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CRICKETS TAKE FLIGHT ATOP TRAMPOLINES. Spiders spin silky threads. Red ants juggle kiwis and corn and a dragonfly balances along the slender stalks of a plant.
Together, the graceful actions of all this energy in motion depicts an ecosystem bursting with life and the basis of the Cirque du Soleil show “OVO,” which takes the stage for six performances at the Times Union Center Jan. 29 - Feb. 2.
“I find the show very colorful and great for all kinds of audiences, especially for kids,” says Alexander Grol, who in his guise as a beetle in OVO’s Russian Cradle act has a unique point-of-view of the awestruck “insects” whose intense curiosity is heightened when a mysterious egg appears, representing the enigma and cycles of their lives.
“The show is quite good in its balance of the different things and I’ve heard people saying some very nice things about many of the different acts,” Grol says. “There are very strong acrobatics and when I have overheard people talking about their favorite acts, it’s usually about the slackwire performance, which is absolutely insane. There are very few people I’ve ever seen who can do that kind of act. Top-of-the-notch acrobatics,” he says. “Personally, I like what I do! I would say it’s my favorite, haha.”
Grol’s job description of his role in the flying act segment? “I throw and catch people for a living,” he says, with a laugh. “I’m the one throwing and catching the acrobats.”
Originally from Kiev, Ukraine, Grol was born into a traditional circus family. “Much of my life has been on the road, from the time with my parents when I was a boy. I grew up quite fast and they kind of integrated me into the show, which was the Moscow State Circus, traveling the U.K. for a while. That was the first circus I started in.”
He joined Cirque du Soleil in 2008 with the stage production of “Zaia,” which was based in Macau and represented the company’s first resident show in Asia. In 2011 he joined “OVO.” He says he’s on the road with the show a few months at a time, interrupted by occasional two-week breaks, and when not performing he enjoys reading, keeping in shape and exploring cities where the tour takes him.
“Every time we move to a different city, we have a day or two to go out and explore,” Grol says. The loudest crowds? Latin America. “We had full houses every day and they were screaming their heads off! That was fun.” He is partial to the west coast - California and Oregon specifically, the rich landscapes of Colorado, and the cultural sophistication of Japan.
OVO, which first premiered in Montréal in April 2009, celebrated its 2,000th show in February 2015 in Fukuoka. “Japan I like very much. The politeness is one reason. And it’s super-clean there; neat and tidy. I found it very different from the rest of the world.”
The name OVO, which means “egg” in Portuguese, represents a timeless symbol of the life cycle and birth of numerous insects and depicts the underlying thread of “OVO” the show – which marks the 25th live production from Cirque du Soleil. With an international crew representing 17 nationalities, “OVO” has visited more than 30 cities in six different countries as a Big Top show before transforming in an arena show in 2016.
The seeds of Cirque du Soleil were first planted in the early 1980’s, when a troupe of performers took their talent to the village streets on the shores of the St. Laurent River near Quebec City with a crew jugglers, dancers, fire breathers, and musicians. In 1984, the show traveled on a province-wide tour and three years later crossed the Canadian borders for the first time, with a tour of the U.S.
Today, it sites its headquarters - “a laboratory of imagination”- in Montreal where 1,300 artists hailing from 55 different countries form the current Cirque du Soleil team. Since 1997, all shows have been created at Cirque du Soleil’s International Headquarters.
One wing of the headquarters includes three acrobatic training rooms, a dance studio, a studio-theater, and a gym where preparatory training – which can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months – is conducted before joining a shows cast.
Each individual show features anywhere from 50 to 100 artists. The cast is nearly evenly divided between those who come from sports disciplines such as rhythmic and acrobatic gymnastics, those from circus arts disciplines, and those who come from various artistic backgrounds such as dance, music, physical theatre and street arts.
Every year the costume workshop uses more than 6.5 kilometers of fabric from around the world to create intricate stage outfits and sets, and the musical score is written by company composers, creating shows that feature original music
Cirque du Soleil “OVO” will perform the following dates at Times Union Center, 51 S. Pearl St., Albany: Wednesday, Jan. 29 at 7:30 pm; Thursday, Jan. 30 at 7:30 pm; Friday, Jan. 31 at 7:30 pm; Saturday, Feb. 1 at 4 pm and at 7:30 pm; Sunday, Feb. 2 at 1:30 pm. Ticket prices range from $38 adult/ $29 child to $129 and are available at the arena box office, or online at ticketmaster.com.
SARATOGA SPRINGS - Singer-songwriter, actress, and activist Holly Near performs at Caffe Lena Sunday, Jan. 19.
Near’s discography spans five decades and includes arguably the greatest cover version committed to vinyl of Woody Guthrie’s “Pastures of Plenty,” which Near performed as a duet with the Weavers’ Ronnie Gilbert.
Tidbit to impress your friends: Near (playing the role of student body president Phyllis Goldberg) debated David Cassidy (playing the role of Keith Partridge) when the two opposed one another in a campaign for student body president, during an episode of “The Partridge Family,” which aired in 1973.
Near’s show at Caffe Lena begins 7 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $35 general admission, $32 cafe members, $17.50 students and kids. A pre-show talk takes place 6 p.m. with a $5 admission.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – It’s been a long and winding road to Adelphi Street since a community of residents, clergy, business leaders, politicians and everyday folks first came together to create a space where people without a home can find shelter during frigid nights, get fed a warm meal, recharge their bodies and head back out into the light of the next day to try and secure a more stable standing.
Motivated to action in the wake of the death of a city woman exposed to a winter’s elements on a December night in 2013, a temporary homeless emergency shelter was launched that Christmas Eve at St. Peter’s Parish Center.
A series of temporary winter shelters, sited at a variety of venues across town, have followed: the Salvation Army building west of Broadway and Soul Saving Station Church east of Broadway, among them. The latter, having a 41-bed capacity, required the addition of the Presbyterian New England Congregational Church also open for extended periods to care for the “overflow” of guests.
Last month, Shelters of Saratoga - which oversees the Code Blue shelter program – opened the latest temporary venue at 4 Adelphi St., just west of South Broadway. In 2016, an executive order issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo directs emergency shelters to operate when temperatures drop below 32 degrees.
Many hands were needed to transform a previously vacant Adelphi Street warehouse into a suitable shelter space in time for the winter season.
“On behalf of Shelters of Saratoga, I extend my heartfelt appreciation to the incredible generosity of all the businesses that helped bring Code Blue to Adelphi Street a reality,” said S.O.S. Executive Director Karen Gregory.
The locally based Bonacio Construction firm led the way, transforming the 4,000 square-foot of industrial space into accommodations for people during cold temperatures, at cost. The work included fitting up the existing building with new electrical, HVAC, and plumbing, painting floors, adding bathrooms with showers, and donating shelving.
“We worked hard to get this project on schedule after running into asbestos in the building in November,” Bonacio says. “After working through the weekends, we were able to make up valuable time and got them up and running for opening on December 9.”
“We’re very grateful to them for completing the project at cost, foregoing profit and being very generous with their expertise,” Gregory said.
During the 2017-18 winter season – the latest figures available - Code Blue was open 162 nights, served more than 8,000 meals, and provided sleeping quarters for a total of 6,480 overnight stays – or on average, 40 nightly guests.
The new location houses a 61-bed facility – many more than in previous locations - and as such, Gregory said an “overflow” shelter is not anticipated at this time. “I think the new location is working well. We’re working with people to get them to and from different appointments they need to be at. We’re in Saratoga Springs, so realistically anywhere in the city would have worked well,” she added.
The lease on the new location runs until November 2021. An entirely new staff and leadership has been hired providing more people than in years past working each shift, and just over 107 new volunteers have also been added this year, pointed out Gregory, who said the search for a location to host a permanent site continues. “That’s something I’m truly committed to and is something in the conversation and on my agenda every single day. Two years is going to go by quickly, so we can’t take our eye off of that. That has to be a priority on my agenda, the city’s agenda, and hopefully the county’s agenda as well,” Gregory said.
Finding a permanent shelter location has proved to be a challenge. A permanent shelter location was thought to be found in 2017 on Walworth Street, where a Code Blue structure would be built on property belonging to Shelters of Saratoga after local business owner Ed Mitzen, and his wife Lisa announced they would pay the costs for the new, permanent shelter to be built. In September 2018, however, following a lawsuit filed by local residents challenging the proposed shelter expansion as not being in accordance with zoning regulation, a Saratoga County Supreme Court judge nullified previously granted approvals by the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning Board which would have allowed the shelter to be built.
Regarding the new temporary spot, the city of Saratoga Springs provided $50,000 towards the upkeep of the building as well as for paying rent in the off-season for the next two years, as well as supporting the S.O.S. outreach program.
As far as need, Gregory says the best way for people to help is to make donations directly to Shelters of Saratoga to aid in the continuation of the organization’s providing of services.
“We haven’t been reimbursed by the county or the state at all yet, so we’re carrying this tremendous financial responsibility forward,” Gregory said. “We’re not exactly sure what the county and state are going to reimburse us for and there’s always a risk of the unknown. That makes it difficult on a small non-profit like us because we can’t afford to incur those expenses and not get reimbursed, obviously. In the interim, we have applied and been approved for a bridge loan for $200,000 by a non-profit bank just in case reimbursement continues to be prolonged. At least that would not put the agency in a tough spot and cover some of the costs, until we get some kind of reimbursement.”
Finding a long-term solution to address the city’s homelessness issue – specifically including a permanent Code Blue facility - is listed among the city’s outlook of priorities in 2020.
“I’m so thankful to be working in this incredibly generous community - the amount of expertise and support and humanity - just coming together when there are needs and putting people first,” said Gregory, who was named executive director of S.O.S. last year. “We really do care about our homeless neighbors, keeping them safe, and I’m very appreciate of having a community that’s so behind S.O.S. It’s been a wonderful experience so far.”
Statement from Bonacio Construction Inc.: The temporary Code Blue shelter in Downtown Saratoga Springs required transforming this 4,000 square foot industrial space into accommodations for people during the cold temperatures. Thank you to our incredible team of local businesses who helped out on this project: Allerdice ACE Hardware for donating materials. B&B Plumbing & Heating for donating both its plumbing and HVAC services. CT Mail for providing its air monitoring services during asbestos removal at a discount. Kyle Fillion of Evolve IT for donating his services for video conferencing. Granite & Marble Works, Inc. for donating granite countertops. NRC NY Environmental for working on the asbestos abatement at a discount. Prediletto Electric for donating its time and supplies. Tom Roohan of Roohan Realty for donating the showers. Stone Industries for providing its services. Thermally Yours, Inc. for installing the insulation. Tuff Kote Flooring LLC for installing the epoxy flooring at half price. Winsupply of Saratoga Springs & Bath Expressions Showroom for donating the plumbing fixtures. Project Manager: James Ackerman.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The highly anticipated grand opening of Universal Preservation Hall is set for Saturday, Feb. 29.
Following a multi-million-dollar renovation to transform the 19th century hall into a flourishing 700-plus seat performance space, UPH also looks to fill a half-century-long need in Saratoga Springs. The city’s downtown district has lacked a year-round, mid-sized venue since the 5,000-seat Convention Hall on Broadway was destroyed by fire in 1966.
UPH was built in 1871 and served as a Methodist church and a gathering place. Teddy Roosevelt, Frederick Douglass and William Howard Taft to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg have each taken a turn atop the main stage during the building’s 146-year history.
A century after its construction, the Victorian Gothic structure on Washington Street began to fall into disrepair and the church sat empty for several years. In 2000, the city condemned the building and members of the community rallied to save the structure from demolition. In 2015, UPH got an added boost when it became an affiliate of Proctors.
Proctors CEO Phillip Morris says he envisions UPH as a welcoming place to gather, and as a cultural heart of the city. After the Saratoga Springs venue reopens with its 45-foot-tall ceilings, bell tower and walnut and ash staircases that feed into the main hall, it is anticipated it will stage 200 or so annual events.
Opening Night features an appearance by singer/songwriter Rosanne Cash, the eldest daughter of country legend Johnny Cash.
Tickets are available by phone at 518-346-6204, online at universalpreservationhall.org and in person at the Box Office at Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady.
Tickets to the following shows are now on sale:
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 29. The Great Hall at UPH, $65 - $150.
Sounds of the Hall
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 4. The Great Hall at UPH, $20.
An Evening with Chris Botti
7:30 p.m. Friday, March 6. The Great Hall at UPH, $79.50 - $179.50.
The Marvelous Marquise Family Circus
2 p.m. Sunday, March 8. The Great Hall at UPH, $10.
7:30 p.m. Friday, March 13. The Great Hall at UPH, $32.50 - $109.50.
Howard Jones Acoustic Trio
7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 14. The Great Hall at UPH, $29.50 - $69.50.
Irish Hooley with the Screaming Orphans
7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 15. The Great Hall at UPH, $25.
Rochmon Record Club: Paul Simon’s Graceland
7 p.m. Tuesday, March 17. The Great Hall at UPH, $10.
One Night in Memphis
7:30 p.m. Friday, March 20. The Great Hall at UPH, $30 - $65.
7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 21. The Great Hall at UPH, $19.50 - $39.50.
7:30 p.m. Friday, March 27. The Great Hall at UPH, $39.50 - $89.50.
PB&J Café: The Stinky Cheese Man
11 a.m. & 1:30 p.m. Saturday. April 4, The Great Hall at UPH, $15.
THE HIT MEN…Legendary Rock Supergroup & Musicians Hall of Fame
7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 9. The Great Hall at UPH, $30 - $65.
Bakithi Kumalo & The Graceland Experience
7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 23. The Great Hall at UPH, $19.50 - $39.50.
The Okee Dokee Brothers
6 p.m. Friday, April 24. The Great Hall at UPH, $15 for students with ID, $25 for adults.
The Steep Canyon Rangers
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 29. The Great Hall at UPH, $20 - $79.50.
Top of the World – A Carpenters Tribute
7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 9. The Great Hall at UPH, $25.50 - $59.50.
Yogapalooza with Bari Koral Quartet
2 p.m. Saturday, May 16. Great Hall at UPH, $10 students with ID, $20 Adults
Bee Gees Gold
7:30 p.m. Friday, May 22. The Great Hall at UPH, $20 - $55.50.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Approximately 70 different performing groups, 30 different venue stages, and a new stroke-of-midnight component inspired by the digital age will ring in the New Year in Saratoga Springs.
There will be variety: live music – from symphonic to rock ‘n’ roll, dancing, theater, and comedy and skateboard demos will be among this year’s offerings.
Billed as “First Night Saratoga 2020: A New Dimension,” the goal is to entertain and to inspire, while offering interactive possibilities for thousands of revelers of all ages. The Dec. 31 event will mark the 24th First Night gathering in Saratoga Springs and the 10th such event since it was taken on by Saratoga Arts.
“We’re not just presenters of the arts, we encourage everyone to be engaged and to find the art within themselves.” - Joel Reed, executive director of Saratoga Arts, said Tuesday, unveiling this year’s event poster. First Night programmer Bobby Carlton stressed the desire to create an interactivity between performers and the public played a major role in organizing the Dec. 31 event, and to that point encouraged dialogue between festival attendees and performers when not on stage. There will also be a variety of dance events in which revelers can take part held in different locations.
The New Year’s Eve event will feature about 70 acts in more than 30 venues - about 230 sets over six hours - as well as a 5K road race which will kick off the night. New this year is an interactive “Digital Midnight” event that will replace the annual fireworks show. The audio-visual presentation will broadcast online and enable revelers to “enjoy midnight anywhere.”
Typically, more than 10,000 people ring in the New Year with Saratoga Arts and First Night Saratoga in downtown Saratoga Springs.
Admission, by way of a special First Night Saratoga button – is $20. That cost is $15 if purchased online or at Saratoga Arts, located on Broadway, through Dec. 25. Free CDTA bus service will be available downtown. Children 12 and under are admitted to events free of charge. For more information, go to: www.saratoga-arts.org/first-night. For a more detailed list of performers and venues, please see next week’s edition of Saratoga TODAY.
More on First Night...
Saratoga Arts Seeks Volunteers for First Night Saratoga 2020
Registration Open for First Night Saratoga 5K Run
The Saratoga Arts' First Night 5k - a family friendly event - begins at the Skidmore College gymnasium at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 31 and traces a 3.1 mile loop around the campus. This is a moderately challenging course, including both hills and downgrades. Registration is $30 through Dec. 25. To register, visit www.saratoga-arts.org/first-night/first-night-5k.
Former City Police Chief Pens Historical Book About Saratoga’s Notorious Gangsters & Gamblers
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Former city Police Chief Greg Veitch has published a new book that documents the history of Saratoga gangsters and concludes in the 1950s - when 130 years of open illegal gambling in the city came to an end. The argument could be made that along with other mid-20th century events, such as the construction of the Northway and the sweeping project of Urban Renewal, going “legit” in a post-gangster Saratoga Springs contributed to the development of the prosperous city that exists in the present day.
Veitch, whose family has resided in the Spa City for several generations, served in local law enforcement for a quarter-century, rising through the ranks to become Saratoga Springs’ police chief. Tuned in to a calling that insisted there were other things to do in his life, Veitch resigned his position as police chief in May.
“Things have been good. I don’t miss it as much as I thought I would, but I felt called to go into the profession and I felt called to leave, so maybe that has made it easier,” he said, during a sit-down interview this week. “I don’t necessarily know what the future holds for me, but I was prepared to leave. In my life, I try to follow what I believe I’m hearing from above.”
One of the things he has worked on is continuing to historically document notorious gangster connections with the village and the city of Saratoga Springs during a period that spanned more than a century.
His previously published debut book, “All the Law in the World Won’t Stop Them,” retells the history of the gamblers and gangsters of Saratoga from the early years as a village up through 1930. The new edition, published by Shires Press, continues the history of Saratoga gamblers and gangsters with tales of bootlegging and liquor raids, gangland shootouts, political payoffs and police corruption.
The new book, “A Gangster’s Paradise: Saratoga Springs from Prohibition to Kefauver,” tells the story from the Prohibition Era t
o the Kefauver Committee hearings in the 1950s. In May 1950, the Senate established a five-member Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce. Tennessee senator Estes Kefauver was selected as its chairman.
“My intent was always to write the story from the beginning of the village through the early ‘50s when the Kefauver investigation put an end to the open gambling in Saratoga, to tell the story from beginning to end,” Veitch said.
“How did the book thing get started? When I was a little kid, 4 or 5 years old, The Veitch family had a reunion when we were selling the Old Bryan Inn. I can remember the older guys – my uncles and my father, telling me this story about my great-grandfather Sid and a mafia shooting, or a gangland shooting,” Veitch said. “It was about this guy who got shot and dumped at the hospital. When the police came and interviewed Sid about it, he said, ‘Look I was sitting in the front seat of the car. They shot the guy in the back seat of the car, so I didn’t see ‘nothing, I can’t help you.’
“Now great grandpa Sid was kind of a rough-and-tumble guy, so the story’s believable. For years the only thing I knew about him was that story, and nothing else,” Veitch said. “So, I go away to college, I come back; I become a policeman and I get promoted to be a detective lieutenant and a detective calls me up out of the blue one day and says: hey, can you go check on a case from the 1980s?”
While searching through the archives he discovered some information about the case he had heard about as a child. “The murder of Adam Parillo 1936. It was one sheet. My great-grandfather is not mentioned at all. He’s not part of the story in any way. And (Parillo) probably wasn’t even shot in the car. My great-grandfather probably just told people that to make himself look tough,” Veitch said.
Nonetheless, he pulled together some newspaper clippings regarding the Parillo case for a presentation at the Saratoga Springs History Museum.
“It was about the most famous unsolved murder in Saratoga Springs history. When I was done talking, a guy walked up front and said to me, ‘You should write a book.’ Before that, I hadn’t even thought anything about it, but I did know there were other fascinating stories about Saratoga, so I started piecing these stories together,” Veitch said.
During his course of research – which was conducted strictly through historical resources like newspapers and not police files – it dawned on him that what he had was a 130-year story of open gambling and corruption. “Stories about what was going on: fixed horse races, bootleggers shooting at each other on Circular Street, just fascinating. I had so much stuff, I thought, you know, maybe I should write a book; get it down and even if nobody ever reads it, at least there will be a place in the library where somebody can go and look at it,” Veitch said.
“I love telling stories, I love talking to people from Saratoga. I like people stopping me on the street and saying, ‘Hey, my family did this during that time.’ I think I can write a couple of more books (in the future), but it won’t be about this.”
The new book features chapters with titles like “A Spasm of Violence,” “Trouble at The Track,” and “Prohibition at The Spa.” It includes historic photos and research notes.
“A Gangster’s Paradise” sells for $25. It is available at Northshire Bookstore, on Broadway in Saratoga Springs. For more information, go to: gangstersofsaratoga.com.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – It. Starts. With. Art. “Wherever your passion is. Community starts with art. Economies start with art,” Saratoga Arts Executive Director Joel Reed explained to the crowd gathered for Saratoga Arts’ Soiree at Longfellows Restaurant on Nov. 13.
“We all know how important cultural tourism is. It contributes that wealth to the hospitality industry, to sales taxes, to keep Saratoga Springs growing,” Reed said. The cultural traveler spends 60 percent more than the leisure traveler in the U.S., according to a 2013 Mandala Research report. And some local communities are realizing that benefit. The village and town of Lake George, for example, have contributed portions of tax monies collected for the rental of rooms in their communities – known as a bed tax – to fund music festivals and events which then in turn bring more people into the community who subsequently spend money at local businesses and stay in local hotels.
Since its founding in 1986, over 1 million people have come through programs and events run by Saratoga Arts, and more than $3 million has been paid to artists and arts organizations in the local community. In 2018 alone, over 42 grants were awarded totaling $125,000 and 78 exhibitions presented in the region, resulting in over 700 artists showing their work locally. This year’s fundraising soiree raised about $20,000, Reed said.
Since 2012, Saratoga Arts has honored the work of a variety of arts advocates in the region - Mona Golub, James Kettlewell, Elaina Richardson, Marie Glotzbach and Dee Sarno, among them. This year, the organization honored Hudson Headwaters Health Network and Beverley Mastrianni.
Hudson Headwaters Health Network currently hosts 175 local works, either on loan or as part of Hudson Headwaters’ permanent collection, which are strategically placed for patients to enjoy in 19 health centers from northern Saratoga County to the Canadian border.
Artist and Arts Advocate Honoree Beverley Mastrianni has helped shape the arts and cultural organizations across the region for over three decades – helping found Saratoga Arts and the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation and holding leadership roles with the Urban Cultural Park Commission, Saratoga Springs History Museum, the Brookside Museum in Ballston Spa, the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy, and several other organizations.
“Anywhere in town you stand and look, we feel her work and impact every day,” Reed said, introducing Mastrianni, who took to the podium and recalled first settling down in Saratoga Springs in 1968.
“Downtown Saratoga was just deserted, there were 22 vacant stores, deserted except for a building where up on the second floor all the apartments were rented by artists,” she said.
In the afternoons, she would take her children to arts workshops and classes, which were spread out among houses all over town. The YMCA had just opened a new center on Broadway with a swimming pool and activities for kids. She was asked to join the organization’s board.
“They put me on the fundraising committee where I learned more about the city: who gave money and who supported these sorts of things,” explained Mastrianni.
While taking classes at Skidmore College, she was approached by Anne Palamountain with an idea to create a more visually appealing downtown during a two-week stretch in the summertime when families would visit the college.
“We went to the high school and we got everybody. Every kid who played in a garage band or who was involved in art,” Mastrianni said. “We got artists to start bringing their works downtown and putting them in stores. That went on for quite a few summers, and it really helped.”
She also revisited a time when the city was looking to sell Congress Park and the Canfield Casino to a hotel chain from Pennsylvania who wanted to put up a hotel and a windmill and use the casino for meeting rooms.
“There were a bunch of activist women who were really against that. They were really amazing, and a lot of fun,” Mastrianni said. “Minnie Bolster had started to revive the historical society upstairs in the casino and didn’t want it sold, so, we worked on that. The thing that really prevented it from happening? The lower part of Putnam Street and the park flooded a lot, so the developers decided that wasn’t a good place for the hotel. Left with the casino, a group of citizens who called themselves The Pillar Society started to get together and hold parties in the casino to raise money for its restoration.”
The stained glass was returned to the building and restored, and Mastrianni ran an art gallery featuring contemporary art within the casino structure. “One thing just led to the other, to the other,” she said, adding a story about the time a spirited group of locals had also successfully lobbied to site the arts center on the southeast corner of Broadway and Spring Street. The Arts Center landing followed the relocation of the public library to its current Putnam Street location as the city had designs on placing its court system there.
“There were an awful lot of people who worked on all these things and enjoyed doing it. The city is flowering now,” she offered, tempering her enthusiasm with a warning. “The problem we have is (while) showing art and artists from all over the region, there are very few artists who can afford to live in Saratoga now because the prices have gotten so high. Caffe Lena is doing a wonderful job, but there is no place for our musicians and artists to work. A lot of our artists are leaving us to go up to Glens Falls; A lot are going to Troy; There are a couple of art galleries open in Schuylerville now - but we’ve really got to address the issue of how we’re going to keep our indigenous artists in Saratoga Springs, because they’re living outside of town now,” said Mastrianni whose artwork has been exhibited at the Tang and the Schick Gallery at Skidmore, the Albany Institute of History and Art, and is held in many private and corporate collections in North America and Europe.
“I think the Arts Center does fantastic work – we’ve got a lot of stuff going on at Skidmore and The Tang, at Zankel - but we haven’t got the body of musicians and artists who live here and really enrich our lives on a daily basis. I think we should really be thinking about how we’re going to address those issues - so that we’re not just a big shopping mall, so we’re not just a restaurant city, so that we really are a city that supports artists who live in the city,” Mastrianni said. “That’s our next challenge.”
Saratoga Arts gallery showcases its annual member’s show at the Arts Center Gallery, 320 Broadway, through Jan. 4, 2020. Gallery Hours: Monday - Friday, 9 am-5 pm & Saturday, 11 a.m. -5 p.m.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Singer-songwriter Bob Warren celebrates his 50th anniversary year of music-making at Caffe Lena Saturday and Sunday.
At 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, Warren will begin with the first song he wrote in the spring of 1969 and proceed chronologically through the set. A second show will take place 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3,and as the chronology continues, Warren anticipates flipping through his songbook to conclude with his most recent song, written this past June. Tickets are $22 general admission, $20 cafe members and $11 students and kids.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Discussions have been held for several years regarding a third city firehouse/ EMS station – one which would better serve residents of the city’s east side. This week, a tentative agreement was announced, the result of which may see that long-sought goal come to fruition.
On Oct. 29, the state Franchise Oversight Board reviewed a proposal to allow for the construction of a firehouse on the border of the Oklahoma racetrack. The Board voted “to authorize our permitting agency to engage the city and NYRA to best structure a land utilization that meets the needs of all properties.”
The proposal comes via a city request to use 2.36 acres in the northern portion of the Oklahoma Race Track along Henning Road, across from the Myers BOCES Educational facility. The city advised NYRA that it has the funding secured to promptly construct the facility should approval be granted.
In her Oct. 1, 2019 budget message, Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan cited an East Side Fire & EMS station as one of the top city priorities moving forward.
“When the 2020 Capital Budget was presented several weeks ago, a rough estimate of $6.6 million was allocated toward this project. As we still haven’t legally secured the parcel it is not financially prudent to include the full $6.6 million in the 2020 Comprehensive Budget and in turn pass the related debt costs on to City taxpayers. Still, an East Side Fire & EMS station is a priority, and the 2020 Comprehensive Capital Budget includes $600,000 toward the design of the facility,” Madigan said.
“In practice this means that as soon as the land is available the city can kick off the project. The design work will then provide a timeline and budget for the total project. Should land acquisition and design happen at a more rapid pace, the 2020 Capital Budget will be amended by the City Council so that funding and construction could begin as soon as feasible. Accordingly, the full project remains in the Capital Program. “
Mayor Meg Kelly said she is negotiating a land-use agreement for the parcel and that the potential station will serve “District 3,” including the eastern plateau.
The city currently has two fire stations - one on Lake Avenue just west of Broadway and near the center of the city, and on the other on the west side, near Saratoga Springs High School.
Residents, particularly some of whom live at or near the city’s eastern ridge have vocalized fears about longer response times to emergencies in their neighborhood from either of the two current locations, as opposed to having a third station close-by.
Most recently, a pair of land transactions that proposed the city sell a parking lot adjacent to Broadway’s Collamer Building and subsequently purchase a Union Avenue parcel to build an East Side Fire/EMS station was declared a dead deal in 2013 after years of lengthy negotiations ended up mired in a lawsuit, an investigation by the state Attorney General’s office, and reportedly more than $50,000 in legal costs for the city.
Members of the Franchise Oversight Board reported Tuesday that given the city and racecourse’s similar interests, a fire/EMS station would “interlock nicely to address concerns of the state racing franchise,” and that NYRA “strongly advocates for its creation.”
The potential location of the station along Henning Road was once used as a “speedway” trotting track - along with the adjacent road Fifth Avenue - and was thus named “Speedway Road” according to city directories in the mid-20th century. Its name was changed to Henning Road in 1958 and was named after Rudolph T. Henning, who reportedly had lived there.
The proposed station is anticipated to measure 10,000 to 15,000 square feet and support one ambulance and one fire apparatus. On-site professional staff will be present 24 hours per day.
“Additionally, the firehouse could be used as a command center and operations post for law enforcement during the Saratoga meet,” the Board advised, cautiously noting the mostly wood structures existing on Saratoga’s nearby backstretch, and citing historically destructive fires that occurred at Northfield Park in 1959, Garden State in 1977, and Arlington Park in 1985.
According to the Board, any formal transfer of property interests to accommodate this proposed facility will be returned for full franchise oversight board consideration before finalization.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Elizabeth Sobol strolled the grounds of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in the springtime thaw of 2017, a few months after taking the reigns as SPAC’s president and CEO. Green tarps were slung around the concession area and the infrastructure displayed signs of more than a half-century of use.
“Crumbling limestone, rusting metal, broken windows,” she says. “I remember thinking: this is one of the greatest venues in North America. How is it that it’s not being maintained the way it should?” This past summer, a full half of the restrooms located in the brick structure that frames the concession area high atop the lawn were out of order. “The plumbing is so old they could no longer be fixed, because the underlying plumbing is the issue. It was not fitting a venue of SPAC’s stature.”
This week, SPAC announced a $9.5 million renovation project that will see a complete replacement and upgrade of the existing concessions and restroom facilities. Two new concessions buildings will replace the existing tent structures, which have lacked proper security, infrastructure and storage space. In the center of the main plaza a new open-air covered pavilion will establish a more park-like aesthetic and restore the original sight lines from the Route 50 bridge to the Victoria Pool. The existing brick semi-circle structure will come down and the new center, set a little further back, to restore those sightlines of the pre-SPAC days.
“It will be a completely re-imagined area. It’s gone beyond being just a concession area. All the old buildings are coming down and being replaced with all new buildings,” Sobol says. “There will be one larger building with brand new bathrooms – and many more bathrooms than are there now. There will be a new concession area, and up on the second floor a 4,000 square foot indoor-outdoor gathering space that will be multi-use: for education, community gathering, VIP experience. And it will be year-round - which is game-changing for us.”
SPAC has expanded its year-round programs as well as its education programming in recent years – from serving 5,000 kids to nearly 10 times that number. The year-round use availability will enable continued grow in both, the educational programming and community outreach in which SPAC has been involved. Additionally, the covered pavilion in the center of the new project area will be used to showcase pre-concert talks – which are currently held in an 80-capacity room on campus, enabling hundreds to attend the events.
The project - anticipated to be completed by May 1, 2020 - is supported by $8 million in private funding from Live Nation and Saratoga Performing Arts Center. New York State is providing up to $1.5 million in grants from Empire State Development and State Parks, awarded through the governor's Regional Economic Development Council initiative.
The Live Nation component marks the first significant contribution by the venue’s summertime pop music concert promoter. Through the late 1990’s, SPAC had mostly done its own bookings of summer pop concerts. In 2000, SPAC signed a booking deal for those summer pop shows with concert promoter SFX Entertainment, which was sold to Clear Channel Communications and eventually spun into Live Nation.
“This is a big deal that they’ve come to the table to help us,” Sobol says. “Live Nation brought expertise – they have architects on staff, a ton of knowledge about getting buildings done in the right way for the right party and using every dollar wisely.” Specific operations of the facility will remain status quo. A long-running existing contract between SPAC and Live Nation regarding the booking of summer pop concerts is nearing the end of its run and is anticipated to be renewed.
“It’s a 53-year-old facility with hundreds of thousands visiting every year. You have to be renovating and upgrading. For me the concessions area was really something that had to get done because when you have bathrooms functioning at 50% and you have shows that can range from 5,000 to 25,000 you’ve got a real problem,” Sobol says.
“I’m a big believer in maintaining the sanctity of the park, the park-like feel of things, restoring the sightlines. I want people to really feel the magic of being in the park. This jewel that we have. I talk about SPAC as being the perfect confluence of man-made beauty and natural beauty. In my mind there’s no other cultural organization anywhere I can think of that melds those two things.”
Now in her third year as president and CEO, Sobol explains she realized early on the role SPAC plays both in the local community and beyond. “The thing that totally bowled me over is how everyone seems to have a SPAC story; Whether it’s the rock and roll shows they first went to and ended up coming back over and over again, or that they met their spouse at a show, or that their toddler took their first steps on the lawn. It is unbelievably woven into Saratoga’s psyche. The memories are woven into the roots of the trees that are part of this park.”
The $9.5 million funding for the project as well as the coordination includes a variety of collaborators including well-known locals Sonny Bonacio – who heads Bonacio Construction, and Mike Ingersoll, of the LA Group. Earlier this year, State Parks completed a $1.75 million project to renew the SPAC amphitheater's aging balcony ramps and lighting with an elegant and safe entryway. The amphitheater facade was upgraded in 2012.