Thomas Dimopoulos

Thomas Dimopoulos

City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
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BALLSTON SPA — The county Sheriff’s 911 Center is experiencing a staffing shortage due to a lack of a current Civil Service list to fill recent retirements and resignations. 

The 911 Center is authorized 37 full-time positions, and currently has five vacancies. Those numbers are expected to drop further this summer. There are two pending retirements slated for late June and two to three additional shortages due to staff leaving for other employment in June and July. 

A new Civil Service list and training new potential employees is anticipated to take a total of five to seven months. The county is looking to fill the temporary vacancies with fully-trained recent retirees from the 911 Center. To fit that need, a resolution is on the table that seeks to authorize the creation of five temporary part-time Desk Officer positions at a rate of $22.93 per hour, through the end of fiscal year 2022.

County Branding Contract 

The county will vote on a proposed resolution to authorize an agreement at a cost of $31,500 for county branding services with the Glens Falls based Trampoline Advertising and Design Co. 

Those services are to include the development of a brand strategy, identity mark and standards guide as well as a design template to standardize the county’s visual identity across all its departments. 

SARATOGA SPRINGS - They are: two wild and im-pec-cably dressed guys.

Raconteurs, humorists and colorful characters J.P.V. Oliver, gent. and master image-maker and word slayer Richard Lovrich will dock their mothership on Broadway next Wednesday when they descend upon Northshire Bookstore Saratoga to tell stories and share anecdotes from their latest respective books, as part of their Bad Authors Tour ’22.  

The books – “I Know This Looks Bad,” by J.P.V. Oliver, gent. “Have a Very Bad Day,” by Richard Lovrich.

The bookstore says: “This is sure to be a side-splitting evening!” So whether you’re willing to have your torso cleaved, your ears teased, your mind illuminated, or just want to ask the guys just-where-do-you get your clothes? it's an anythong-goes affair. 

Show time is at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 11 at Northshire Bookstore, 424 Broadway, Saratoga Springs.

Thursday, 05 May 2022 17:10

City Council Appoints DPW Commissioner

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Jason Golub was unanimously selected by the four sitting members of the City Council on May 3 to temporarily fill the vacancy as the council’s fifth member and as Commissioner of Public Works.    

The vacant seat is a result of the death last month of longtime DPW Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco. 

“I want to take a moment to thank Commissioner Scirocco for his service to the community. I have big shoes to fill,” Golub said, thanking the council for their vote to appoint him DPW Commissioner.  “I am supremely confident that we can do great things in this city.”

The position pays an annual salary of $14,500. City Mayor Ron Kim - who had previously served as Public Safety Commissioner on the City Council - credited Scirocco for putting together “a great staff” staff in the current DPW department. He also cautioned that the biggest challenge that may be faced by Golub – a newcomer to the council - is the amount of time the job demands in real life, if not in job description.

“I can tell you this is a full-time job. I’m not sugar-coating that. The Commission form of Government, how it’s been set up, essentially requires an awful lot of your time,” Kim said.   

The five members City Council – which includes four commissioners and a mayor – each have one vote of equal weight to decide city matters. In most cases, simple majority rules.

Golub, an attorney, served as a co-chairperson of the ad hoc Saratoga Springs Police Reform Task Force, which operated in 2021. He grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, and has been a resident of Saratoga Springs for the past seven years, according to an interview published in The Skidmore News in 2021 during which he said he found Saratoga politics “too transactional,” where officials were more focused on holding their offices than in the needs of their constituents.

A five-member Public Works Search Committee chaired by former council member John Franck selected Golub as their recommended candidate to fill the position, although the City Council was not bound to their recommendation.  The ad hoc committee met on April 29 with Golub and two other candidates - Anthony Scirocco, Jr., and Billy McTygue, and presented their non-binding recommendation to the council on May 1. 

A Special Election will be held to fill the term for the calendar year 2023, after which normal two-year electable terms for all five council members takes place. That Special Election could be held in November, a traditional election date. The City Council is tasked with setting the date for the election. 

Golub said he is interested in pursuing the council seat in that election. “I hope I get to work with all of you over the coming weeks and months and I earn your support in the election come next November,” Golub told the council at its May 3 meeting. 

Former DPW Commissioner Tom McTygue addressed the council during the public comment segment of the meeting. He spoke in support of his brother, Bill McTygue, who was vying for appointment to the seat and suggested he will encourage him to campaign for the elected position later this year. 

CRB Approved, Members Sought

The City Council approved Public Safety Commissioner Jim Montagnino’s updated 9-page Civilian police Review Board ordinance, as well as an application form for those interested in their appointment to the CRB. It may be found on the city’s website as a link under the City Council Agenda May 3 at: www.saratoga-springs.org/AgendaCenter. 

Ways To Grieve

Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran announced the Assessment Office will be holding a “How to Grieve your Assessment” class for 2022 to take place 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday May 10 in the City Council Room. Advance sign-up is not required. Grievance Day is Tuesday, May 24.

Additionally, a 2022 Grievance Packet to be filled out is available on the city’s web site. How to get there: go to: saratoga-springs.org. Highlight “Government.”  Under “Departments” find and click on “Assessments.” Click on “Grieving Your Assessment.” Scroll down and click on “Grievance Packet.” Easy peasy. 

Thursday, 05 May 2022 17:09

400 Apartments Proposal at Wilton Mall

WILTON — A national development company is looking to build nearly 400 apartments and townhouses alongside the Wilton Mall. 

Pending the town’s modification of its current code, Paramount Development is looking to purchase two lots totaling just over 13-1/2 acres on the northeasterly side of the mall for the $100 million-plus project. 

The Florida-based company has developed 200 rental apartment communities in dozens of states, said Tom Snell, a partner with Paramount Development who recently met with Wilton town officials. The focus is on high-end or luxury apartments. “What we see in the Wilton Mall is something that’s got some momentum. We do really well around retail,” Snell told the Wilton Town Board. 

The current owner of those acres is Santa Monica, California-based company Macerich - which has owned and operated the mall land since 2004. They own about 95 acres in all. In the adjacent properties, JC Penney owns just over two acres, and LBW Saratoga – occupied by BJ’s, owns just under another four acres. 

The potential project, which would occur on northeast side of the mall past Dick’s Sporting Goods, envisions nearly 400 residential units consisting of just under 300 apartment units and approximately 90 town house units to be developed in multiple phases atop the nearly 14 acres of property. A pool, basketball court and wine club are also planned. A joint petition has been filed on behalf of Paramount Development and Macerich with the town to amend the zoning code. 

“We have been working on this for about a year,” said David Carr of the LA Group, which is headquartered in Saratoga Springs. 

Carr said the plan is to remove the BonTon building and develop two phases of apartments and townhouses. “The mall property is made up of 101 acres. It’s made up of four parcels. There’s one large parcel and three inner parcels. There’s a pad parcel around BJ’s, and JC Penney, and around Dick’s Sporting Goods. The thought is to remove BonTon, develop the first phase, which would be about 250 units in four buildings, with underground parking and amenities within the perimeter road,” Carr said. 

“If you’ve been to the mall the retail industry has gone through a dramatic change - and not in a good way,” Wilton Mall Property Manager Mike Schafer told the board. “In 2018 our BonTon closed, in 2020 our Sears closed.” At its peak in 2016, the mall generated about $95 million in sales. As of February of this year it’s down to $55 million. “That’s about a $44 million sales tax loss with the retailers that we’ve lost. So that’s a real sales tax revenue loss for the town. The sales in the mall dropped in half,” he said. 

“As a landlord and an owner, we need to reposition the mall for future growth to maintain the tax revenue here in Wilton. We see adding residential as a catalyst to help attract and get future tenants including dining and entertainment, which right now we frankly don’t have any,” Schafer said. “Right now, we are still in decent shape but the residential addition to the property at the end of the mall that, right now, is getting no interest. So, we’re looking for a zoning overlay to allow for the residential and other uses.” 

Paramount is still finalizing their plans for their project. Pending the board’s agreement to adopt the zoning amendment, Paramount would submit a subdivision and site plan application to the Planning Board for review. The Board raised the notion that the project perhaps be crafted as a Planned Unit Development. Should the project continue to move forward, a public hearing will be held.   

Town Discusses How to Spend Funding Received via American Recovery Plan 

The town discussed how to apply $870,000 in funding it has received this year via the American Recovery Plan Act. The amount matches last years’ funding. Wilton has received a total of just over $1.7 million via the federal plan in two years.  That funding must be targeted for use by the end of calendar year 2024 and spent by December 2026, or it must be returned. 

Subsequent to its discussion, the town board unanimously adopted a resolution to allocate $100,000, from the grant, for not-for-profits with acceptable applications who service, reside, or have a branch in the town of Wilton.    

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.

Off-Track Records

“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. 

Thursday, 28 April 2022 12:03

DRC Meets May 4

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.   

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