City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
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.
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."