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Tuesday, 01 May 2018 16:51

Woman Stages Tree Protest in Congress Park

 

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Rhianna Stallard was on her way to work Tuesday morning when she caught sight of some activity in Congress Park that prompted her to action.

“I was just driving by, when I saw them taking down this beautiful tree,” she said. “I pulled over and parked, then I ran in the park and went and jumped up, into the tree.” Two workers who were set to cut down the tree were forced to pause their actions as the woman sat high atop a limb of the tree, which is located a few yards from the Congress Park Carousel, for the better part of a half-hour.

“This tree is a staple of this park,” Stallard said. “Brides get their picture with it. Kids get their picture with it. I grew up with it.”

Prevented from cutting the tree, the workers were soon dispatched to another job, in another part of the city.

“The two workers were really nice, and we had a fine conversation,” Stallard said after the workers had gone and she descended from the tree limb. “They told me they’re going to wait, that they’re not going to cut it down today.”

The willow, which is marred by a two to three-foot wide hole in its trunk, will need to be removed for safety reasons, said DPW Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco.

“Nobody wants to see a healthy tree get cut down, but there’s nothing healthy about this tree. It’s either take it down, or it will come down by itself,” Scirocco said.

“We have talked about it for some time and we were hesitant. We asked if there was anything we could do to try and make it right, to try and save the tree - but there’s nothing,” Scirocco explained. “We talked about going in and trimming it a little bit, doing different things that might eliminate some of the issues, but in the end, it just kept getting worse and worse. I’ve got pictures from last year until now and the hole just keeps getting bigger.”

The commissioner said he has received complaints about park visitors’ safety from parents whose children play near the tree.

“Apparently some kid got inside of it,” Scirocco said. “We’re thinking: not good. The location is right by the carousel and it’s a dangerous situation. The tree is diseased and it’s in a public place where it could really create serious problems if it were to fall. And eventually it will fall, by itself.”

Scirocco said after the tree is removed, DPW workers will plant another one in its place.

Published in News
Thursday, 26 April 2018 14:24

Trash to Treasure

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Garage sales. Flea markets. Estate sales. Tony Izzo has rummaged through the past on a scavenger hunt to uncover history for as long as he can remember.

“I go to several of them a week and collecting things since I was a kid,” says the city resident, who works by day as a local attorney. “I especially enjoy collecting audio, and there is a lot of audio history out there - things that sat in someone’s attic or garage - but the problem is when people find this sort of stuff they can’t find anything to play it on, so they throw them out without knowing what they are.”

At one local sale he came upon a slew of boxes filled with audio tapes with no idea what they contained. “Nobody was paying much attention to them. I ended up buying five or six boxes and only paid a few dollars a box,” he recalls. “There were hundreds of tapes - 90 percent of them were re-recordings of commercial albums, but I learned there were also tapes from the estate of a man who was a local radio broadcaster and his collection had things he had accumulated throughout his career.”

The broadcaster was Herb Sabin of the radio station WKAJ AM 900, which was located on West Avenue in Saratoga Springs. Several hours’ worth of tapes revealed a local historical goldmine.

In the mid-1970s Saratoga Race Course hosted a series of 10-day events during consecutive summers in advance of the racing meet. The festival, called the Saratoga Fair, featured art exhibits and parades, firework shows, live animals, a children’s petting zoo, and nightly performances by some of the biggest entertainers of the day.

“The Saratoga Fair was a significant event in the 1970s for NYRA and for this city,” Izzo says. “I went to a number of them with my folks. For a few bucks you had access to the fair grounds and a major headline entertainer each night.”

A bandstand erected on the dirt track staged appearances by Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell, Bob Hope, Red Skelton, and The Smothers Brothers; Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and O.J. Simpson came from the sports world to sign autographs. Each of the festivals drew more than a quarter of a million people over the 10-day gathering.

Sabin’s tapes feature the broadcaster’s rough-cut interviews with dozens of fair-goers, celebrities and local officials. George Bolster talks about his collection of historic Saratoga photographs, Tom McTygue speaks of the festival as being “a real boost for Saratoga,” Edward Villella, introduced by Sabin as “one of the most in-demand dancers in ballet,” is interviewed about the New York City Ballet’s summer season. Bob Hope talks about sustaining patriotism in the era of Watergate, cracks a few jokes about his stay at the Gideon Putnam hotel, and reminisces about his early days of struggle in Chicago during the 1920s.

“To me this is a very comprehensive and thorough audio history of this event that has not been very well documented. Just to hear the sounds of that event. I’m very pleased it’s preserved, instead of it just being thrown away in the trash,” Izzo says.

There are also interviews with singer Donna Fargo – who then had recently had a hit with the song "The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA," “Tonight” show bandleader Skitch Henderson, and excerpts from Red Skelton’s live stage show.

Bandleader Mercer Ellington charmingly talks about performing the songbook of his father, Duke Ellington: “mostly the standards, like ‘A Train,’ things that are easily identifiable – we’re not going to get far out and play any modern jazz or anything of that sort. We’re going to play the favorites for the people and the things they know him best for.”

The 1974 and 1975 festivals drew 254,000 and 293,000 people, respectively, and were co-sponsored by NYRA and Harry M. Stevens Inc. – who collectively invested about $1 million in the project each of the years. Joe Dalton, executive vice president of the Greater Saratoga Chamber of Commerce estimated the annual fair brought in to the local community about $3 million. But NYRA and the Stevens company bowed out after two years, citing a loss of $1.3 million. The 1976 fair was sponsored by a non-profit organization comprised of local residents and business owners. That season, too, resulted in a financial loss and in January 1977, the group announced the fair would be no more. Whether it was ultimately financial concerns, the trampled grounds of the race course in advance of the summer meet, or complaints from other area venues that ultimately doomed the fair isn’t clear, but after a three-year run it ceased after the Bicentennial Summer of 1976.

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Other Voices, Other Rooms

Through his foraging, Izzo has uncovered a plethora of additional raw goodies on reel-to-reel and cassette tape. Whether they were publicly broadcast, or played once and disposed of, is not known. Among his collection are backstage interviews with Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey dating to 1956, and Johnny Mathis and Tony Bennett in 1960; Aaron Copland and Helen Hayes in conversation at Skidmore College; talks with Lloyd Bridges - accompanied by his pre-teen son Jeff Bridges, writers Joseph Heller and Frank Sullivan in Saratoga Springs, musician Count Basie in Glens Falls, and actress Jayne Mansfield who talks about her role in a production of “Nature’s Way” in the 1960s as well as how she is required to film two versions of her movies – one for open-minded European audiences, and one for the more conservative American market.

There is also a reel-to-reel tape Izzo possesses of a high-quality live Arlo Guthrie appearance in October 1975 at the Great Saratoga Music Hall, which stood at 106 Spring St. and has long since been converted to condominium apartments. The tape depicts stage announcements by Lena Spencer – the co-founder of Caffe Lena - introducing Guthrie and announcing upcoming concerts at the hall by Tom Paxton and Don McLean.

Guthrie meanwhile is heard joyfully interacting with the audience throughout his show and performing Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright,” Woody Guthrie’s “Talking Dust Bowl Blues,” “Do Re Mi,” and “This Land Is Your Land,” and a series of tunes carved from the great American songbook -“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Oh Mary Don't You Weep,” and “Goodnight Irene,” among them.

“Here’s what I learned,” Izzo says, “the lesson is if you come across something and don’t have the means to play it – think twice before throwing it away. It may be something significant. You just never know what you’re going to find.”

A partial list of entertainers performing at the Saratoga Fair.

1974 – Johnny Cash, Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Glen Campbell, Tony Orlando & Dawn, The Smothers Brothers, Mac Davis, Anne Murray, Willie Mays, O.J. Simpson. Admission: $2 adults, $1 kids. Parking: $1.

1975 – Olivia Newton John, Lynn Anderson, Mac Davis, B.J. Thomas, Red Skelton, Tanya Tucker, Roger Miller, the Mills Brothers, Bob Hope, Hudson Bros. Sports clinic, Q&A session with Mickey Mantle, Dave DeBusschere, Craig Morton, Ralph Kiner, Emerson Boozer. Admission: $3 adults, $1.50 kids. Parking: $1.

1976 – Johnny Cash, Fifth Dimension, Tanya Tucker, Donna Fargo, Anson Williams of Happy Days, Charlie Rich, Pat Boone Family. Tickets: $3.50 adults, $1.50 kids. Parking: $1.  

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Published in Neighborhood Buzz
Friday, 13 April 2018 10:19

Changing Times, Changing Tactics

They crept down the hallway, two abreast, draped in their flak jackets and helmets and with weapons drawn.

A dispatcher’s voice crackled over the radio: “loading dock, amphitheater, for an individual armed with a handgun.”

City Police, State Police, State Park Police and members of the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department gathered this week at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center to practice responding to terror scenarios involving an active shooter.

“It’s reality based and we try to do this as realistically as possible,” said State Park Police Lt. Donald Benware, as the officers took turns walking through the theater’s backstage area, confronting a “shooter,” and exchanging a volley of simulated rounds.

“We try to put the officers at a higher stress level (in the training). Let’s face it, we’re all human beings. Your blood pressure is going to go up. Get the adrenaline level up so they can feel that adrenaline rush and make sound decisions,” Benware said. “Also, it’s very important be able to come down off that. After an incident happens, they may be moved to another location and they need to be able to bring that heart rate down, bring their decision-making skills back into a more focused ability.”

One benefit of involving multiple agencies in the scenarios is that it builds a familiarity between law enforcement officials who don’t normally work alongside with one another. “Doing this type of training, we all get to see different faces and know different people and how they react in situations, so you have a little bit of a confidence, a little bit of an edge in a worse-case scenario if you have to respond to something like this,” Benware said.

Over the past 50 years, incidents have prompted law enforcement agencies to re-think their roles in response. In the 1960s, police departments began building special teams in reaction to terror-based incidents. The city of Los Angeles led the way with their Special Weapons and Tactics unit, or SWAT. But, the police response to active shooter incidents began to change following the Columbine High School massacre of 1999. Police showed up almost immediately after the shooting began, but waited for SWAT officers, who didn’t enter the school until much later. Police departments today focus more on stopping the shooter as quickly as possible, rather than waiting for SWAT teams to arrive, according to the 2014 report “Critical Issues In Policing Series,” published by Police Executive Research Forum.

Since that time, names like Columbine and Sandy Hook, Parkland and Virginia Tech became part of the sad map in American consciousness.

Last month, Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo announced he has a team of four deputies assigned to schools throughout the county who patrol during the day shift as well as the afternoon shift, and periodically conduct a school walk-thru to interact with students and school staff. While notable incidents have occurred in schools, some of the deadliest single day mass shootings in U.S. history have recently occurred where large gatherings of people come together: 49 people were killed and more than 50 injured inside an Orlando nightclub in 2016, and last October 58 people were killed and nearly 500 injured when a 64-year-old man opened fire on a crowd of 22,000 concertgoers in Las Vegas.

“We pull scenarios right out of the headlines,” explained Saratoga Springs Police Department Lt. Shane Crooks. “We look at different incidents that happen around the country and the world and we take those and fit them into a situation with the area that we have here. Any place you have a large gathering increases your risk of an attack. And this multi-force reality-based training here - we’re training where an incident could occur,” he said.

“The four agencies represented here today are the ones who will be here if something happens. By doing this type of training, we are preparing. We’ll have a better response, we’ll handle the situation better and keep everything safer,” Crooks said. “Every officer here is also learning the layout of SPAC, the grounds and the amphitheater itself, so if they do have to respond to a call, they’ll have that knowledge ahead of time.”  

“This is in our jurisdiction. This is our home and our responsibility. That’s why we’re choosing this venue,” Benware added.  

“We did have an incident back in the ‘70s in Saratoga Springs, at St. Peter’s. So, it can happen,” said Crooks, noting a December 1975 incident when a 32-year-old man recently discharged from the U.S. Navy aimed his .22-cal. handgun out his second-floor apartment window and fired four shots into St. Peter’s Elementary School playground. Two 7-year-old girls were injured.

“Every time something happens we re-evaluate our training, we change our tactics to prepare our officers to better respond to an incident,” Crooks said. “We want to respond as quickly as possible and we train the officers that we need to have a fast response to eliminate the threat.”

Published in News

SARATOGA SPRINGS – A Gov. Cuomo directive to explore raising the wages of tipped food service workers to a flat rate is drawing the ire of many of the local workers for whom the idea was supposedly initiated to benefit.    

“What the motives are I don’t know, but it’s apparently been presented to Cuomo like he’d be doing us a favor,” says Amanda Broderick, who has worked in the local restaurant industry for 16 years, the past nine at Olde Bryan Inn. “The servers aren’t asking for this (and) it would just devastate the local economy. They’re not doing us a favor.”

In upstate New York, the general hourly minimum wage is $10.40 per hour. Tipped food service employees make $7.50 per hour, before tips. When tips are added, many workers say they are capable of earning much more than the state minimum wage, based on the level of service they provide to customers. Besides wait staff earning more, this also enables restaurants working on slim profit margins to save the $2.90 difference per employee, per hour, as a “tip credit.”

The proposal to raise tipped food service workers to the general hourly minimum wage would eliminate that tip credit - forcing restaurants to pay more while assuming workers will earn less, and set into motion a decline in the labor force as well as restaurant service, and higher prices for dining consumers, the workers say.  

“The best part of this industry is the relationships you build,” Broderick says. “And I do try to build those relationships because you get rewarded for the service you provide. I know the harder I work, the more money I can make.”

Broderick and her husband recently bought a house on the Great Sacandaga Lake. The daily commute to Saratoga Springs takes 45 minutes to one hour, but it is a trip that is worth it, she says, because the hours are flexible, the staff is passionate, and the money Broderick is able to earn helps pay the mortgage. One of the workers’ concerns is that if their basic wage is raised to the state minimum, tips would cease to exist.

“Right now, a lot of us make way more than the minimum wage. The tip credit helps restaurants pay a lower wage and keep prices down. What would happen is we’d end up making a lot less, menu prices would go up and eventually the mom and pops that Saratoga has so many of would have to close,” Broderick says. “If (Gov. Cuomo) is trying to find extra tax revenue, think of all the taxable income that would be lost in places like Saratoga. You don’t want to mess with a good thing.”

The Employee Policies Institute, a non-profit research organization that studies public policy issues surrounding employment growth, cites Census Bureau data that indicates tipped restaurant servers self-report earnings of more than $17 per hour on average statewide in New York, and suggests those estimates “are likely conservative.”  

Susan Mezera has worked as a server for the past 43 years, from the former Lillian’s Restaurant to her current position at the Olde Bryan Inn. Working in the industry has helped her put her two children through college.

“When the public hears servers get minimum wage, people will have the perception that it won’t be necessary to tip,” Mezera explains. “People have mortgages and car payments. They’ve established their lives on the income they make, and that will drastically change. It’s already been practiced in other places and it didn’t work. Maine instituted this and a year later repealed it because it was such a disaster.”

In November 2016 a referendum to raise both the regular and tipped minimum wages in Maine won with 55 percent of the vote. Soon after, tipped servers began to complain that their earnings were being hurt as a result of customers tipping less. The measure was overturned in June 2017 in 110-37 vote by lawmakers.

 

Increased Costs for Restaurants

“For the restaurants, it would mean a large increase in labor costs. You’re looking at 30 servers and bus people in just one restaurant who are tipped employees - and restaurants are working on a small margin as it is. They may have to raise menu prices and put service charges on top of the bills to cover that. Servers would be let go and they’d probably do away with bussers and hostesses. The work would be spread real thin,” Mezera says. “With more tables to take care of, the quality of service will go downhill. If this happens and then at some later point they decide, ‘oh, this is not working,’ how many restaurants will have gone out of business? This is a busy town with the City Center, with it being a college town and there are a lot of restaurants. If half of them are gone, how many people will be laid off and out of work?”

A locally initiated online petition at change.org titled “Supporters of the Tip Credit in New York” has secured more than 7,000 signatures, and a collective group of business owners and employees urging Gov. Cuomo to preserve the Tip Credit have formed the Save Ny Tips Coalition, which hosts a web site and numerous social media pages with the hashtag: #savenytips.

“I think the group that’s really pushing it is a minority of people working in the restaurant industry who are Cuomo’s voter demographic in New York City. I think it’s purely political,” says Giuseppe Chiaravalle, who works at Wheatfields Restaurant.

“Look at it this way: when you go to a restaurant, you want to be wined and dined, you want good service. Going to a restaurant is an experience: the food, the ambience, the service. Servers know through their hard work, they can provide a superior experience to a customer and that they can get compensated for it with a tip,” Chiaravalle says. “I am willing to take less pay from the business knowing that through my hard work, I can actually make more and lift myself. I know I can work as hard as possible and see the results. Why would you take that incentive away?”

Workers say while they would earn a few dollars more in the raising of the minimum wage, the public would tip less, if at all. And without the incentive to earn tips, many would seek other opportunities in less challenging fields.  

“On a track Saturday, where you’ve got five, six different tables and you’re running around the restaurant with 10 things in your head, why would you do all that if you’re only getting paid minimum wage, when you can make the same amount standing at a cash register,” Chiaravalle says. “The hardest working people will look to find a job that’s easier for the same pay. Service will go down because the best of the best are leaving and prices will go up. It’s not a situation where anyone wins.”

 

Higher Menu Prices

“It definitely would not be good for tourist places like this,” says Saratoga native Brayden Bosch, who has worked in the industry 11 years. “People come here for the track, but they also come for the nightlife-dinner side of it, and it wouldn’t be what they’re looking for anymore. The owners would have to pay a lot more, the workers who remained would be less enthusiastic and on top of that your food would cost more. So, people might not have to tip - but your $20 meal might cost $30 now. Before you could pay $25 with tip and everybody is happy.”

On the restaurant business side of things, the elimination of the tip credit would cost owners more money to meet the minimum wage gap, and those costs will continue to rise. The general hourly minimum wage in upstate New York is scheduled to increase to $11.10 at the end of this calendar year, up to $11.80 in December 2019, and to $12.50 one year after that.

“It would be disastrous,” says Nicci Miller, general manager at Wheatfields Restaurant, who began working in the industry 25 years ago as a busser at Lillian’s.

“You would have a whole group of working people who would lose everything. You have the restaurant owners who could potentially lose their business. Then you have the consumers who will lose every level of service they’re used to. All across the board, it’s a very bad idea,” Miller says.  

From a management perspective, raising wages by that much would be disastrous. In reality, it would stop being the hospitable town we are – which is part of Saratoga’s charm, that face-to-face interaction with people. There’s that communication as a server: where to stay, what to do, what to eat. You’re the visitor’s booth and you’ll lose all of that. It would change service in the entire state of New York,” she says.

And it’s not just the waiter or waitress you visibly see at the restaurant who would be affected, Miller explains. There is an entire support staff who depend on tips.

“You tip out the server 20 percent. From that, he tips 3 percent of that to the bar, because they’re making his cocktails, 2-1/2 percent to the busser who fills his water and clears his dishes, and another 1-1/2 to 2 percent to your food runner, who’s the person who brings the food to the table. It’s such a big circle, everybody takes a piece of it. And they all earn that money, they really do,” she says. “There’s a perception you have a restaurant owner that makes all this money, but in this business, you’re literally making pennies on the dollar.”

Gov. Cuomo previously raised the tipped workers’ minimum wage from $5 per hour to $7.50 in 2016. “We just took a 50 percent increase, and at $7.50 it’s one of the highest in the country,” says Tim Holmes, who with his wife Colleen owns and operates three restaurants in Saratoga Springs and four restaurants overall in Saratoga County.

“I ran the numbers on my company and if he was to pass this to go in effect in 2019 it’ll cost our company about $300,000. And that’s only the first jump before it goes up again,” Holmes says. With a slim profit margin, that amount would have to be made up potentially by reducing jobs and increasing prices. “But I’m not sure that we even can make all of that up,” Holmes says. “It’s a devastating number.”

Gov. Cuomo directed the Commissioner of Labor in December to schedule public hearings to examine industries and evaluate the possibility of ending minimum wage tip credits in New York State. The Department of Labor will be conducting those public hearings on Long Island on April 20, in Watertown April 25, Syracuse on April 30, Buffalo on May 7, and at the Legislative Office Building in Albany on May 18.  

“Through the years you learn that your quality of service - how you take care of your customers – directly relates to the amount of money you can make,” Mezera says. “People go out to dinner for the experience: to be waited on, to interact with the server. You build up relationships through the years. They come in and ask for you. You’re able to share their special family moments, because you’ve established that amount of care with your customers. If they just wanted food they could go to a drive-through, or the places that have iPads on the table – which is what could happen if this goes through,” she says. “People are coming out and it’s our job to make them feel better, to have them enjoy their meal and to go out with a smile on their face.”

Correction: an earlier printed edition and online posting of this story contained a misspelled name of an interviewee. It has been corrected in this online edition. 

Published in News

SARATOGA SPRINGS – A scatter of workers amble through the vintage chambers of Universal Preservation Hall, exploring the possibilities. Design plans sprawl across tabletops beneath stained-glass windows and free-standing easels boast colorful images of what will be. Soon, the heavy lifting will begin.

When the $8.7 million restoration of UPH is complete, in late 2019, the 19th century building will provide Saratoga Springs with something it has sorely been missing: a mid-range capacity venue with state-of-the-art sound, open year-round and expected to stage more than 200 events.

“It’s going to be a huge performance venue,” says Teddy Foster, whose association with UPH goes back more than a decade - from board member to president to its current campaign director.

“We’re going to be a huge music room, that’s how it’s being designed. We anticipate doing some Broadway cabaret and some live theater; we will be a place of collaboration for SPAC, for Caffe Lena, for people from the community, you name it,” Foster says, standing in the middle of a vacant 20-foot by 24-foot space on the main floor where the staging area for the 700-seat theater-in-the round venue will be constructed.

Tiered seating will be installed at the far end of the main hall – where the current stage sits – and at the opposite end, the balcony will be extended and fitted with seats that descend to the main floor. It will be handicap accessible with an elevator that navigates between floors, and a glass atrium will serve as the new entry way, off Washington Street, in “a super cool alleyway inviting people to come in,” Foster explains.

Event booking will be handled by Proctors, with whom UPH struck an alliance in 2012, and whose event management has included staging everything from major Broadway shows and cutting-edge film festivals to snagging pop music acts on national tours. Proctors’ stated mission: To be a catalyst - through arts and community leadership - for excellence in education, sustainable economic development and rich civic engagement to enhance the quality of life in the greater Capital Region.

Approximately 100 local jobs will be employed during the construction phase, which begins in earnest sometime between May and July. After the $8.7 million project is completed – expected to be in late 2019 - and the venue re-opens for business, it is anticipated UPH will bring approximately 65,000 visitors to the Spa City each year. “We will fill the hotel rooms and the restaurants during the off-the shoulder season,” Foster says. UPH also plans to hire six full-time employees and a number more on a part-time basis.

Earlier this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the venue will be awarded $750,000 to help redevelop the hall into a performing arts center. UPH represents Saratoga Springs’ sole recipient of the Restore New York Communities Initiative – which awards funding for projects that will reinvigorate downtowns and generate new economic opportunity in communities.  

The Washington Street venue, which is a non-profit community performing arts center, is also entering into an energized public fundraising phase. The goal is to raise $5.5 million. “We’ve raised most of it,” Foster says. There is just under $1 million to go to reach that goal.

“I’m a huge music lover and I would love to see music of all kinds in that room,” says Foster. “You know this was built as a place where people could come together for all different kinds of things. That’s how we’ve kept it alive all these years. And that’s really what I want to have here: a place that all Saratogians can experience.“  

Published in Entertainment
Monday, 26 March 2018 10:50

City Hits World Stage as Arts Destination

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Health, history, horses. And The Arts.

With the awarding of a $14,000 economic development grant this week, the city took the first step to promote Saratoga Springs as a worldwide destination for arts and culture. Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan calls it “having some skin in the game.” And that game has proven to bring in a notable return on the investment in other communities.

“Saratoga Springs is a fabulous brand. We’re over 100 years old and so is ‘health, history and horses.’ These are strong brands that you don’t want to get away from, but we need to add to it with arts and culture,” Madigan says.  

The funds will support the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in the hiring of a public relations firm to promote the city as a thriving arts community to journalists and media beyond the Capital Region. The goal is to showcase all of Saratoga as a cultural hot-spot and entice visitors to journey to the region.

“Cultural tourism – the cultural tourist spends 60 percent more when they go someplace than the average leisure tourist does. Sixty percent more. We want culture to be an economic driver here the same way the track is, and there’s no reason why it can’t be that, and a lot more,” says Elizabeth Sobol, president and CEO of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

“I know there are many, many people out there looking for a place like Saratoga as their summer or winter destination who would just be up here all the time, if they just knew what was here,” Sobol says. “This is one of the most incredible places in the world for someone who cares about the arts and literature and green space. I go back to the perfect confluence of nature and art, man-made beauty and natural beauty, there’s nothing like this in all of North America. “

From Caffe Lena to SPAC, the Tang Museum, Yaddo, the future home of the Universal Preservation Hall and other amenities, the community has much to offer, Sobol says. “All this art just one beautiful trip up the Hudson River from Manhattan. That’s a big selling point to New Yorkers who want to get out of town.”

Commissioner Madigan says she sees the awarding of the funds as one piece of a larger plan. “When you think Saratoga Springs, what do most people think of? They think horses. And that’s great, but we also really want to attract the cultural tourist by putting the arts and culture focus on that same level as horses,” Madigan says. “Right now. I see this as first step. I have a bigger vision where we start getting stakeholders and key members of the community in a room to talk about who we are as a region, to start coming together as a whole as an arts and culture community and to market ourselves that way, to add to the health, history and horses brand. The Berkshires know who they are. Tanglewood is well marketed as a global venue. From a global, international tourist destination, we don’t really know who we are when it comes to arts and culture.”

Recently, the local arts took a hit with the announcement of the cancellation of the annual Hats Off and Final Stretch music festivals. And promoting the arts in Saratoga Springs is not always an easy thing.

Saratoga Springs resident Robert Millis first launched the American Music Festival in Lake George in September 2014. Facilitated through his 398 Group – which stresses the arts as a driver of economic development and community building – the idea was to bring thousands of people into the community and extend the tourist season. Lake George is located in Warren County and financial support for the festival was provided via monies collected in the North Country for the tax on the rental of rooms. It proved to be a success.

This summer, the festival – which has featured performers such as Blue Öyster Cult, New Riders of the Purple Sage and Sawyer Fredericks in the past – returns for its two-day stint, and based on the success of the music-as-economic development initiative, the village and town of Lake George have contributed $45,000 in grant funding via the “bed tax” to Millis’ group.

“Their philosophy is bed tax funds events, which in turn feeds the bed tax,” Millis says. The village of Lake George is providing funding for a couple of events. “It’s a big boost,” said village Mayor Robert Blais. “It’s helped us to extend the season.”

Like other Warren County municipalities, the village of Lake George and the town of Lake George each receive $30,000 annually to promote special events in their communities with the idea of bringing in people that will spend money in local businesses and stay at local hotels, says Blais, who also serves as chairman of joint village and town occupancy tax committee. And the return on the investment has been strong. After the events take place, receipts and taxes received are then distributed back to the communities in addition to the $30,000 flat fee to promote a new cycle of events. In the village of Lake George that return was about $185,000, Blais said; the town of Lake George received approximately $240,000.

Millis’ attempts to create a two-day music-based festival in his Saratoga hometown has proven to be more difficult. The proposed event and conference would be designed to help boost tourism and build a music ecosystem to enhance the local scene. “I’ve been floating that idea in Saratoga a for over a year, but nobody has jumped on board with me,” Millis says.

“Our (bed tax) money has already been sliced and diced and it happened long before I got here, but it’s an interesting concept,” Madigan says. “Our occupancy tax right now is split. We only get one percent. Two percent from occupancy tax goes to the City Center and two percent goes to convention and tourism. It goes directly to them. We get less than City Center and convention and tourism. The city gets $600,000, they’re getting $1.2 million each. So, I’m trying to get them on board with helping with the arts. Look, the city’s got some skin in the game so let’s get the chamber and convention and tourism also involved.

“To me, the arts is a huge part of economic development,” Madigan explained. “It’s untapped. This I think is economic development, under the guise of arts and culture. This is a first step. I look forward to coming forward with additional recommendations to support economic development and arts and culture as an aspect of that. “

Published in News

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Margaret MacKenzie attended church services alongside her family in Sutherland Springs, Texas the first Sunday of November last, when a gunman opened fire on the congregation.

The Saratoga Springs woman, who was in Texas visiting with relatives, promptly threw her body over her pre-teen niece and nephew.

“This was especially amazing given that Margie was born with cerebral palsy and needs a cane to walk,” says MacKenzie’s friend, Mary Monigan. The fate of another of MacKenzie’s nieces, however, ended tragically. Tara McNulty, 33, was among the 26 people killed in the attack in the mass shooting. MacKenzie was shot in the leg.

“Margie is a modest, unassuming person. She doesn’t think of what she did as anything (special), but she had tremendous presence of mind,” Monigan says. “She threw her body over those kids. The full story, honestly, took months to come out. It came in drips and drabs. She went through phases of depression and anger and survivor’s guilt, but she is getting stronger every day.”

MacKenzie, who lives in Saratoga Springs, grew up in Greenfield Center a hockey fan.

“I am a big New York Rangers fan,” she says, adding that Rangers’ forward Mats Zuccarello is her favorite player.

“When I was 16, the (Adirondack) Red Wings played up in Glens Falls. My dad was the goal judge and sat behind the glass and would push the button when there was a goal,” MacKenzie explains.  “He started taking me to the games with him, that’s where my love of hockey started.”

She became a hockey fan in the 1980s and has been following the Rangers since, although she has never had the opportunity to watch the team play in person in their New York City home rink. Enter Monigan. 

“I wanted to honor her, so we’re doing something to honor Margie - and her love of the New York Rangers,” says Monigan, who initiated A Go Fund Me page in the hope of raising $1,000 to purchase tickets for MacKenzie to see the Rangers play at Madison Square Garden and enjoy a dinner and an overnight stay in New York City.

“I just want to give this woman a break. She’s got a heart of gold, a real solid person, and she’s not the type of person to talk about herself, or to be in the limelight. It’s taken all this time until she felt safe enough to even consider making a trip to New York,” Monigan says. “I know of her love of hockey and she’s crazy for the Rangers. This would just mean the world to her.”

To visit the Go Fund Me page, see: https://www.gofundme.com/help-texas-church-shooting-survivor

Published in News

Who: “Joe Fegan” aka Jeff Durstewitz

- Where are you originally from?

I’m from Merrick, Long Island, where I became friends with a couple of guys named Ben and Jerry.

- The Ben & Jerry?

Yes. They’re old friends and we still get together. I brought Ben & Jerry’s to town here in 1983. I’m the original franchisee. Saratoga was the first one in New York State.

- How did that come about?

I was a copy editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer when I quit my job to come up here and start an ice cream franchise. You know this was the first place where they originally planned on opening. Ben had (previously) worked at Mrs. London’s, which was then on Phila Street. Ben and Jerry liked it here a lot. In the summer of ’77 they planned to lease a building and zeroed in on a place on Broadway…it didn’t work out. After that, they felt: well, that’s it; we can’t open in Saratoga because we can’t get the location we want, so let’s open in our second choice, which was Burlington.

- Tell us about your book, “The Devil’s Room,” which you wrote under the name Joe Fegan.

That started when I got a phone call on St. Patrick’s Day in 1992 from Campbell Black. He wrote thrillers and was very successful at that point in his career. He wrote the novelization for “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” He was my writing teacher at Oswego State in ’71. We became close friends and he was always bugging me to write fiction.

Campbell bought this incredible palace, in Ireland. If you could imagine the set of a ghost movie, it was like that: haunted to the max. It must have had 20 rooms. There was this one little room on the second room that was blocked off from the inside and walled-in. They called it: The Devil’s Room. That inspired the idea. What if they took down the wall? What might happen?

So, I had fun with it. And it’s meant to be a comedy, not a horror show. It starts in Ireland, then it comes to a small upstate New York town that has an arts college and a horse track. Tony Markellis - who is not only a musician, but also an artist, did the cover.

- Where can people get the book?

At Celtic Treasures and Northshire Bookstore and online at Amazon.com.

- How has Saratoga Springs changed since you first settled here?

I first came to Saratoga in the late 1970s. My parents bought a place in Schuylerville and I used to come visit them. I brought Ben & Jerry’s to town in 1983 and the next year the City Center was built. That was a change like night-and-day. This was the very beginning of Saratoga’s resurgence.

We’ve seen a tremendous amount of change here and I would say, in general, the changes are for the best. People who complain about the development should take a drive around. Upstate New York, in general, is a wasteland. Then you look around here and it’s a lot better than the alternative. It’s a very interesting town. Look at the history, the characters, the statues in the park – it’s incredible. How many little upstate places have anything like this?

Published in Neighborhood Buzz

SARATOGA SPRINGS – “Free To Rock,” a documentary film directed by four-time Emmy-winning filmmaker Jim Brown and narrated by Kiefer Sutherland, will be screened 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 21 at Skidmore College. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with executive producers Nick Binkley and Doug Yeager.

“I believe music is one of the most powerful change agents the world has ever known. It opens hearts and minds and plants dreams and imaginations,” says Binkley, who points out, among other things, a popular underground heavy metal scene in places like Cairo and Tehran, Islamabad, Damascus and Baghdad.

Ten years in the making, “Free To Rock” explores how American rock and roll contributed to the end of the Cold War.

What prompted the film? “The realization that the ‘soft power’ of American music and culture had a profound effect on the kids behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War,” Binkley explains. “I equate soft power and music and culture with freedom of speech. And freedom of speech is the lifeblood of truth.

“Hard power is military, it’s bombs in the air, it’s bodies in graves and it is destruction. Sometimes we need to use hard power in the military to thwart an imminent danger. Soft power opens hearts and minds, plants dreams and imaginations and is really the extension of the American set of values. That to me is what I hope people come away with,” Binkley says.

Perhaps most unusually, is Binkley’s background, which is in international affairs and banking. He’s a member of the Council on Foreign Relations who is just as easily capable of discussing The Plastic People of the Universe – a rock band born of the musical influence of the Velvet Underground, who inspired rebellion to helped transform the Communist rule of the Czechoslovakian landscape.

“I was a musician before I was a venture capitalist,” he says, with a laugh. “I played music in high school and college and abroad in the 1960s and I’ve been writing songs all my life.”

“Free To Rock” features presidents, diplomats, spies and rock stars from the West and the Soviet Union who reveal how rock and roll was a contributing factor in ending the Cold War. The film has been screened – along with an accompanying Q&A session – across the country as well as abroad.

“A lot of college kids were not aware that American music and western Pop Culture was prohibited by the central authorities in the former Soviet Union – that electric guitars were not allowed to be imported and that rock music was considered propaganda from an alien ideology,” Binkley says.

“The question we get often is whether rock and roll music is as relevant today as it was 25, 30, 40 years ago. What’s the answer? Come to the Q & A and you’ll find out.”

The screening and Q&A will take place at Davis Auditorium, Palamountain Hall, on the campus of Skidmore College and is open to the community.

Published in Entertainment

SARATOGA SPRINGS – The Rochmon Record Club returns to Caffe Lena Tuesday, March 20 to indulge in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s 1970 album, “Déjà Vu.” Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and a $5 donation is suggested, which goes to the restoration funds of Caffe Lena and Universal Preservation Hall.

In 1969, the trio of Crosby, Stills and Nash – born from the fracturing of The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and Hollies, respectively - released their debut collaborative album and sought the addition of a fourth member to round out their sound. After being rejected by John “hot town, summer in the city

back of my neck getting dirty and gritty” Sebastian, and Jimi Hendrix, the trio brought electric guitar wizard/ moody folkie Neil Young into the fold. (Jimi Hendrix, by the way, recorded a rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” with Stephen Stills guitar months prior to CSN’s offering - a recording of which was for the first time, coincidentally released this week).  

CSNY made their stage debut as a foursome at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, then promptly manned the main stage at Woodstock the following evening. Their 10-song album was released in March 1970 and generated the Top 40 singles: “Teach Your Children,” “Our House,” and “Woodstock.”

Following the event Caffe Lena, the Rochmon Record Club a/k/a Chuck Vosganian will hit the road to Schenectady, to preside over a Beatles tribute night at Proctors.

The event, which the venue is billing as a new concert series, showcases local musicians performing their renditions of Beatles’ songs culled from the “White Album,” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

The lineup includes Bryan Brundige Collective, Clear Mind, Eastbound Jesus, Girl Blue, Let's Be Leonard and Wild Adriatic.

Tickets for the “Capital Records Live” event, which takes place 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 23 at the GE Theatre at Proctors, are $25 and available at the Proctors box office at 432 State St., Schenectady; by phone at 518-346-6204, or and online at proctors.org.

Published in Entertainment
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