City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
SARATOGA SPRINGS — With the swift shearing of a green ceremonial ribbon, the long awaited City Center parking facility – and the 600-plus parking spaces it brings to downtown Saratoga Springs – was unveiled this week and announced itself open for business.
Through the end of this calendar year, the first four hours of parking is free of charge. Parking rates for 2021 will be free for the first hour of parking, and $1 per hour after that first free hour, with a $15 cap charge in the 12 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. period.
The $16 million multi-floor structure features secure covered parking for over 620 vehicles, four electric car charging stations, two green spaces, a pair of elevators and an open, flat, roof top area that can be used for parking and for convention related events.
A glass-enclosed pedestrian walkway extends over Maple Avenue, connecting the parking structure with the City Center complex.
The structure was unveiled Nov. 10 during a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by regional business and economic leaders and city officials. Saratoga Springs Mayor Meg Kelly city councilmember Anthony “Skip” Scirocco addressed the crowd.
“It is so exciting to bring this needed project to fruition, and to be part of the City Center’s continued growth, but the credit for this project also belongs to many current and former city council members, City Center Authority members, City Center employees, and members of the business community,” said Ryan McMahon, executive director of the Saratoga Springs City Center.
The City Center, located at the north end of Broadway, opened in 1984 and has served as host to corporations, New York State Associations, trade groups and northeast regional organizations, gate shows, fundraising galas and social events. The conference complex offers a total of 58,000 square feet of conference space when partnered with the adjoining 242 room Saratoga Hilton Hotel.
The development of an adjoining parking structure has been debated, often vehemently, for more than a decade and the project has undergone a multitude of suggested variations.
Community concerns targeted the facility’s size, its design, and its location atop prime city-owned land. Conversely, a large contingent of business owners have long advocated for its creation, reasoning that the additional parking spaces would increase the economic vitality for downtown retail shops and restaurant. And City Center officials have discussed the need of easy parking for potential clients to compete in a marketplace with other regional centers vying for convention business.
“You always want to improve your game,” Tom Roohan, chairman of the Saratoga Springs City Center Authority, told reporters at Tuesday’s ceremony. “In December 2013 we started this process, and I think we ended up with a great project with more than 600 parking spots, a well-lit, safe and secure parking facility that will help encourage companies to come into town.” During evening hours, a security guard will be on premise to offer an added layer of safety. A limited number of yearly parking passes are available for purchase from the Saratoga Springs City Center.
The structure, which stands one block east of Broadway, was developed atop a surface lot that saw the elimination of 188 previously free parking spaces. For the time being, parking continues to be free of charge in most of the other existing public parking areas downtown, as well as on city streets.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — For the second time in three years, the results of a citizen-led City Charter referendum that would change the way Saratoga Springs is governed will not be officially determined until the absentee ballots are counted.
The last time a citizen-led City Charter referendum proposed change, in 2017, the measure was defeated by a razor-thin margin of 4,458 - 4,448. This year, that Election Day margin of voters opposing the change is larger, but so too are the number of absentee ballots as well as the number of votes overall.
The 2020 tally stands at 6,324- 5,186 against the change, a difference of 1,138 votes. There were 4,372 absentee ballots issued. Outstanding absentee ballots must be postmarked on or prior to Election Day, and may be received until Tuesday, when officials at the Saratoga County Board of Elections plan to open and count them.
“We’re cautiously optimistic. We’re still thinking we can pull through on this,” said Ron Kim, a co-chair of Common Sense Saratoga, a group advocating for change.
The 2017 referendum garnered 8,906 total votes. This year’s proposition may top 15,000 if all absentee ballots are returned with a vote on the charter amendment. There are 18,654 registered voters in Saratoga Springs.
Saratoga Springs current “Commission” form of governing is the only form of governing the city has known since its incorporation as a city more than a century ago. It features five council members – one mayor, plus four commissioners heading the departments of Public Safety, Public Works, Finance, and Accounts, respectively. Each council member is responsible for administering their own department as well as serving as legislators. In this council of five, each of whom is elected to two-year terms, decisions are made by majority rule.
The “Council-Manager” proposition calls for replacing that “Commission” form in favor of one that includes a mayor – elected by the voters of the city at large, and six members elected from city wards by the voters of those specific wards. Those six wards are to be comprised of equal voting population. That city council of seven would then appoint, set the salary for, and hire a City Manager. The idea is that residents would be represented through the ward system, and the manager held to accountability via the city council.
Officials at the county Board of Elections in Ballston Spa anticipate the count of absentee ballots to begin Tuesday, Nov. 10. The gatherings are open to the public and generally staged in a room at the county Board of Elections offices.
BALLSTON SPA — Dr. Daniel Kuhles, the county’s new Commissioner of Public Health, held a live forum Dec. 4, when he provided a regional and state overview related to COVID-19 strategies, as well as an update of the pending federal vaccination program.
Kuhles, a resident of Saratoga Springs and a medical doctor, was appointed to the newly created Commissioner position in November following a four-month-long search for candidates by the county Board of Supervisors. The position carries a base salary of $132,446 and a term of six years. Job responsibilities include directing, managing and regulating the Department’s delivery of public health services throughout Saratoga County.
The 53-minute forum, first broadcast live on Dec. 4, may be viewed at the Saratoga County Public Health Services Facebook page.
Infection percentage rates in Saratoga County have doubled each month since August, and topped 4% this week on a rolling 7-day average, marking the highest infection rate since mid-May.
“The overall trend is going upwards in a direction we do not want to see it go,” Kuhles says.
Regional hospitalization rates due to COVID-19 – one of the biggest criteria the state says it now will use to determine potential shutdown strategies - was at an all-time high this week, with over 220 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the eight-county Capital Region designation, of which Saratoga County is a part.
During his presser Dec. 7, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was joined by Dr. Anthony Fauci, longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who warned of a potential “dark time” in January if public health measures such as mask-wearing, social distancing and attention to detail during even small gatherings are not followed. The result of gatherings during the Thanksgiving holiday will become evident Dec. 15-20, he said, followed by a potential surge if additional gatherings are held during the December holidays.
“Potentially, a surge upon a surge,” Fauci said. “If those things happen and we don’t mitigate well, we don’t listen to the public health measures we need to follow, we can start to see things really get bad in the middle of January…the middle of January could be a really dark time for us.”
Regarding vaccinations, Fauci said he anticipated a substantial number of health care providers and people in nursing homes will begin receiving vaccinations later this month, with essential workers and those at high-risk due to health issues having the ability to be vaccinated in the early months of 2021.
The vaccination(s) require two shots. “Say you get vaccinated today, then you get a boost 28 days later, and 7 to 10 days after that second shot, you’re optimally protected,” Fauci explained.
“I would think by the time you get to the beginning of April, you’ll start getting people who have no priority, just a normal person who has no underlying conditions. If we get them vaccinated, a full-court press, and you do that through April, May and June, by the time you get to the summer, the end of the summer and the start of the third quarter of 2021 – we should be in good shape. That’s what I’m hoping for,” Fauci said.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A cutting-edge center of 21st century global technology and a venue honoring the traditional offerings of helping those in need met at the intersection of Franklin and Washington streets this week in a collaborative effort for the betterment of the local community, and all points beyond.
Elliott and Cathy Masie built the Masie Center on the east side of Saratoga Springs 20 years ago. This week, Franklin Community Center – which serves thousands of people every year locally - has purchased the Masie building and will be expanding their services. The new building, to be renamed the Michael & Stacie Arpey Family Community Center, will allow the Franklin the space it has needed to grow their programs.
Franklin Community Center has served as a social service hub for the less fortunate in and around Saratoga since 1983.
The Center's programs include a food pantry, a free after-school prevention program for local students and affordable housing for low-income individuals, as well as assisting with furniture, clothing and household needs, among others.
“At the beginning of 2019, our board really committed to obtaining more space,” explains FCC Executive Director Kari Cushing. “We were at a point where the space didn’t provide confidentiality for the people we serve.” A fundraising campaign was initiated with the idea of building an addition to an existing building to create more space.
“We were in the middle of it and had raised about $1 million toward our $2.5 million goal when the world stopped and COVID happened,” Cushing says. “We were no longer able to use our volunteers, so we repurposed all of our staff and since March we’ve been filling grocery bags, unloading trucks, delivering supplies and just doing what needs to get done.”
At the same time, she says, the need for services increased exponentially.
“The numbers have just gone through the roof. The need usually ebbs and flows and goes with the economy, but right now people are in dire need of just basic services. Since the start of the pandemic, just the food pantry has served 2,300 families – and of those 588 of them were brand new, they’d never been to a food pantry before. Those numbers are staggering,” she said.
“In September. I looked across the street and saw a For Sale out in front of the Masie building. It seemed way too good to be true, but we had to at least explore our options.” The building was listed at $2.6 million, and members of the board visited the location.
“When I tell you it’s perfect, that’s an understatement. It’s wide open and we could do whatever we need to do with the interior space, but we were still too far from our fundraising goal. We only had $1 million raised and being a non-profit we’re not comfortable taking out a loan for more than a million dollars. Our Steering Committee met to go over our options and that’s when Stacie Arpey, who’s on our board stepped up to increase her pledge from $100,0000 to $1 million and make it a reality for us. The Masies lowered their original asking price, and a deal was struck. “Between the two of them, it became possible.”
The Masie Center has served for a generation as an international Learning LAB working with global organizations.
“We’ve probably had tens of thousands of executives come from around the world. We helped launch E-Learning there. When the pandemic hit, I looked at my staff and said, ‘OK, go home.’ I gave them computers and lights and screens and after a couple of months predicted, well, we’re not going to go back to regular work soon. We looked at each other and said: maybe this is the time to sell the building.
“After we put the building up for sale, Franklin Community Center was intrigued and one of their board members, Stacie Arpey, and her husband Michael decided they really wanted them to have it and gave them a million dollar donation to get to the price, and Cathy and I lowered (the asking price) by many hundreds of thousands of dollars because we couldn’t think of a better buyer for it than Franklin,” Masie says.
“What I like about Franklin is that they service people who have deep and continuing needs as well as people who have newly arrived at the point of need,” Masie says. “I think we need to be quick to respond to people when they enter that and help put them on a pathway to becoming more self-sustaining. And Franklin does that. The other thing is they work a lot with kids.”
For Masie, the present world continues via video, having conducted keynotes for tens of thousands of people during the pandemic, right from his piano room at home in Saratoga Springs.
“They do so much in that cramped building they’re in now – to have that 10,000 square feet of space, it’s going to be exciting to see what they can do,” said Masie, who conducted a walk-through with FCC staff this week.
“This new home for FCC will help ensure that families in Saratoga Springs having an inviting place to receive the resources of FCC for years to come,” Stacie Arpey said in a statement.
The transition will happen gradually allowing FCC to ensure there are no disruptions to the services provided. The plan is to maintain the current venues and begin adapting some of the organization’s programs into the new venue. “In the beginning of 2021 our goal as a Board will be to really delve into that and see how we can be more efficient and make things easier to access for the folks who use our services. We want to make sure that we make things better for Franklin and for the entire community,” says Cushing, who has been with FCC for 18 years.
“COVID has obviously turned everything upside down and has disrupted all of our lives, but we have a unique perspective: we get to see the other side of it, and I have to tell you how heart-warming it has been to see our community come together to make sure that nobody has to go without,” Cushing says. “We were scared to death when it started and we saw our numbers going through the roof. We didn’t even know if we would be able to serve everyone that came to us.
“Every day we would post our biggest needs on social media and we have a contactless drop-off in the front of our building and every day when we would come in, it would be overflowing with the things we had asked for. We never had to turn anybody away, because people were so generous. This community is absolutely amazing. I think Stacie and Mike embody everything hat our community is and Cathy and Elliott – everybody made it possible, it’s such a group effort and it’s wonderful to see.”
The Michael and Stacie Arpey Family Community Center /Franklin Community Center is in fundraising mode and need just under $1 million to complete their expansion campaign which would include costs for moving and potential renovations to the space. For more information or to contribute to the campaign go to: www.franklincommunitycenter.org.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — With the clock ticking to a midnight deadline that would have installed what Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan called a “skeletal budget” as proposed in October, the City Council Nov. 30 staged a Special Meeting during which it unanimously approved a less austere 2021 budget that maintains essential city services and preserves city jobs and salaries.
The initial budget proposed in October was set at $41.9 million – a $7 million reduction to the 2019 plan. The amended 2021 budget approved this week calls for a $46.2 million spending plan. It may be further amended after Jan. 1, 2021.
The plan calls for a 6% property tax increase, meaning a home assessed at $200,000 will require an additional payment of $72 annually; a home assessed at $400,000 will see an annual payment increase of $144.
Commissioner Madigan said with a vaccine seemingly on the horizon, she is feeling “optimistic” about at least some form of tourism returning to the Spa City next year.
• The city announced a COVID-19 Small Business Grant Program Application period opens Dec. 7, with 25 to 51 grants of $5,000 - $10,000 to be awarded. Funds may be used for: payroll, rent or mortgage, utilities, equipment to facilitate the outdoor conduct of business during winter months, or supplies and equipment that reduce risk of coronavirus transmission.
Grant recipients must preserve at least 1 FTE job held by a low-income person - designated as less than $33,950/year - for at least six months.
The COVID-19 Small Business Grant Program, administered locally by the City’s Office of Community Development (OCD), was funded by a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. All applicants must agree to federal program requirements. For full guidelines, eligibility information, and application forms go to: saratoga-springs.org.
• The comment period for Draft 2 of the UDO has been extended and the public is invited to submit comments through Friday, Dec. 11.
Members of the City’s UDO project team led six public Q&A sessions during the 60-plus days that Draft 2 has been available for review. Draft 2 documents and maps, including video recordings and presentation slides, are available on the UDO web page on the city’s website for review.
It is anticipated that a final draft of the UDO will be released and submitted to the County and City Land Use Boards for advisory opinions, prior to being presented to Council for a vote during the first quarter of 2021.
• A meeting of the Police Reform Task Force will be held at Saratoga Music Hall and livestreamed on the city website at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 9.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The city Land Use Boards – the Planning Board, Design Review Commission, and Zoning Board of Appeals are considering a variety of applications this month.
Among the applications anticipated to be under consideration are an Architectural Review of exterior details and colors for the new construction of 18 townhomes at 96-116 Ballston Ave. and a Historic Review of exterior modifications at 351 & 353 Broadway with an eye to the repair or replacement of porch columns on the east side of the Rip Van Dam to address deteriorating column bases.
An approval extension of a special use permit, which was granted June 20, 2019, is sought for a 200-unit affordable housing project at Allen Drive and Tait Lane, and as per a pair of demolition requests, a Historic Review determination of historic/architectural significance is sought for a pair of vacant structures which stand at 65 Phila St. and 69 Phila St., respectively.
The DRC is next scheduled to meet Dec. 9, the Planning Board on Dec. 10, and the ZBA on Dec. 14. Meetings are typically held via Zoom. See the city’s website at Saratoga-springs.org for more details.
ALBANY – New York’s first vaccine delivery – via Pfizer – is anticipated to arrive Dec. 15 and provide enough doses for 170,000 New Yorkers, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this week.
Additional Moderna vaccines are expected to arrive in New York later in December. Nationally, by month’s end, it is anticipated there will be sufficient doses to vaccinate 20 million people nationwide, or about 6% of Americans.
The first vaccines to arrive will target seniors and staff in nursing homes, and health care workers, Cuomo said. There are about 85,000 nursing home residents and about 130,000 staff in New York. “You won’t complete that with the first 170,000 (Pfizer doses) but two weeks later we’re supposed to get a Moderna tranche – they haven’t given us a number on that yet.” There are about 600,000 health care workers in the state. Vaccine priority for health care workers will be given to those employed in ICU’s and emergency rooms.
Some studies show a return to a “normal” economy will occur when 75% to 85% of the public is vaccinated. The hope is that may occur by mid-year 2021, although there are many variables to consider, including public skepticism regarding a vaccine, Cuomo said. To address that skepticism, a “New York panel” will review FDA approved vaccines.
Covid-19 Infection rates and hospitalization rates due to the virus have increased across the region, the state and the country during the fall months. In early October, the average weekly positive infection rate among Saratoga County residents was 0.5%. In early November that rate more than doubled, to 1.1%. This week, the rate of infection is 3.9%.
“We hope to flatten the increase in mid-January – when social activity slows down, travel slows down and the increase of the rate slows down,” Cuomo said. “The vaccination program is really the endgame here.”
Cuomo said a comprehensive five-point plan overall includes managing the hospital load, increase testing for the virus, keep schools open - especially K through 8 - prepare for vaccine distribution, and grow public awareness that small gatherings are currently the top cause of viral spread.
“This is probably the only issue President Trump’s people and Joe Biden’s people agree on. Both of their health advisors say small gatherings are the problem,” Cuomo said. “The CDC recommendation for Thanksgiving was: no more than your household. For people who say it’s political: Whose politics are you playing? It’s agreed to by both.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The 2020 election proved to be a successful one for most local political office-holders, although the 113th Assembly District seat – which matches incumbent Carrie Woerner against challenger David Catalfamo - and the Saratoga Springs Charter Proposition vote will have to wait until at least next week to ultimately be decided.
There are just over 169,000 registered voters in Saratoga County – the eleventh highest number of registered voters in the 57 state counties outside of New York City.
In the 2016 presidential race, just under 113,000 ballots were cast in the county. This year’s vote count could top 130,000 after all absentee ballots are tallied next week. For the first time in a presidential election, the county this year hosted an early voting option. A trio of sites – located in Clifton Park, Ballston Spa and Wilton, secured a total of 27,570 voters over the nine-day early vote period.
House of Representatives
Saratoga constituents are split into two Congressional Districts, District 20 – Saratoga and essentially points south, and District 21 – Saratoga and essentially points north.
Elise Stefanik (R,C,I) was reelected to a fourth term in the 21st Congressional District, besting challenger Tedra Cobb (D, WF) by a 63-35 margin. Congressional District 21 is home to nearly 433,000 registered voters, with registered Republican and Conservative Party members topping registered Democrats by a 3-2 ratio.
Paul Tonko (D, WF, I) secured his reelection bid to the U.S. House representing the 20th Congressional District with a 55-42 victory over challenger Elizabeth Joy (R, C, SAM). The district is home to nearly 475, 000 registered voters with registered Democrats topping registered Republicans by a near 2-to-1 margin.
“I am honored to again receive the confidence of voters in our communities,” Tonko said in a statement, following the win. “Their overwhelming voices have called for access to affordable health care, quality jobs, environmental and social justice, and a competent response to the pandemic from the White House that helps us build back better.”
State Senate, State Assembly
In local State Senate races, incumbent Daphne Jordan (R,C,I) defeated Patrick Nelson (D, WF) by a 56-41 margin in State Senate 43rd District, and incumbent James Tedisco (R,C,WF) bested Thearse McCalmon (D) 65-32 in the State Senate 49th District.
Mary Beth Walsh (R,C,I) was reelected to her seat in the 112th Assembly District 60-37 over Joseph Seeman (D, WF), but the race in 113th Assembly District may not ultimately be decided until absentee ballots are counted next week. Election Day tallies in the latter race reported incumbent Carrie Woerner (D, I, SAM) with 29,896 total votes and challenger David Catalfamo (R,C) with 28,905. The district is comprised of two counties - Saratoga County, whose voters favored Woerner, and Washington County, which went to Catalfamo. Saratoga County has issued 12,989 absentee ballots and Washington County has issued 3,051 absentee ballots.
Absentee ballots may be received up until next Tuesday, but must be postmarked on or before Election Day. Saratoga County will open and begin to count absentee ballots from Saratoga County residents starting Tuesday, Nov. 10, and Washington County will open and count theirs starting Thursday, Nov. 12. Each county will subsequently present their tallies to the state, and the state will certify the election.
For more information on the 2020 Election, please see back page.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga Springs City Center is scheduled to host the grand opening for its new parking structure in November.
Parking rates for 2021 parking will be free for the first hour of parking, and $1 per hour after that first free hour, with a $15 cap on the 12 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. period.
The lowest level along High Rock Avenue will be made available for the Saratoga Farmers’ Market as well as other community events as requested by the city. The top floor of the parking structure may occasionally be used for events as well. A limited number of charging stations for electric vehicles will be available on the second floor.
A limited number of yearly parking passes are being made available for sale. The yearly passes - 100 of them are being made available, are priced at $150 per month, and paid yearly at a rate of $1,800. An inaugural bonus for those who sign up and pay now offers complimentary parking from the November grand opening to Dec. 31, at no charge.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — For the past 40 years, Wellspring has helped Saratoga County victims of domestic violence find safety, support and healing - providing crisis and support services mostly out of a 3,000 square foot office in the Collamer Building on Broadway.
This week, the agency announced plans to construct a new 8,000 square foot facility in Malta and the launch of a fundraising campaign to assist in that relocation.
The new building will be located on Route 9, just south of Malta Avenue, and is anticipated to be completed in late 2021.
“For most of our 40-year history, Wellspring has been in the same office location, even as the agency has grown exponentially in programs offered, number of clients assisted, and staff size,” says Maggie Fronk, executive director at Wellspring.
“We’ve been working on it for about 10 years. We spent a long time looking for just the right property. It was one of the first things we did as part of a long-range strategic plan when we changed our name from Domestic Violence Rape and Crisis Services, to Wellspring, to reflect a lot of the more positive and preventative work we do,” said Fronk.
The new facility, at nearly triple the size, will allow safe spaces for counseling, rooms for programming to be used to enhance client job skills to help them obtain self-sufficiency, and a wing devoted to prevention programs.
“As wonderful our current location is, you don’t see us - and that is a big issue because the crimes of domestic violence and sexual assault happen out of sight and so when the agency is also out of sight there’s not that driving reminder that ‘oh, there’s a place I can get help,’” Fronk says. “What I think happens is people often come to us when they’re in dire crisis; I think there is something to just driving by and saying: there is a place. I don’t have to wait until there is a crisis. I can just go in and talk to somebody.”
The new location, Fronk says, is clearly visible and will sit in the central part of the county so it’s accessible to all areas of the county Wellspring serves.
Currently, the 24/7 hotline answers more than 1,500 calls annually. Last year alone the organization provided in-person counseling and case management services for 1,000 abuse survivors, and provided 70 people adults and children with safe housing in rent subsidized apartments throughout Saratoga County - a total of 14,971 nights of sleep without fear of abuse. Legal advocacy is provided on a daily basis.
Pandemic restrictions have made things more difficult for some. “Think about it: the things we did for health safety – staying home, not seeing friends – those were all necessary from a health perspective, but they created an environment rife for abuse to continue and to escalate. You’re home 24/7 with your abuser and your children. You have all kind of stressors whether it’s home schooling, loss of employment, financial worries, health worries. You’re socially isolated. All those allow abuse to escalate,” Fronk says. “We also knew people who tend to call our hotline and reach out for support or come in for counseling – if you’re home 24/7 with your abuser and your children you can’t pick up the phone and make that call. You don’t have the privacy to do it.” To that point, the agency launched a web-based chat line earlier this year so victims may “talk” discreetly to an advocate by simply typing on their computer or smartphone.
Domestic violence affects 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men. In Saratoga County, it is the second most violent crime – topped only by drunk/drugged driving - and the primary cause of family homelessness. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, domestic violence incidents increased 42% between 2016 and 2018, and the number of rape/sexual assaults increased 146%.
“When things started to open up, we did see more clients coming to shelter, but you know I don’t think any of us think the world is normal yet,” Fronk says. “I don’t think we’ll see the full impact of COVID until we’ve taken care of the health crisis. Only then will we find out just how much people have endured.”
All services provided by Wellspring are free and confidential. Wellspring’s operations are funded by local, state, and federal grant funding as well as philanthropic contributions from the community
The total cost of the project is $3 million. The sources of funding include Wellspring’s building reserves, a loan from The Adirondack Trust Company, and a fundraising campaign with a goal of $1.8 million. More than half of the fundraising goal has been reached, leaving $665,000 yet to be raised. To support Wellspring’s mission, visit the Wellspring website www.wellspringcares.org/make-a-change/donate or call 518-583-0280.