking will be handled by Proctors, with whom UPH struck an alliance in 2012, and whose event management has included staging everything from major Broadway shows and cutting-edge film festivals to snagging pop music acts on national tours. Proctors’ stated mission: To be a catalyst - through arts and community leadership - for excellence in education, sustainable economic development and rich civic engagement to enhance the quality of life in the greater Capital Region.

Approximately 100 local jobs will be employed during the construction phase, which begins in earnest sometime between May and July. After the $8.7 million project is completed – expected to be in late 2019 - and the venue re-opens for business, it is anticipated UPH will bring approximately 65,000 visitors to the Spa City each year. “We will fill the hotel rooms and the restaurants during the off-the shoulder season,” Foster says. UPH also plans to hire six full-time employees and a number more on a part-time basis.

Earlier this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the venue will be awarded $750,000 to help redevelop the hall into a performing arts center. UPH represents Saratoga Springs’ sole recipient of the Restore New York Communities Initiative – which awards funding for projects that will reinvigorate downtowns and generate new economic opportunity in communities.  

The Washington Street venue, which is a non-profit community performing arts center, is also entering into an energized public fundraising phase. The goal is to raise $5.5 million. “We’ve raised most of it,” Foster says. There is just under $1 million to go to reach that goal.

“I’m a huge music lover and I would love to see music of all kinds in that room,” says Foster. “You know this was built as a place where people could come together for all different kinds of things. That’s how we’ve kept it alive all these years. And that’s really what I want to have here: a place that all Saratogians can experience.“  



SARATOGA SPRINGS - Bids received from the city’s request for proposals from potential parking management partners will be unsealed and publicly read 2 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.

The city issued an RFP seeking the services of a professional parking consultant/management team to study, design and implement a Smart parking system in downtown Saratoga Springs. The stated goal, according to the proposal, is “to net the maximum financial benefit to the city balanced with downtown business vitality and efficient traffic management.”

Subsequent to selecting a winning bidder, the city is anticipated to host an organizational kick-off meeting on May 8.

The city currently owns and manages eight lots with approximately 1,288 “off-street” parking spaces, according to the Parking Task Force parking space inventory. There are an additional 1,302 public “on-street” parking spaces.

City owned and managed:

Public on-street parking: 1,302. Public off-street parking: 1,288 as follows:

  • Woodlawn 3-level deck parking - 384
  • Putnam St 2-level deck parking - 185
  • Walton (Church St.) 2-level deck parking- 222
  • High Rock upper & lower surface & Lake Ave. lot parking: 278
  • Spring St surface lot parking - 98
  • Henry St surface lot parking - 19
  • Woodlawn surface lot parking – 60
  • Collamer surface lot – 30

Additionally, non-city-owned and managed spots include: 83 spaces at the Saratoga Springs Public Library, and 2,552 spaces defined as “private off-street parking.”

BALLSTON SPA - A 19-year-old man incarcerated on a rape and robbery charge has been accused of conspiring from his Saratoga County Jail cell to murder a potential witness in the case against him.

According to police, 19-year-old Kyle Shultz, of Hudson Falls, was charged in May 2017 with first degree rape and second degree robbery, in connection with an incident that allegedly occurred in the town of Moreau. He has been incarcerated in County Jail since that time.

A statement released by the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office reads as follows:

The Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office received information that an inmate in the Saratoga County Jail was communicating with another to commit a murder. An investigation was conducted which led to the arrest of Shultz on the charge of Conspiracy in the Second-Degree. Shultz is accused of taking steps to plan the murder of a person familiar to him who could be called as a witness in the case pending against him in Saratoga County Court.

The pending case stems from an arrest May 16, 2017 where Shultz was charged with Rape in the First Degree and Robbery in the Second Degree as the result of a Sheriff’s Office investigation into the rape and robbery of a female in the Town of Moreau that occurred earlier that day.

Shultz was arraigned by Judge Timothy Brown in Milton Town Court. Judge Brown remanded Shultz back to the county jail. No further arrests are expected in this case.

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Health, history, horses. And The Arts.

With the awarding of a $14,000 economic development grant this week, the city took the first step to promote Saratoga Springs as a worldwide destination for arts and culture. Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan calls it “having some skin in the game.” And that game has proven to bring in a notable return on the investment in other communities.

“Saratoga Springs is a fabulous brand. We’re over 100 years old and so is ‘health, history and horses.’ These are strong brands that you don’t want to get away from, but we need to add to it with arts and culture,” Madigan says.  

The funds will support the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in the hiring of a public relations firm to promote the city as a thriving arts community to journalists and media beyond the Capital Region. The goal is to showcase all of Saratoga as a cultural hot-spot and entice visitors to journey to the region.

“Cultural tourism – the cultural tourist spends 60 percent more when they go someplace than the average leisure tourist does. Sixty percent more. We want culture to be an economic driver here the same way the track is, and there’s no reason why it can’t be that, and a lot more,” says Elizabeth Sobol, president and CEO of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

“I know there are many, many people out there looking for a place like Saratoga as their summer or winter destination who would just be up here all the time, if they just knew what was here,” Sobol says. “This is one of the most incredible places in the world for someone who cares about the arts and literature and green space. I go back to the perfect confluence of nature and art, man-made beauty and natural beauty, there’s nothing like this in all of North America. “

From Caffe Lena to SPAC, the Tang Museum, Yaddo, the future home of the Universal Preservation Hall and other amenities, the community has much to offer, Sobol says. “All this art just one beautiful trip up the Hudson River from Manhattan. That’s a big selling point to New Yorkers who want to get out of town.”

Commissioner Madigan says she sees the awarding of the funds as one piece of a larger plan. “When you think Saratoga Springs, what do most people think of? They think horses. And that’s great, but we also really want to attract the cultural tourist by putting the arts and culture focus on that same level as horses,” Madigan says. “Right now. I see this as first step. I have a bigger vision where we start getting stakeholders and key members of the community in a room to talk about who we are as a region, to start coming together as a whole as an arts and culture community and to market ourselves that way, to add to the health, history and horses brand. The Berkshires know who they are. Tanglewood is well marketed as a global venue. From a global, international tourist destination, we don’t really know who we are when it comes to arts and culture.”

Recently, the local arts took a hit with the announcement of the cancellation of the annual Hats Off and Final Stretch music festivals. And promoting the arts in Saratoga Springs is not always an easy thing.

Saratoga Springs resident Robert Millis first launched the American Music Festival in Lake George in September 2014. Facilitated through his 398 Group – which stresses the arts as a driver of economic development and community building – the idea was to bring thousands of people into the community and extend the tourist season. Lake George is located in Warren County and financial support for the festival was provided via monies collected in the North Country for the tax on the rental of rooms. It proved to be a success.

This summer, the festival – which has featured performers such as Blue Öyster Cult, New Riders of the Purple Sage and Sawyer Fredericks in the past – returns for its two-day stint, and based on the success of the music-as-economic development initiative, the village and town of Lake George have contributed $45,000 in grant funding via the “bed tax” to Millis’ group.

“Their philosophy is bed tax funds events, which in turn feeds the bed tax,” Millis says. The village of Lake George is providing funding for a couple of events. “It’s a big boost,” said village Mayor Robert Blais. “It’s helped us to extend the season.”

Like other Warren County municipalities, the village of Lake George and the town of Lake George each receive $30,000 annually to promote special events in their communities with the idea of bringing in people that will spend money in local businesses and stay at local hotels, says Blais, who also serves as chairman of joint village and town occupancy tax committee. And the return on the investment has been strong. After the events take place, receipts and taxes received are then distributed back to the communities in addition to the $30,000 flat fee to promote a new cycle of events. In the village of Lake George that return was about $185,000, Blais said; the town of Lake George received approximately $240,000.

Millis’ attempts to create a two-day music-based festival in his Saratoga hometown has proven to be more difficult. The proposed event and conference would be designed to help boost tourism and build a music ecosystem to enhance the local scene. “I’ve been floating that idea in Saratoga a for over a year, but nobody has jumped on board with me,” Millis says.

“Our (bed tax) money has already been sliced and diced and it happened long before I got here, but it’s an interesting concept,” Madigan says. “Our occupancy tax right now is split. We only get one percent. Two percent from occupancy tax goes to the City Center and two percent goes to convention and tourism. It goes directly to them. We get less than City Center and convention and tourism. The city gets $600,000, they’re getting $1.2 million each. So, I’m trying to get them on board with helping with the arts. Look, the city’s got some skin in the game so let’s get the chamber and convention and tourism also involved.

“To me, the arts is a huge part of economic development,” Madigan explained. “It’s untapped. This I think is economic development, under the guise of arts and culture. This is a first step. I look forward to coming forward with additional recommendations to support economic development and arts and culture as an aspect of that. “

Friday, 23 March 2018 13:22

Ringo at SPAC in September

Paris, France. Hamburg, Germany. Barcelona, Spain. Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Ringo Starr and his All-Star Band embark on a four-month international tour in early June that will stage a show at Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Sept. 14.

The revamped All-Star Band includes Colin Hay - of Men at Work, Graham Gouldman – of 10cc, one-time Toto guitarist Steve Lukather, Santana/Journey keyboardist Gregg Rollie, drummer Gregg Bissonette and sax/flute/percussionist Warren Ham.

BALLSTON SPA – Sheriff Michael Zurlo on Monday announced what he called “the largest seizure of illegal narcotics that I have ever seen in Saratoga County.”

The six-month investigation resulted in the execution of seven warrants on March 4 during which six people were arrested. Authorities seized 18 long guns, two pistols, 2.5 kilos of cocaine – with a street value of $250,000 according to Zurlo, 20 pounds of packaged marijuana – with a street value of $40,000, five vehicles and more than $264,000 cash.

In September 2017 the Sheriff’s office initiated an undercover investigation during which they infiltrated the suspected drug ring.

“The seizure has made a major dent in drug trafficking that occurs in Saratoga County,” Zurlo said Monday, thanking local, state, and federal authorities involved in the case.


Dennis E. Jones, 64, Schuylerville. Charges: criminal possession of a controlled substance, and criminal possession of marijuana - both felonies, and two misdemeanor counts criminal possession of a weapon. Jones is suspected to be a large cocaine distributor operating for many years within Saratoga County, according to the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department. Jones was allegedly found to be in possession of multiple firearms, 1.5 Kilos of cocaine and approximately 20 pounds of marijuana. He was sent to the Saratoga County Jail on no bail.  

Kent D. Daniels, 54, Gansevoort. Charges: Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance, a felony, and criminal possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor. Daniels was suspected to be distributing cocaine and marijuana throughout the county. He was sent to Saratoga County Jail on no bail.

Cleveland A. Francis, 44, Mount Vernon. Charge: criminal possession of a controlled substance, a felony. Francis is believed to have been distributing cocaine throughout the county. He was sent to Saratoga County Jail on no bail.

Ahbdul Maldonado, 46, Albany. Charges: criminal possession of a controlled substance, criminal possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell – both felonies, and criminal possession of marijuana – a misdemeanor.

Debra Comorski, 53, Schuylerville. Charges: criminal possession of a weapon, unlawful possession of marijuana. Comorski was allegedly found to be in possession of two long guns and a small quantity of marijuana. She was released on appearance tickets and will answer the charges in the Saratoga Town Court at a later date.  

Robert R. Wilder, 52, Gansevoort. Charge: unlawful possession of marijuana, a violation. Wilder was released on an appearance ticket returnable in Moreau Town Court.  

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Trinity Irish Dance Company will bring its percussive movements and innovative choreography to Saratoga for its first-ever appearance at Saratoga Performing Arts Center on July 30

Founded in 1990, Trinity Irish Dance Company was the birthplace of progressive Irish dance, which opened new avenues of artistic expression leading directly to commercial productions such as Riverdance.

SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol said, in a statement, the company’s aerial grace and awe-inspiring precision sets up for a performance “unlike anything that’s ever been seen on the SPAC stage.”

A high-energy, professionally choreographed performance by 80 local children participating in The Performance Project: Youth in Motion, will immediately precede the Trinity Irish Dance Company’s act, at 7:15 p.m.

Tickets for the amphitheater-only performance are $27, $37 and $57, and go on sale to the public via at 10 a.m. on Monday, March 26.

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Margaret MacKenzie attended church services alongside her family in Sutherland Springs, Texas the first Sunday of November last, when a gunman opened fire on the congregation.

The Saratoga Springs woman, who was in Texas visiting with relatives, promptly threw her body over her pre-teen niece and nephew.

“This was especially amazing given that Margie was born with cerebral palsy and needs a cane to walk,” says MacKenzie’s friend, Mary Monigan. The fate of another of MacKenzie’s nieces, however, ended tragically. Tara McNulty, 33, was among the 26 people killed in the attack in the mass shooting. MacKenzie was shot in the leg.

“Margie is a modest, unassuming person. She doesn’t think of what she did as anything (special), but she had tremendous presence of mind,” Monigan says. “She threw her body over those kids. The full story, honestly, took months to come out. It came in drips and drabs. She went through phases of depression and anger and survivor’s guilt, but she is getting stronger every day.”

MacKenzie, who lives in Saratoga Springs, grew up in Greenfield Center a hockey fan.

“I am a big New York Rangers fan,” she says, adding that Rangers’ forward Mats Zuccarello is her favorite player.

“When I was 16, the (Adirondack) Red Wings played up in Glens Falls. My dad was the goal judge and sat behind the glass and would push the button when there was a goal,” MacKenzie explains.  “He started taking me to the games with him, that’s where my love of hockey started.”

She became a hockey fan in the 1980s and has been following the Rangers since, although she has never had the opportunity to watch the team play in person in their New York City home rink. Enter Monigan. 

“I wanted to honor her, so we’re doing something to honor Margie - and her love of the New York Rangers,” says Monigan, who initiated A Go Fund Me page in the hope of raising $1,000 to purchase tickets for MacKenzie to see the Rangers play at Madison Square Garden and enjoy a dinner and an overnight stay in New York City.

“I just want to give this woman a break. She’s got a heart of gold, a real solid person, and she’s not the type of person to talk about herself, or to be in the limelight. It’s taken all this time until she felt safe enough to even consider making a trip to New York,” Monigan says. “I know of her love of hockey and she’s crazy for the Rangers. This would just mean the world to her.”

To visit the Go Fund Me page, see:

Who: “Joe Fegan” aka Jeff Durstewitz

- Where are you originally from?

I’m from Merrick, Long Island, where I became friends with a couple of guys named Ben and Jerry.

- The Ben & Jerry?

Yes. They’re old friends and we still get together. I brought Ben & Jerry’s to town here in 1983. I’m the original franchisee. Saratoga was the first one in New York State.

- How did that come about?

I was a copy editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer when I quit my job to come up here and start an ice cream franchise. You know this was the first place where they originally planned on opening. Ben had (previously) worked at Mrs. London’s, which was then on Phila Street. Ben and Jerry liked it here a lot. In the summer of ’77 they planned to lease a building and zeroed in on a place on Broadway…it didn’t work out. After that, they felt: well, that’s it; we can’t open in Saratoga because we can’t get the location we want, so let’s open in our second choice, which was Burlington.

- Tell us about your book, “The Devil’s Room,” which you wrote under the name Joe Fegan.

That started when I got a phone call on St. Patrick’s Day in 1992 from Campbell Black. He wrote thrillers and was very successful at that point in his career. He wrote the novelization for “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” He was my writing teacher at Oswego State in ’71. We became close friends and he was always bugging me to write fiction.

Campbell bought this incredible palace, in Ireland. If you could imagine the set of a ghost movie, it was like that: haunted to the max. It must have had 20 rooms. There was this one little room on the second room that was blocked off from the inside and walled-in. They called it: The Devil’s Room. That inspired the idea. What if they took down the wall? What might happen?

So, I had fun with it. And it’s meant to be a comedy, not a horror show. It starts in Ireland, then it comes to a small upstate New York town that has an arts college and a horse track. Tony Markellis - who is not only a musician, but also an artist, did the cover.

- Where can people get the book?

At Celtic Treasures and Northshire Bookstore and online at

- How has Saratoga Springs changed since you first settled here?

I first came to Saratoga in the late 1970s. My parents bought a place in Schuylerville and I used to come visit them. I brought Ben & Jerry’s to town in 1983 and the next year the City Center was built. That was a change like night-and-day. This was the very beginning of Saratoga’s resurgence.

We’ve seen a tremendous amount of change here and I would say, in general, the changes are for the best. People who complain about the development should take a drive around. Upstate New York, in general, is a wasteland. Then you look around here and it’s a lot better than the alternative. It’s a very interesting town. Look at the history, the characters, the statues in the park – it’s incredible. How many little upstate places have anything like this?

SARATOGA SPRINGS – “Free To Rock,” a documentary film directed by four-time Emmy-winning filmmaker Jim Brown and narrated by Kiefer Sutherland, will be screened 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 21 at Skidmore College. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with executive producers Nick Binkley and Doug Yeager.

“I believe music is one of the most powerful change agents the world has ever known. It opens hearts and minds and plants dreams and imaginations,” says Binkley, who points out, among other things, a popular underground heavy metal scene in places like Cairo and Tehran, Islamabad, Damascus and Baghdad.

Ten years in the making, “Free To Rock” explores how American rock and roll contributed to the end of the Cold War.

What prompted the film? “The realization that the ‘soft power’ of American music and culture had a profound effect on the kids behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War,” Binkley explains. “I equate soft power and music and culture with freedom of speech. And freedom of speech is the lifeblood of truth.

“Hard power is military, it’s bombs in the air, it’s bodies in graves and it is destruction. Sometimes we need to use hard power in the military to thwart an imminent danger. Soft power opens hearts and minds, plants dreams and imaginations and is really the extension of the American set of values. That to me is what I hope people come away with,” Binkley says.

Perhaps most unusually, is Binkley’s background, which is in international affairs and banking. He’s a member of the Council on Foreign Relations who is just as easily capable of discussing The Plastic People of the Universe – a rock band born of the musical influence of the Velvet Underground, who inspired rebellion to helped transform the Communist rule of the Czechoslovakian landscape.

“I was a musician before I was a venture capitalist,” he says, with a laugh. “I played music in high school and college and abroad in the 1960s and I’ve been writing songs all my life.”

“Free To Rock” features presidents, diplomats, spies and rock stars from the West and the Soviet Union who reveal how rock and roll was a contributing factor in ending the Cold War. The film has been screened – along with an accompanying Q&A session – across the country as well as abroad.

“A lot of college kids were not aware that American music and western Pop Culture was prohibited by the central authorities in the former Soviet Union – that electric guitars were not allowed to be imported and that rock music was considered propaganda from an alien ideology,” Binkley says.

“The question we get often is whether rock and roll music is as relevant today as it was 25, 30, 40 years ago. What’s the answer? Come to the Q & A and you’ll find out.”

The screening and Q&A will take place at Davis Auditorium, Palamountain Hall, on the campus of Skidmore College and is open to the community.

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