City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A preliminary financial report released by the city this week indicates Saratoga Springs is operating on a $9 million surplus in its general fund, with the estimated excess fund balance of $1.9 million.
“While 2021 was a robust year and while our total revenues have never been this high, this is partly due to one-time events - such as $3.9 million in ARPA federal funding, as well as a one-time $2 million revenue generated in the sale of city property,” said Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi, who presented the report to the City Council at its May 3 meeting. The city had two significant property sales in 2021 – one on Henry & Caroline streets, and one on Broadway. The city Fiscal Year ended Dec. 31, 2021.
“I am optimistic about our current financial outlook but also cautious about the future. We’re still seeing waves of COVID raging through our community. And we have a third EMS/Fire station to build and we have to fund the hiring of fire-fighters,” Sanghvi said, in a statement.
Some highlights of the report:
- Sales Tax revenue increased by 35.4% in 2021 over 2020 and totaled nearly $15 million.
- Hotel Room Occupancy Tax increased by 120% in 2021 over the previous year and totaled $587,000.
- Health insurance costs for 2021 were $7.265 million, a 1% increase.
The document will be reviewed by the city’s auditors in the coming months, with audited financial statements to be released in late September. Sanghvi said she will provide recommendations regarding the excess fund balance in October.
SARATOGA SPRINGS - The New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) summarily suspended the license of Saratoga Hospitality at Gaffney’s LLC, doing business as Gaffney’s, on May 3.
“There is a clear pattern of behavior which not only threatens public safety, but has become a drain on police resources,” said SLA Chairman Vincent Bradley. “The SLA has an obligation to ensure this violence does not continue, and this emergency suspension should serve as a message that this agency will not hesitate to take immediate action when a bar poses a threat to public safety.”
The suspension followed numerous reports of violent incidents “emanating from inside the establishment,” according to the SLA, the most recent occurring May 1 when a patron was stabbed during a large altercation involving numerous patrons. “According to Saratoga Police, video footage shows the brawl and stabbing taking place inside and then spilling into the street.”
The suspension was ordered by Chairman Vincent Bradley, Commissioner Lily Fan, and Commissioner Greeley Ford at a special meeting of the Full Board Tuesday, putting into immediate effect the prohibition of alcohol either being sold or consumed on the premises of the popular Caroline Street bar.
The SLA charged Gaffney’s with operating a disorderly premises based on the alleged May 1 incident, and said it will, during the suspension, prosecute this and multiple other violations based on prior charges which are currently scheduled to go to an administrative hearing.
The May 1 incident marks the third stabbing incident at Gaffney’s since October 2021 and the fourth seriously violent incident emanating from the premises since that date, according to the state Liquor Authority.
Currently suspended, the maximum penalty for the charges is revocation of the license. However, the SLA’s decision to summarily suspend a license is not a final determination on the merits of the case. The licensee is entitled to a prompt hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.
Gaffney’s issued a statement via its public relations firm Wednesday: “We respect and intend to comply with the suspension order. We will work with the State Liquor Authority and the City of Saratoga Springs to rectify this unfortunate situation with the hope of reopening as soon as it is practicable to do so.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A youthful Brian Eno, his face aglow with vibrance and wonder bumps jackets with Barbara Streisand draped in a Superman T-Shirt and sporting a pair of tube sox. Two rows over, Peter, Paul and Mary share smiles in front of a brick wall in Greenwich Village marking their debut, circa-1962. Next to them, the Clash scowl alongside a brick alleyway of north London’s Camden Market marking their debut, circa-1976. A collection of string instruments are being released from their protective casings a few yards away. Memories of Matt McCabe, the previous longtime occupant of this space, permeate the room.
“I’m a violin maker by trade,” explains Thomas Dunn. “Six generations of violin making is where I come from so there are a lot of traditions here: the oldest family of violin makers in the world, being able to carry on a Saratoga tradition, and honoring Matt’s memory. That’s something that’s cool for both of us.”
That “us” is Thomas Dunn and Jason Planitzer. The two men have embarked on a collaborative effort to open a new shop at 480 Broadway, located next to City Hall and the Saratoga Music Hall in the space previously occupied by Saratoga Guitar.
Dunn’s expertise is musical instruments. Planitzer’s is in vinyl records. “We were both looking for a space, met, liked each other’s vibe and thought: maybe we could do something together. So, we decided to share this space and make this kind of the music center of Saratoga,” Dunn says.
They are hoping to open the shop as early as this weekend. Once fully operational, it will include new and used instruments for sale for players, musical instrument lessons, instrument repair and restoration work and a full line of accessories – from strings and picks, to pedals and more.
For music fans and vinyl collectors, the store will also feature a collection of albums.
“The stars aligned, and we are able to carry on the tradition,” says Planitzer, originally from Pittsburgh and relocated to upstate with his wife in January after having lived in Brooklyn for 15 years.
“I’ve collected since I was in college, that’s 20 years now, and during the pandemic my collection got a little out of hand,” he says with a laugh. “It grew exponentially.”
Planitzer said he hopes to start with 2,000 to 3,000 mostly used records. An already existing relationship with music distributors will enable him to carry some new vinyl as well. “We will buy, we will sell, we will trade. Same as with the guitars and the stringed instruments,” he says.
Despite the ever-changing soundscape of technologies over the previous decades, there remains and indeed is growing a market of people who love vinyl records. In 2021, a resurgence in vinyl records continued for the 15th consecutive year, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. And new vinyl revenues grew 61% to $1 billion over the past calendar year – having last exceeded that $1 billion mark back in 1986, according to an article published by Variety in March that is titled: Vinyl Sales Soar.
“I work in film and television, I’m a location scout; I read scripts and then go find the places where they film. That’s what I did in New York City for the past 14 years and now more and more film work is coming upstate – shooting in Schenectady, Troy, in Albany,” Planitzer says. He calls his part of the collaboration with Dunn: Off-Track Records. “This is something I can do in addition to film work, much as I did in Brooklyn. At that time, I worked at a record shop - it’s called Record Grouch – and that was a blast. I love getting music from a shop. I get a lot of music online now, and I think we all do, but there’s nothing like going into a shop.”
6th Generation Violin
Dunn is carrying on the traditions of the Frirsz family of luthiers who began making violins in the mid-1800s. Originally from Hungary, they are known as the oldest family of violin makers in the world, spanning five generations. Fourth generation family member Maximilian relocated to North America and eventually set up a shop in midtown Manhattan where he became known as one of the foremost luthiers and restorers in the country. Max’s son, Nicholas, took over the business in the 1980s and relocated to Saratoga Springs in the ‘90s.
When he was a teenager, Dunn began working with fifth-generation master Nicholas Frirsz on small repairs and learning how to make violins. In 2011 Dunn became Frirsz full apprentice. Dunn calls his segment of the collaborative space Sixth Generation Violin - carrying on the family methods, traditions, and secrets of violin making.
“Those connections we built up over six generations,” Dunn says. “And we will have a range of new and used instruments for sale, from high-end instruments of unique boutique makers and luthiers, custom-made, to student rentals – violins, cellos, guitars, ukuleles, fretted instruments.”
A room where musical lessons will be offered is being developed in the back of the store, and Dunn says an instructor will include someone who formerly worked for Matt McCabe.
The men say they aim to provide a personal touch and human care for the community of music lovers and practitioners in the region.
“We’re excited to be here and hope to be a part of the Saratoga music community for years to come,” Dunn said.
Planitzer and Dunn say they hope to open this weekend and plan to be open most weekdays during regular business hours and weekends from noon to 5. For more information about Sixth Generation Violin and Off-Track Records, visit the store at 480 Broadway, or call 518-893-9188.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga Springs Design Review Commission plays an important role in how the city will look. The seven-member citizen board, which holds public meetings at City Hall, reviews development activities within city boundaries, has jurisdiction over signage and exterior building changes and provides advisory services to the other two city Land Use Boards: the Zoning Board of Appeals, and the Planning Board, as well as to the City Council.
Next DRC meeting: 6 p.m., Wednesday, May 4. Applications under consideration include: Architectural Review of a proposed 6-story mixed-use project at 30 Caroline St.; Stewart’s new construction at 402 Lake Ave., and a Determination of Significance and possible review of an existing garage demolition/ proposed two-family residence at 150 Henry St.
Possible consent agenda items include architectural reviews of wall signage and freestanding signs at a variety of city locations, including Caffe Lena on Phila Street, and Saratoga National at Union Avenue.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Public Safety Commissioner Jim Montagnino this week released his long-awaited draft proposal for a civilian police review board, or CRB.
The bulk of the proposal mirrors recommendations of the city’s ad hoc Police Reform Task Force in 2021, as well as incorporating some public feedback the city has received since that time, Montagnino said.
The city Police Department is tasked to help create and maintain a safe environment for citizens and visitors of the community and is a role that requires the trust and respect of the community, according to the six-page document. The CRB is intended as an aid to maintain that trust and respect and provide availability for effective procedures to resolve any issues that may arise, thereby supplying an integral component of a relationship grounded in mutual trust and respect between the public and the department.
The proposal calls for a five-member CRB to “receive, process and, whenever possible, amicably resolve grievances regarding the conduct of employees of the Department. The CRB shall also act as a vehicle for generating and expressing informed opinions relating to public policy regarding law enforcement in our city.”
The city mayor is tasked with appointing the CRB chair – who will serve a two-year term – and city council members will appoint the board’s additional members, subject to majority council approval. Board members chosen should represent “a fair cross-section of the Saratoga Springs community with regard to age, sex, sexual orientation, cultural background and socio-economic background,” according to the document.
The mayor is also responsible for providing adequate budget and training to ensure proper functioning of the CRB. The six-page document may be viewed on the city website at Saratoga-springs.org.
“By the time of the next City Council meeting, I do plan to have changes in the form of paragraph section and sub-section numbers added, but without any substantive changes to the language,” Montagnino said.
A public hearing will be held regarding the draft CRB proposal at the next council meeting on Tuesday, May 2.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A Rochester-based full-service real estate company has filed an application with the city seeking an area variance to permit the construction of 102 apartment units at an abandoned brewery site at 131 Excelsior Ave.
The company, Conifer Realty, LLC, specializes in the development, construction, management, and ownership of high-quality, affordable housing communities, according to the company, and currently owns more than 15,000 multifamily apartment homes across the Northeast and MidAtlantic states. The owner is listed as Saratoga Dairy, Inc., which is connected with Stewarts Shops.
Preliminary plans for the project – titled North Spring Run - call for the redevelopment of the existing site - including the demolition of the vacant brewery, and the development of a 102-unit residential complex in its place.
The city’s Zoning Board of Appeals is expected to consider the variance application at its meeting on April 25 at City Hall.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga Springs City Council this week hosted its first meeting since the passing of longtime DPW Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco. An empty chair sat at the council table in Scirocco’s usual place.
The council observed a moment of silence, adopted a resolution honoring Scirocco’s life and legacy of a near-quarter century of service to the city, and extended sympathies to his family.
A list of many of Scirocco’s accomplishments were recited, and the council moved to rename the historic Saratoga Music Hall as The Anthony J. Scirocco Music Hall.
Democrat city Mayor Ron Kim remembered Republican Public Works Commissioner Scirocco on a personal level.
“About a month after the election, my father passed. We had a wake and much to my surprise Commissioner Scirocco came. And it shouldn’t have surprised me because he’s that kind of good decent human being,” Kim said at the council table during the April 19 meeting. “We can talk about all the great things that Skip Scirocco did for the city, but where he really surpassed that was in being a decent, good human being. Certainly, we need that. And we will miss him.”
Council Approves Search Committee to Assist in Current DPW Post Vacancy
The council approved a resolution to create a five-member Commissioner of Department of Public Works advisory Search Committee, tasked with interviewing candidates for the temporary appointment to the vacant DPW post. The Committee will ultimately make a non-binding recommendation to the Council of the person deemed as best qualified for the appointment.
The five members of that ad hoc Search Committee, appointed this week by members of the city council, are: John Franck, Kristen Dart, Barbara Thomas, Timothy Holmes, and Alexis Brown.
Those believed to have expressed interested in the post to date are: Jason Golub, Anthony Scirocco, Jr., Billy McTygue, and Robert Bullock.
Overall, the term of office lasts through the end of 2023. As per City Charter rules, any appointment to the post made by the council will remain in effect through the 2022 calendar year.
A Special Election – anticipated to take place this coming November – will determine who will serve the post for the 2023 calendar year.
BALLSTON SPA — With an annual budget of $381 million – approximately seven times the expense plan of the city of Saratoga Springs - the county spends on average more than $1 million per day, every day of the year, including weekends and holidays. For the first time, residents are now be able to witness from the comfort of their own homes how their elected officials are spending that money in real time.
“I think this will be good for people to have the ability to see what’s going on here, to be more engaged, or at least more interested in county government. Good for the public and good for us,” said Saratoga Springs City Supervisor Matt Veitch, providing a tour this week of the newly installed technology equipment in the large supervisors’ meeting room at the county building complex in Ballston Spa.
In one corner of the room, a multi-shelf cabinet houses an array of units that enable wireless mics and state-of-the art audio, disc storage, internal screen controls and the technology that transmits meetings to the public via live stream. Four cameras are fixed to the ceiling, one in each of the four corners of the room. A pair of large 65-inch flat screen TV’s hang in opposite corners. Two dozen or so smaller computer screens with attached mics line the desktops of the big room for board member use.
“Before all this, the only way you could watch a board meeting was by being here,” Veitch said. An awkward phone call-in system was implemented for remote location meetings during the pandemic, but was often difficult for listeners to follow.
“Now you can watch the meetings live from your house. It’s not easy for everyone to get here and it can be quite a haul from some of the more distant areas of the county, so I think it will be useful to those people as well,” the supervisor said.
Visiting organizations making presentations to the Board will have their presentations showcased on the large screens and visible to those watching both on-site and in remote locations. In addition to live capabilities, county meetings will be archived and available for public viewing on the Saratoga County website – at saratogacountyny.gov - after the gatherings take place.
“We eliminated the old-school projections and screens, which were era-2000, extremely expensive to maintain, and not very good for the audience,” Veitch said. Another benefit of the new system is cutting down on waste; with agenda items and attachments directly loaded onto supervisors’ screens, it is estimated nearly 20,000 pieces of paper will be saved annually, just from the Board of Supervisors meetings alone.
In addition to the monthly Supervisor meetings, the county’s 12 other standing committees will be following suit. For some of those smaller-member committees an adjacent meeting room has, to a lesser degree, also been fitted with technology upgrades to provide audio and video capabilities.
There are 23 supervisors in all - one each representing each of the 21 county cities and towns, with the two higher populous municipalities of Clifton Park and Saratoga Springs each having two supervisors.
In 2021, the county Board of Supervisors initially entered into an agreement with Syracuse-based Presentation Concepts Corporation for the design and implementation of the audio/visual upgrades. Those unspent funds were reappropriated this past February and overall increased to a total budgeted amount of about $350,000. To date, about $178,000 has been spent.
Veitch says replacing the paper-and-easel way of conducting business with more efficient technological tools was a long time coming.
“I think through my urging of my colleagues, eventually we all came around to wanting to have better technology at the county. Last year (fellow Saratoga Springs Supervisor) Tara Gaston chaired the Technology & Resiliency Committee. The first part of this was with that committee, and now the end part is with my (chaired) committee, Buildings and Grounds – but we all really worked together, all the supervisors, Chairman Kusnierz, it came from everyone,” Veitch said.
“We all voted for this, and basically have gone from a 2000’s-era room that had no internet and no way to get out to the public, built up with today’s technology. Going from something we had for 20 years to something beyond, so, it’s a big leap for us,” Veitch said.
This week, as Board Chairman Theodore Kusnierz noted at the start of the supervisors’ April 19 meeting, the future has arrived.
“Today is a momentous occasion,” he began.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — AMC, which calls itself the largest theatrical exhibitor in the world – announced this week it finalized the deal with Bow Tie to purchase and operate the Saratoga Springs movie house on Railroad Place and six other Bow Tie locations in Connecticut and Maryland.
The theater will be re-branded starting Friday, April 29 to be part of the AMC family of theatres to include new signage. Theater goers will be redirected to the company website (AMCTheatres.com) and mobile app to find showtimes, buy tickets, and sign up for our AMC Stubs loyalty program.
In a company statement, AMC said it intends to retain all current workers at the newly acquired theatres.
Once converted to an AMC Theatre, the company will no longer be able to honor Bow Tie Cinemas Criterion Club rewards, but says those who sign up for AMC Stubs will be round up to the next award they would have received in the Criterion Club rewards program.
AMC operates approximately 950 theatres and 10,500 screens across the globe. Bow Tie Cinemas will continue to operate its theater in Schenectady.
Bow Tie Cinemas opened in Wilton and in Saratoga Springs in 2013. The Wilton location closed in 2020.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The city’s Design Review Commission is considering a new application that calls for the development of a six-story mixed-use building on a vacant Caroline Street lot.
The location, in between Sperry’s, and Hamlet & Ghost, is formerly the spot of a two-story commercial building constructed as a tannery in the late 1800s, which was felled in the aftermath of a Thanksgiving Day 2016 blaze that had started at a neighboring restaurant.
Plans call for a restaurant or retail establishment on the first floor, and a total of 15 apartments on floors two through 6, with each floor measuring just over 3,000 square feet of space.
The owner, Louis Lazzinnaro, operates the family-style Italian restaurant Nové on Route 9, which he initially opened in 1999 as Sergio’s. The property at 30 Caroline St. was acquired by the owner in June 2014.