Thomas Dimopoulos

Thomas Dimopoulos

City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
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SARATOGA SPRINGS — A 21st century TV episode showcasing events that occurred in 18th century Saratoga had its local screening premiere this week in a 19th century hall in Saratoga Springs. 

Last September, “Travels With Darley” producer and host Darley Newman visited Saratoga County with a film crew for a busy five-day zag through the county capturing historic locales and contemporary venues alike. The completed project, presented as a 30-minute episode of the Revolutionary Road Trips series, was showcased during a local premiere at Universal Preservation Hall April 22.     

The episode highlights area historic sites like the Saratoga National Historical Park, Congress and High Rock parks and post-Saratoga battle venues in the villages of Schuylerville and Victory, among others, as well as paying visit to numerous stores, breweries, shops, eateries and hotels in and around Saratoga Springs.    

“Stories of triumph and sacrifice, of compassion and betrayal that are part of a journey to create a nation,” Lauren Roberts - Saratoga County Historian and Chair of the Saratoga County 250th Commission, told the large crowd assembled at UPH to view the screening. 

In the fall of 1777, two battles took place in Saratoga that resulted in the surrender of the British army and is referred to by historians as a turning point in the Revolutionary War, as it convinced France to ally with the United States and aiding in the eventual victory over the British. 

The British surrender at Saratoga has been immortalized in a painting by John Trumbull that hangs in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., and in 2015, the U.S. Mint issued a “Saratoga” coin to represent New York state in the America the Beautiful Quarters Program. The coin depicts a close-up of the moment British Gen. John Burgoyne surrendered his sword to Gen. Horatio Gates alongside an inscription that reads: Saratoga.

“The 250th anniversary of the Battles of Saratoga gives us a stage to tell our stories in a new way that breathes life into history,” Roberts said. The region will celebrate the 250th anniversary of the victory in a series of events leading up to, during, and after the 250th anniversary in 2027. 

In 2022, Saratoga County officials unveiled the official brand “America’s Turning Point” to commemorate the anniversary of the Revolutionary War Era events that happened in Saratoga County, and the county Board of Supervisors committed $150,000 in seed money to a newly formed Saratoga County 250th American Revolution Commission to help advance a mission of promoting education, historic preservation and heritage tourism. 

Roberts serves as chair of the 13-member Saratoga 250 commission which comes up with programming ideas and commemorations, she explained. Campaign for Saratoga 250 Inc., a separate non-profit group, is charged with locating funding and grants to support the programming.

This week’s screening at UPH saw numerous county officials, community members and business leaders in attendance. In addition to commentary provided by Roberts, introductory remarks were offered by Board of Supervisors Chairman Phil Barrett, Adirondack Trust Company President and CEO Charles Wait, Jr, and Saratoga Arms proprietor Amy Smith. 

“It’s great to be here for the premiere showcase of ‘Travels with Darley’ and to be able to better share with the general public the golden moment this is,” Congressman Paul Tonko told the audience. “As we approach our 250th anniversary, let’s all celebrate together knowing the sense of place that we call home is indeed a powerful one - deepened by its stake in history, heritage and strategy that enabled us to be the nation we are. It created that infancy walk of a greater nation charged by its framers to always search for a more perfect union.”     

While the two Battles at Saratoga and the British surrender took place in 1777 with its 250th anniversary to be celebrated in 2027, the Commission will extend to 2033, marking the anniversary of the end of the American Revolution. “After the Battles of Saratoga we still have involvement: in 1780 there was a rain on Middletown Road in the town of Ballston, and there are actually soldiers in Saratoga until the end of the war in 1783,” Roberts said. 

Signature annual events include the springtime Women In War Symposium and the Siege Encampment weekend in the fall. Currently in process are educator workshops that will provide teaching tools for K-12 students, interpretive exhibitions that will be housed separate from the battlefield, including using technology to showcase underrepresented stories in places like Schuylerville.

Travels With Darley Revolutionary Road Trip series episode featuring Saratoga is anticipated to broadcast on WMHT-TV regionally and PBS stations across the country in June. Viewers with access to on-demand video streaming apps such as Tubi may be able to currently view the episode.

BALLSTON SPA — The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors during its monthly meeting on April 16 expressed its intent to create a Local Law that authorizes property owners to request the removal of unlawful occupants from dwellings. 

The potential law’s stated purpose “is to protect owners of dwellings in Saratoga County from unlawful occupants commonly referred to as ‘squatters’ and to protect lawful occupants of dwellings from unlawful evictions.”

“The unlawful property and intruder law is in relation to the stories we’ve seen publicized, both in New York State and around different parts of the country,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Phil Barrett. “Generally known as squatters, these are people that take over peoples’ homes, set up shop and decide to live there.”

According to a draft of the proposed law, an “unlawful occupant” is defined as “a person who knowingly enters or remains unlawfully in a dwelling having entered the dwelling without permission of a party entitled to possession.” 

Barrett said he has asked county attorneys to draft legislation for supervisors to consider. 

Additionally stated, the draft explains the proposed law “does not mean a person who entered the dwelling upon consent of a party entitled to possession even if the consent is later revoked including: tenants whose oral or written lease has expired; family members who have been in the dwelling unit for at least 30 days; roommates or other licensees of tenants and occupants who have been in the dwelling unit for at least 30 days, or workers who have been provided housing as part of their job.”

To request the immediate removal of an unlawful occupant of a dwelling, the property owner would need to submit an affidavit to law enforcement that lists 27 points, including that they had directed the unauthorized persons to leave the dwelling, but the person(s) had not done so.

Once the claim has been verified, law enforcement may then take the unlawful occupants into custody and may bring them before a local court judge to face applicable charges, including trespassing.

“We’ve had instances of this in the past in the county, and it probably will become more prevalent,” Barrett said. “It’s become increasingly concerning because it’s clearly a coordinated effort. There are organizations working to identify vacant properties and they have people they send in to take over that property.“

A Public Hearing regarding the proposal will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday May 14, at the next county Board of Supervisors meeting. A vote may follow. Meetings are held at the county complex in Ballston Spa.     

If approved, the local law is slated to go into effect 60 days after being adopted. 

BALLSTON SPA — “Your happiness is now taken away from you, like my happiness was taken from me. But I have no fear of you anymore. We are moving in different directions.”

The words of the 9-year survivor of a kidnapping and assault that occurred last fall echoed across a packed Saratoga County courtroom April 17, after the reading of her victim impact statement. 

Craig N. Ross Jr., the 47-year-old man who abducted the girl, was sentenced to serve 47 years-to-life in state prison, after pleading to kidnapping in the first-degree, and predatory sexual assault against a child.

Offered the opportunity to express remorse in front of the girl’s family, Ross declined to do so. 

The girl was with her family and enjoying a bike ride in Moreau Lake State Park when Ross approached and asked her to help him find something in his truck.

“What began as an idyllic day on September 30, 2023 turned into a living nightmare,” Saratoga County Judge James A. Murphy III told the packed courtroom where about 100 people wedged into eight long pew-like rows - more than one dozen uniformed members of law enforcement and Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen, among them. 

Once in reach, Ross snatched the girl, taking off with her in his truck and confining her in the kitchen cabinet of his camper after he reached his destination in Milton. 

“Ross began a pattern of sexual, emotional and physical abuse so horrific that this court dare not speak of the details,” Judge Murphy said.

“Because of you I can’t sleep at night. Why did you do what you did?” reads the girl’s victim impact statement. “It bothered me that you took advantage of me being nice.”

Ross was arrested Oct. 2, following the issue of an AMBER alert, and the discovery of a ransom note left in the family mailbox of the abducted girl’s home. Fingerprints on the letter were entered into the New York State database and a match was made involving a DWI in 1999 in Saratoga Springs. 

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The subsequent investigation led authorities to the camper in Milton where the girl was located by state police, and Ross taken into custody. 

“This case drew national and international attention because quite simply it shocks the conscience,” Judge Murphy said, while announcing the 47-year sentence based on the two felony charges. 

The girl’s mother read her own statement inside the courtroom. “There will never be a sentence that will be sufficient for what you did to my daughter,” she said, her voice cracked with emotion, her hands tensely turning over a tissue in her hands. 

“I don’t understand why people like you do the things you do,” the mother continued. “You took something from my daughter that cannot be replaced. And I don’t forgive you for that. You don’t deserve forgiveness.”

Ross, wearing a green flannel shirt and shackles that wrapped around his torso, stared at a fixed spot in the distance where a vacant table stood, visually expressing no emotion and saying little. 

“You probably hope that this will affect me the rest of my life,” reads the girl’s statement. “I was in prison for 2-1/2 days and now you will be in prison for 47 years. You will crumble and I will be standing tall.”

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Roots scholar, multi-instrumentalist and Caffè Lena favorite Michael Eck will be staging his 60th Birthday celebration at Caffe Lena on April 19, and he’s bringing a full band AND a brand new album along with him. 

Eck, who first debuted at Caffè Lena in 1990 will be joined by an all-star ensemble featuring Rosanne Raneri, Kevin Maul – who’s flying in from Florida for the show, and Sten Isachsen and Bob Buckley of Jim Gaudet & The Railroad Boys. 

“A nifty little ensemble to accompany me on an evening of original chestnuts, new compositions and classic folk songs at my favorite venue,” Eck says. 

The new album is titled “Fermata,” and will be released in conjunction with the show. 

“A fermata is a musical notation. It looks like a bird’s eye and is sometimes called a hold. It allows the player discretion regarding the value of a note or a rest. To me, it speaks of freedom in music,” says Eck, who will spend the earlier part of the show date getting the design tattooed on his back. 

“Each of the characters singing these songs, whether myself, an addict in Kentucky, an old coin, a bereft wife or a bullet in a revolver, has been thrown an unexpected pause—a hold. And I know from pauses,” he says. 

Eck’s musical legacy in the region is lengthy – breaking in with the Albany punk scene of the early ‘80s with Glaze, to more recent collaborations with Ramblin Jug Stompers and Lost Radio Rounders. The release of Fermata comes 30 years after Eck’s debut, Cowboy Black, and along the way he has served as curator and host of WAMC’s American Roots Series at The Linda; assistant producer of the Music Haven Concert Series, and producer, host of fundraising concerts, and longtime board member at Caffe Lena, alongside among many other accomplishments. 

“It’s a celebration of my 60th birthday, and I hope you’ll join me,” says Eck. “I’m not old, I’m seasoned!”

The special Michael Eck and Friends performance will be staged 8 p.m. Friday, April 19, at Caffe Lena, 47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs. For more info, go to: www.caffelena.org.

SARATOGA SPRINGS – A collaborative effort between the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation and the recent purchaser of an Excelsior Avenue property is being hailed as a success in preserving the city’s landscaped heritage. 

Located at 182 Excelsior Ave., the property was sold by Louisiana Management, LLC - which acquired the 2.5-acre parcel in 2004, to Excelsior Ave Property Owner LLC for $1.35 million on March 20, according to Saratoga County Land Records. 

The LLC that acquired the property is associated with brothers Brian and Gregory Green, whose initial plans called for wholesale demolition of the historic buildings on the site. 

Upon learning about the plans for demolition and subsequent research of the property, the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation reported it learned of the significance of the 1869 Henry Lawrence House beyond its Gothic Revival architecture. After sharing this information with the new owners, they began to re-evaluate development plans to see if it was possible to retain the structures as part of their plan to construct apartments, according to the Foundation. 

“Many developers would have held forth on their original plans or walked away from the project - Brian did not.  He was willing to work on a creative solution that allowed for the development of apartments and the preservation of the buildings,” Samantha Bosshart, Executive Director of the Foundation said, in a statement. 

Henry Haydock Lawrence acquired the Valley of Ten Springs, land that extended from what today is Loughberry Lake to Lake Avenue, in 1829. By 1858, Lawrence’s son, also named Henry, retubed and bottled the waters from Excelsior Spring and was selling them worldwide. In 1869, he built the distinctive Gothic Revival residence at the corner of Excelsior Avenue and Excelsior 

Through a series of meetings, a tentative agreement was made to would allow for key elements to be preserved. It required a reduction in the number of apartments built, significant changes to the site plan, and the subdivision of the property to allow the historic buildings to be made into six condos to make the project financially feasible, to ultimately move the project forward. 

“We at Green Springs Capital are tremendously excited to begin construction on the new 182 Excelsior Avenue,” Brian Green said in a statement. 

“It has been quite a journey the past two years as our team has worked diligently to carefully design a development that will provide homes with exceptional quality while ensuring we honor Saratoga’s storied history. The process was not without its challenges, but in the end, we believe the project will be a huge success,” Green said. “The Lawrence House will be fully restored with six new condominiums and the newly constructed apartments will be home for 36 families. We are very grateful for this opportunity and look forward to making this vision a reality.”

The Foundation added that it believes the final agreement and Planning Board approval will result in the long-term preservation of the 1869 Henry Lawrence House and its carriage house for generations to come. 

Wilton —­ A new 125,000-square-foot medical center and a 130-unit apartment and commercial development are under consideration on Maple Avenue/Route 9 in Wilton. 

The medical center would be sited at 612 Maple Ave. on property featuring 13.66 acres. The proposed two-story building would house multiple medical and surgical practices with a total floorspace of 120,000 square feet - 60,000 square feet per floor. 

The mixed-use development would stand at 631 Maple Ave. on 15.78 acres and include 17,800 square feet of commercial/retail space and 136 apartment units, according to documents submitted to the town of Wilton Planning Board. 

The project is awaiting final approval from the Wilton Planning Board in the next few months, after a public comment period and final traffic reports, according to a published report by Chelsea Diana, of the Albany Business Review. 

The Wilton Planning Board next meets at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 17 at the Wilton Town Hall, 22 Traver Road. 

WILTON — A man of many talents, it is his passion as an avid mountain climber for which Wilton resident Ray O’Conor will be featured in a documentary that will broadcastWednesday, April 24.

The film - “An Above Average Day” - tells the story of Ray O’Conor and Joe Murphy, two hikers who after a chance meeting forged a close and lasting friendship that has inspired them on a series of wilderness adventures. 

“My good buddy Joe and I have done a lot of hiking and climbing over the last 15 years. We hiked more than 400 different mountains, most of them together and more than 5,000 miles of trail,” told Saratoga TODAY as the film was nearing its completion last year. 

O’Conor was contacted several years ago by Veda Films company co-founder Katera Kapoor who told him she’d been following O’Conor’s adventures with his buddy and was interested in putting a documentary film together.  Katera and her husband Aviral subsequently began following O’Conor and Murphy on their hiking journeys capturing footage and conducting interviews. 

The film celebrated its debut screening last year at Saratoga Arts Center and on Wednesday, April 24 will be streamed into homes. The broadcast debut will take place at 5:30 p.m. on WMHT/ PBS. 

“If you had told me five years ago that the founders of Veda Films, Katera Noviello-Kapoor and Aviral Kapoor, would produce and direct a film in which my buddy Joe and I would co-star and that it would be broadcast on WMHT / PBS… I wouldn’t have believed it,” O’Conor said. 

“There are two sides to the story,” O’Conor explained. “One is the adventure side about hiking and mountain climbing. The other is about the relationship between Joe and I,” said O’Conor, whose lengthy  resume includes work as a financial consultant with a Wall Street investment firm,  a United States Border Patrol Agent and a Special Agent with the U.S. Department of Defense, local bank CEO, Wilton Town Councilmember, and author of the book ‘She Called Him Raymond.’

“One of the focal points is the relationship between these two guys who met by chance and spent a lot of time together over the past 15 years on mountains and on trails.”

O’Conor’s fondness for hiking was born during an early morning climb in the late 1980s at the urging of Roy McDonald when O’Conor decided to run for the town board in Wilton, and McDonald – who later would be elected to the state assembly and senate – was town supervisor. 

Since that time he has climbed the 46 high peaks of the Adirondacks, the 32 mountains between the Catskills and the Adirondacks that have fire towers on them, and journeyed to the Lake George 12ster, the Saranac Lake 6er and the Northeast 11, while working his way through the 50 highest points and peaks in the country all across the United States. 

The rewards are many. “It’s as good for the mind and the soul as it is for the body,” O’Conor said. “There’s something special about being out in the wilderness. The Japanese have a term they call it: Forest Bathing. Being out in the woods, on the trail, in isolation. Getting away from all the world’s troubles is magical.

“An Above Average Day,” a Veda Films documentary, will broadcast on WMHT/PBS at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 24. 

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Image: Details of the seasonal paid parking program.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga Springs City Council on April 2 unanimously approved the establishment of a seasonal paid parking program. 

The program will run from Memorial Day through Labor Day and affect six city-owned, off-street parking facilities. 

The paid parking program will be in effect in three parking garages - Walton/Woodlawn Parking Garage, Woodlawn Ave. Parking Garage, and Putnam St. Parking Garage, and three city surface parking lots – specifically located at Woodlawn Ave., Spring Street, and High Rock. Times of operation and parking permitted levels will vary. 

To park in any of the six facilities, fees up to $2 per hour will be charged. City residents with proof of residency may apply for a permit to park free of charge at the six facilities. An online portal where residents and downtown business owners may apply for permits is anticipated to roll out by the end of April. 

As it currently stands, downtown workers with proof of regular employment as verified by their employer, may apply for the free parking permit if their business is located in the city’s “Urban Core” District, as defined by the city’s Zoning map.       

“Registration will occur online or by working with staff at City Hall,” said DPW Business Manager Mike Veitch. “The permits themselves are linked to license plates as is when you pay for a space. It’s linked to your license plate – that’s how the system will track.” Pay stations are expected to be installed some time in May. There will be no traditional parking meters.    

The program was developed by the city’s Department of Public Works under Commissioner Jason Golub and has been scaled back from an initial plan floated last December that proposed converting more than 1,300 on-street and nearly 800 garage parking spaces into either “permit” or “paid” spots for a five-month period beginning May 1. On-street parking will remain free of charge for all, as it currently is. 

The city estimates the plan will generate a gross revenue of just under $1.6 million this summer. “It is additional revenue coming into the city,” said Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi, reasoning that numerous nearby tourist-friendly cities are already running paid parking schemes. 

Subtract from the estimated gross revenue about $450,000 in expenses to run the program in 2024 – this includes a one-time pay station installation cost of about $125,000 – resulting in an estimated net gain of just over $1.1 million.

The city says it will invest $100,000 of revenue gained in the DBA (“a dedicated marketing professional for the Downtown Business Association”), $50,000 into Parking Structure Capital Reserve, $75,000 into a Downtown Improvement Reserve, and $40,000 into a Recreation Parking program. There was no documentation presented this week regarding where the anticipated more than $850,000 in additional annual revenue may be spent.   

“We have a three-month period here to see how it works and I think it’s worth doing,” said Mayor John Safford, adding that some of the revenue generated will be earmarked to help resolve homeless issues, although how much of or where those funds would be applied was not specified. 

The City Council’s 5-0 vote in favor of the plan followed a 65-minute Public Hearing on the matter attended by more than 60 people at City Hall. Approximately 20 people addressed the council during the hearing, expressing a variety of opinions: a handful in favor of paid parking, a slightly higher number of people opposed, and some who voiced an expression akin to “let’s try it for three months and see how it goes.”

A reduced rate parking permit for Saratoga Springs School District taxpayers which would benefit those in nearby municipalities is also expected to be optioned-in at some point. The city school district stretches south to areas of Milton and Ballston Spa, west to Middle Grove and Lake Desolation, north to Porter Corners and Wilton, and east along Route 29 on the road to Schuylerville. 

ALBANY — Scene One Entertainment is slated to reopen the Spectrum 8 Theaters in Albany this month, the company announced this week. 

Joe Masher, owner and CEO, Scene One Entertainment, opened Scene One Wilton Mall Cinemas at the Wilton Mall in Saratoga last month. The company also operated Movieland in Schenectady.

Spectrum 8 Theaters first opened in 1983 and for decades screened independent, upscale programming of avantgarde, foreign, independent, and widely-released features. Originally a single-screen theater known as The Delaware Theater that opened in the early 1940s, the Spectrum has been a mainstay of the Delaware Avenue neighborhood.

“The overwhelming response to the theatre’s closing last month prompted me to move faster with the building’s owner to get the cinema reopened. I’ve been working very closely with (Spectrum co-founder) Keith Pickard to bring the heart and soul back into the Spectrum. The art gallery will be reactivated and the calendar that was published monthly will return,” Masher said in a statement. 

Scene One will restore the selections that made the Spectrum’s concession stand a treasure: locally-sourced cakes, pastries, cookies, gluten-free delights, real butter on fresh, hot popcorn, and mint brownies.

“I’ve been attending the Spectrum since Keith and his partners opened it in 1983. I saw its first film, ‘Lianna’, when it was a one-screen cinema. I’ve been a giant fan of their operations since their start at the Third Street Theater. I am honored that Keith and his partners have selected me to carry on their tradition,” Masher said. For more information about Scene One Entertainment, visit scene1ent.com.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Updated sketch plans have been submitted to the city by the Tree House Brewing Company for the proposed development of an eating and drinking establishment at 3376 South Broadway. 

The business would be located between Saratoga Honda and Homewood Suites on the east side of Route 9 upon currently vacant land and would include micro-production of alcohol and outdoor dining, as well as site work associated with the venue. 

The application is currently under consideration for Site Plan Review by the Saratoga Springs Planning Board. 

The Planning Board will hold its next meeting at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 11 at City Hall. 

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