Thomas Dimopoulos

Thomas Dimopoulos

City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
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Thursday, 14 April 2022 15:16

Board Considers Broadway Development

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The city Planning Board lists a site plan review of a proposed multi-tenant commercial building at 269 Broadway as an application under consideration at its meeting this week.  April 14. 

The proposed six-story mixed-use building would be set on an 0.75-acre parcel that sits vacant on the west side of Broadway, just south of Congress Park and next to Saratoga Central Catholic School. 

SARATOGA COUNTY - The multi-acre swath of land nestled between Wilton, Moreau and Corinth has in the past served as a correctional facility, a TB sanitarium, and a center for the developmentally disabled. 

Now, paranormal investigator Steve Brodt and business partner Mark Erskine are finalizing an offer to New York State to purchase the long-vacant Mount McGregor correctional facility property, with a goal of creating a new heritage tourism destination in Saratoga County. 

“Over my decade-plus as a heritage tourism fan and paranormal investigator - and more recently as owner of the Haunted Nights paranormal events company based in Glens Falls - I have had the pleasure of visiting more than two dozen cities around the country where abandoned hospitals and correctional facilities have been reimagined as heritage tourism and paranormal investigation destinations," said Brodt. “These facilities are enjoying a second, or third life and bringing significant numbers of visitors and economic activity to those regions. We see a tremendous opportunity to do the same at Mount McGregor."

The partners’ business plan is patterned after the success of facilities like Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, KY, Moundsville Penitentiary in West Virginia, Ohio State Reformatory, Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in West Virginia, and Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. 

If successful in securing the currently state-owned site, Brodt and Erskine envision reopening the campus, which has been closed since 2014, early on for heritage tourism tours, photography tours and paranormal investigations, as one part of their multi-year, multi-million-dollar plan. 

The buildings are largely intact and structurally sound despite the many years of inactivity and the more than three hundred acres includes roughly seventy structures, about forty of them identified as buildings of substantial size. 

The duo has made the presentation rounds with town supervisors in Moreau, Corinth and Wilton. “We met with them, discussed this with them and got all their support as well as assemblymen and senators as well. They are all on board with it," Brodt said. 

Long-term plans envision investments that will accommodate corporate events and other private functions, community events, TV and film productions, a museum dedicated to the history of the facility and property, and possibly even accommodations and dining.

“I have been doing this on a smaller scale for the past several years as manager of the Saratoga County Homestead - the former tuberculosis hospital in Middle Grove," said Brodt, who has toured the local property with representatives of Empire State Development. “Mount McGregor has a fascinating history to share, first as a tuberculosis hospital and later as a correctional facility, and we have no doubt that its story will attract heritage tourists, photographers, and paranormal investigators from across the country to Saratoga County."

Dating back a century, the grounds have served as a tuberculosis center, a rest camp for World War II veterans, and a center for the developmentally disabled. Most recently, it sited a correctional facility where medium security inmates were housed within a perimeter security comprised of a row of fencing topped with coiled blades of razor ribbon, according to Empire State Development. ESD published a lengthy and architecturally detailed 146-page Report For An Adaptive Re-Use Plan in 2014 as the Mount McGregor Correctional Facility was closed. 

Brodt and Erskine toured the property last November with the organization and for the past several months has been working closely with the Saratoga Economic Development Corporation. 

Regarding the paranormal aspect, Brodt says one never knows what one may find. “It’s funny because it is hard to tell with the paranormal. You might go into a location two nights in a row and have absolutely nothing happen, and the next night might be really, really active. We’ve had a lot of former staff who have reached out and said: ‘Hey, I had this experience while I worked there at this time in this building.’ Many of the experiences matched up and they told us the exact same story that took place in the same part of the property when they didn’t even work together and did not know each other," Brodt said. 

“There are stories already starting to come to light and we know there will be a lot more once we reach out to former employees and their families and gather the first-hand experiences of people who had worked there for many years," he said. “Once we acquire the property, we’ll get up there, get our hands dirty, get the work done, get the buildings cleaned up and open up for public access - as soon as possible," Brodt said. 

The hope is to secure the property during this current spring season, and subsequently open during this calendar year. 

SARATOGA - You never know when a single event can change the trajectory of your life. In 2019, Allison Rodriguez and Scott Bonney were living in Staten Island with their son Joshua who is on the autism spectrum. As NYPD retirees, they wanted to move out of the city. Since Joshua was receiving valuable services, they knew where they chose to live was dependent upon finding him similar programs. Scott began researching programs when he read that Saratoga Bridges, in collaboration with the Upstate NY Autism Alliance (UNYAA), were hosting an Autism Expo & Art Exhibit. Having attended the Lake George Winter Carnival numerous times, they were familiar with the area. Allison and Scott attended and are thrilled to share these comments, “We were overwhelmed with all the available resources! It was truly unexpected as everyone was really friendly and welcoming - unlike what we were accustomed to in NYC. They explained everything very clearly and we left feeling elated." These experiences directly impacted their decision to move to Queensbury.

Since then, Joshua has been attending Living Resources Warren Day Community Opportunities Program where he enjoys bowling, playing with bunnies at Hop on Home, visiting the aquarium, parks and beaches and volunteering for Meals on Wheels and the Glens Falls Open Mission while working on his life skills. He is charming, funny, has a magnetic personality with many friends and an active social calendar. In fact, Allison and Scott have formed friendships with his friends’ parents. Joshua participates in his best pal Andrew’s Young Adult Social Group and together watch movies or eat dinner in Andrew’s apartment fi their arrangement is Andrew cooks, and he cleans up. He and another close friend Leah sing, dance, do karaoke, swim in her indoor pool and he wants to join her in Saratoga Bridges’ Becoming our Better Selves group. Joshua loves the Sky Zone and Fun Spot, playing video games and watching YouTube videos. The family hikes, enjoys their pontoon boat, entertains in their backyard pool and volunteers with UNYAA.

On Sunday, April 10 from 12-3 p.m., Joshua, Allison and Scott invite you to join them at the 10th Annual Autism Expo & Art Exhibit held at the Saratoga City Center. Allison gets tears in her eyes describing when Kristin Howarth from UNYAA asked to them to help because she knows the importance of having access to vital resources at one venue. She wants to make connections and give other families the same opportunities that changed theirs!

SARATOGA SPRINGS - City Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi introduced a new initiative to Saratoga Springs, which will specifically allow residents to decide how a portion of the city’s annual budget is spent.

Commissioner Sanghvi introduced the “Participatory Budgeting" plan at this week’s City Council meeting. 

“Participatory budgeting gives everyone a seat at the table and creates an inclusive budget process,‚ Sanghvi said. “This is an innovative finance tool we’re introducing in Saratoga Springs. It builds stronger communities. This is your taxpayer money, and you should decide how to spend it."

Essentially, the process sets aside a modest amount of the city’s annual spending plan and allows residents - through a submitted proposal plan and subsequent vote - to decide how that money is spent. 

Projects will be vetted by an 11-person committee and open to the public for a vote. An “assignment" has been established to fund projects - up to 0.25% of the fund balance - or 25 cents on $100. Based on Saratoga Springs’ $54 million budget in 2022, the council on April 5 approved by unanimous vote just over  $135,000 as an assignment, likely to be spent next year.

How it works: projects are divided into two groups - individuals, and organizations. The criteria for eligible projects: it does not exceed the annual dollar amount allocated, that it is a one-time expenditure and that the project can be completed with the funds, that it may be implemented by the city of Saratoga Springs on public property, and that it benefits the public as a whole. 

Developed in Brazil over 30 years ago and since incorporated into cities across the U.S. from New York and Chicago to Hartford, participatory budgeting is hailed as a tool for increasing civic engagement, improving the inclusivity of local government and promoting sustainable public good, Sanghvi said. “I believe we are the first in the Capital Region to do this." The New York Times has described participatory budgeting as “revolutionary civics in action." 

The goal is to make local government more inclusive by expanding and diversifying participation in the city’s budget process, secure meaningful social and community impact, make decisions that promote a sustainable, long-term future of well-being for residents, and create seamless civic engagement, Sanghvi said. “We’re Looking for a diversity of voices and opportunities of making Saratoga Springs more inclusive."

The first Participatory Budgeting meeting will take place 2 p.m. on Monday, April 11 at the Saratoga Springs Senior Center. Residents are invited to join the committee or share ideas for projects to be included in the city budget. One order of business will be to create a committee of 11 residents who will serve for two years, and who will review projects submitted from the community.

Anyone can come up with a project idea and submit it fi by email, or traditional mail, Sanghvi said.  Application forms and more information about the initiative may be found on the city website - go here.

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Public Safety Commissioner Jim Montagnino said he is putting “the finishing touches" on a draft copy for a potential ordinance to implement a Civilian Police Review Board, or CRB. 

“One of the things causing me some difficulty is getting in place the method for selecting the people for the board - one that will leave us with a review board that is a fair cross-section of the community,‚ Montagnino told the City Council during its meeting this week. “I’m trying to come up with a fair selection process that would allow the City Council to ratify the selection." A specific timeline for the public release of a draft copy was not announced. 

Approximately 50 people attended the meeting, staged at Saratoga Music Hall on April 5. Nearly half of those in attendance spoke during the periods allotted for public comment, the large majority of whom discussed matters related to a variety of policing and public safety issues. 

• Mayor Ron Kim announced the city is currently preparing proposals for U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and Congressman Paul Tonko that requests funding for community-based projects in Saratoga Springs, as part of the infrastructure bill. Those projects include: East Side Fire Station #3; upgrades at Saratoga Arts Center; upgrades to the city’s water infrastructure, and a potential public-private partnership with RISE Housing and Support Services to build a social center for the homeless.

• Mayor Kim also requested a public hearing take place in advance of the council’s next meeting on April 19 to solicit public opinion regarding Saratoga Springs’ relationship with its long-standing “Sister City" relationship with Chekhov Russia, in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“This is about a letter we received recently from the Consulate General from New York City of Ukraine that asked us to stop or suspend our relationship with the sister city of Chekov."‚ Kim said. “Rather than just take that step as a City Council, I thought we would ask the public to weigh in, and we’ll do that at the next City Council meeting."

• Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran proposed a temporary outdoor dining fee schedule in a resolution the council unanimously approved. “The intent of these fees is to turn the money back in to support the program,‚ Moran said. 

There are three fee schedule levels: 

$100 for businesses utilizing their own private property.

$500 for seating area and public property/sidewalks.

$1,000 for public property fi sidewalks and installation and removal of barriers/blocks. 

Supervisor Tara Gaston reported that the state had released a Climate Action Draft Scoping Plan and that public comments submitted regarding that plan are due by June 10. 

The Draft Scoping Plan serves as an initial framework for how N.Y. will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve net-zero emissions, increase renewable energy usage, and ensure climate justice. A public forum will take place 4 p.m. Thursday, April 14 at Empire State Plaza in Albany, and a virtual forum takes place May 11. The plan as well as the submission of comments regarding the plan may be found HERE

Gaston will be staging her own Public Forum virtually via Live Stream April 13, 6 p.m. Gaston. 

COVID-19 update. “We continue to do better than we were before, but unfortunately we are seeing a rise. Many places in New York State have seen an increase of 50% in cases over the past few weeks. Right now, the (Saratoga County) rolling average is 4.0%," Gaston said. 

“This is a significant increase of where we were before. Fortunately, our hospitalizations are staying relatively stable - but we also know those are lagging indicators," she said. “The most important thing to realize is that right now about 60% of the cases in New York State are classified as variant BA.2 (stealth) omicron. This means you may take several rapid tests and be negative, have symptoms, and it will take awhile for you to test positive. This is the importance of making sure that if you are sick at all, you stay home, you test."

SARATOGA SPRINGS – The Department of Public Works is deeply saddened to announce today the passing of Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco following a brief battle with cancer. He was 74.

Scirocco was surrounded by his loving family including the love of his life, Corinne (Armstrong) Scirocco, sons Anthony and Mark, their spouses, and his grandchildren.

The lifelong Saratogian passionately served the city he loved professionally as the animal control officer, an elected Saratoga County Supervisor – from 1998 to 2005, and as a standing Commissioner of Public Works, first elected in 2008.

Scirocco loved his work and serving the people of Saratoga Springs, and was especially proud of his time in DPW where he oversaw over $70 million of capital investment into the city’s infrastructure during his time in office. Another of his passions was music, and he loved being “Skippy” of the local band Skippy and the Pistons.

Information on services will be forthcoming from the family.

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Live staging of renowned entertainers, a Playwright’s Jam, and a plethora of Open Mic nights for musicians, poets and storytellers alike fill the calendar at Caffe Lena this month. 

Janis Ian will appear for a three-night run and host an additional masterclass mid-month, Christine Lavin returns for a show April 22, Livingston Taylor stages two performances April 24, Rochmon celebrates Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers on April 19.

The month kicks off with concerts and events featuring Henhouse Prowlers (April 1), Alash (April 2), and Russel The Leaf (April 3). 

For more information about Caffe Lena and upcoming events, go to: caffelena.org.      

Thursday, 31 March 2022 14:07

Spring Forward: New Month, New Stuff To Do

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Indie Rock from Albany, New Wave/Electro from Ballston Spa, Melodic Punk from Louisville, KY, Cybercore from Philadelphia, PA., and Experimental Electronics from Troy are some of the band categorizations who have staged shows during the March Super Dark Collective showcase in Saratoga Springs. Who knows what April will bring? 

What it is: Super Dark Collective presents its Super Dark Monday series, Monday nights at Desperate Annie’s, located at 12 Caroline Street. Show time starts at 9:30 p.m. 

When people talk about an original and vibrant art scene in Saratoga, this is what they mean. For updated information, search “calendar‚ on superdarkcollective social media channels. 

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Longtime New Yorker staff writer Ben McGrath will visit Northshire Bookstrore on Broadway in Saratoga Springs, where he will read from his new book, “Riverman: An American Odyssey."

The event takes place 6 p.m. Friday, April 8. McGrath’s debut book- published by Knopf on April 5 - presents the riveting true story of Dick Conant, an American folk hero who canoed solo thousands of miles˛and then disappeared near the Outer Banks of North Carolina. 

McGrath met Conant by chance in 2014 paddling down the Hudson River, headed for Florida. McGrath wrote a widely read article about their encounter, and when Conant’s canoe washed up a few months later, without any sign of his body, McGrath set out to find the people whose lives Conant had touched--to capture a remarkable life lived far outside the staid confines of modern existence.

For more information on this and other events at Northshire Bookstore, go to: northshire.com. 

Thursday, 31 March 2022 13:03

Missing: Vulnerable Adult

CLIFTON PARK - State Police are looking for help locating 20-year-old Bilal Ashfaq. Ashfaq was last seen at his residence in the North Pointe Apartments on State Route 9 in Halfmoon at approximately 3 p.m. on Wednesday, March 16. 

“He doesn’t drive, he was on foot," says his brother, Mohmmad. Mohmmad, who is 22 years old, said he and his 20-year-old brother had gone to school at Shenendehowa High School and that Bilal doesn’t have a previous history of having gone missing. 

Police said Bilal may be in need of medical attention and is considered a vulnerable adult with schizophrenia.  He is described as 6 feet, 2 inches tall, and weighing approximately 225 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes. He was last seen wearing a light green hoodie, blue jeans, and red sneakers. 

“In the past, he liked the internet and technology. There was a time he liked social media. Recently he isolated himself more," Mohmmad said. 

Bilal is believed to be in the local area, according to state police. 

“We have no idea where he is. He could be anywhere," said his brother. “The more different areas that people can look in, the more helpful it will be." 

Police ask anyone with information to call State Police Clifton Park at 518-583-7000. The New York State Missing Persons Clearinghouse is also publicizing Bilal’s case in its list of active missing persons cases as a vulnerable adult. 

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