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To maintain and promote the “City in the Country” form that includes an intensively developed urban core, an economically vibrant central business district, and residential neighborhoods with well-defined urban edges and an outlying area of rural character. - Saratoga Springs Comprehensive Plan, adopted by the City Council June 16, 2015.
Ever since Gideon Putnam began his early 19th century build-up in what would later become the downtown core, there has been an ebb and flow to the architectural terrain of Saratoga Springs.
Putnam’s original boarding house would give way to Union Hall and the Grand Union Hotel, and soon be joined in close geographic proximity by the massive structures of Congress Hall and the United States Hotel. The arrival of the steam locomotive in the 1830s made it easier for visitors to come to the then-village, and the first public street lighting with gas went up in 1853. By century’s end, Broadway boasted the Collamer and Ainsworth buildings, Town Hall, Convention Hall, and the Adelphi and Van Dam hotels; John Morrissey operated a clubhouse in Congress Park, and the racecourse dominated the summer season on the east side of town.
“In the older pictures, when you look down Broadway you can see it was built-up on both sides,” says Saratoga Springs City Historian Mary Ann Fitzgerald. “We lost some to fires and some to Urban Renewal. These buildings come and go through years.” The wrecking ball also played a deconstructive role. However, even as the effects of Urban Renewal were being realized in the mid-1960s, the new Northway afforded motorists an easier passage to Saratoga Springs, just as the Saratoga Performing Arts Center was opening its doors.
Placing recent development in historical context, Fitzgerald says things today are not much different than what they were a century ago. “To me (the current build) is reminiscent of what once was,” she says, “filling in gaps and bringing things back closer to the scale of what we once had.”
Some current projects, both proposed and those in development, are listed below. The landscape is varied and includes hotels and condominiums, rental and purchase properties, retail storefronts to business offices. Some are targeted to address the “affordable” or “workforce” housing market.
South Broadway/ Saratoga Diner site. Located on the west side of Broadway.
Proposed: Demolition of the long-standing Saratoga Diner on South Broadway and construction of approximately 110 single and two-bedroom “affordable” apartment units, two floors of commercial space, and a new business incubator collaboratively partnered by Saratoga Economic Development Corporation and Saratoga CoWorks.
The project at the southern gateway to the city would include 46 one-bedroom units and 64 two-bedroom units, 7,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor, 4,000 square feet of service establishment space and a 7,500 square-foot food beverage or brew pub, which will act as a visible anchor on South Broadway. Streetscape improvements include street lamps, landscaping, and a total of 273 parking spaces for resident and commercial parking uses. The second floor will house 17,000 square feet of commercial space where two new tenants are expected to join SEDC’s 10,000 square foot “incubator,” a flexible co-working space to be inhabited by a rotating group of entrepreneurs and early-stage growth business teams.
The majority of the rental units would be offered to those earning between 60 and 100 percent of the AMI - a $50,400 to $84,000 range - while 14 units would be offered at a “fair-market rent” to military veterans. Construction is anticipated to begin next spring and the buildings fully operational by the summer of 2019.
146 South Broadway. Located on east side of Broadway.
Proposed: Demolition of a single-story traditional fast food space and construction of a two-story mixed-use building. Restaurant and professional office space on the ground floor, four apartment units on the second floor.
Adelphi Hotel, Broadway.
The Adelphi Hotel, first opened in 1877, is anticipated to reopen this month. Features 32 rooms, a ballroom, and three restaurants: Salt & Char (already open), Morrissey’s, and the Blue Hen.
Adelphi Hotel – New Hotel, 19-23 Washington St.
Proposed: A new six-story Hotel and Spa that will physically connect to, although be operated independently of, the Adelphi Hotel. Features: spa with an indoor swimming pool on the first floor, and 50 rooms on floors two through six.
Rip Van Dam – New Hotel, 351 Broadway/ 7 Washington St.
Proposed: A new six-story Boutique Hotel. Features: swimming pool and restaurant on the top floor and 152 rooms in all, located behind the four-story Van Dam hotel and the Starbucks café on Broadway. Additional plans for a parking garage on Hamilton Street that will serve hotel guests and workers, as well as 40 spaces designated for Palio employees. Public parking may also be offered “as capacity allows,” according to documents submitted to the city.
“These are two large projects essentially adjacent to each other and I think people should be aware of that changing streetscape on Washington Street,” said Samantha Bosshart, executive director of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation.
Universal Preservation Hall, Washington Street.
Historic building on Washington Street constructed in 1871 will undergo renovation and re-open in early 2019 as an acoustically perfect theater-in-the-round experience with a capacity of 700-plus people. The upgraded venue will feature new heating and air conditioning systems, a kitchen, an elevator and new light and sound fixtures with acoustic treatments. New entry doors will be set on the building’s Broadway facing-side to provide theater-goers close proximity to a multi-level public parking garage on Woodlawn Avenue. Once completed, it is anticipated UPH will stage approximately 200 events annually.
Stonequist Apartments – New building, South Federal Street/ West Circular Street.
Proposed: A mixed-income, mixed-use development project to be sited behind the Stonequist Apartments to feature as many as 80 affordable housing units - projected at 40 to 100 percent of AMI. An additional 30 units proposed at the former site of the William H. Ford Community Center, at Jefferson Terrace, on the east side of Broadway. Both are under the ownership of the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority.
Code Blue Emergency Homeless Shelter – New building, 14 Walworth St.
Proposed: 6,400 square foot emergency homeless shelter to be sited on Walworth Street, adjacent to the Shelters of Saratoga.
West Side Development – New buildings, adjacent to Saratoga Springs train station.
Proposed: Two developers have submitted plans featuring up to 10 new buildings comprised of a five-story hotel, more than 400 residential units and nearly 30,000 square feet of retail space. Projects to be developed on a stretch of vacant land from the south end of the Saratoga Springs train station to Washington Street/ Route 29, just west of West Avenue.
Station Park project: built out over five phases, calls for two buildings dedicated as a mixed-use space with each building housing 36 residential units, and a total of 22,000 square feet of retail space. The 72 residential units would be for-sale condominiums. Additional development to include two buildings - each providing 57 units for senior housing and 33 units for senior assisted care, a 110-to-120 unit five-story hotel and spa, a pool and fitness center, and a free-standing building with an additional 6,200 square feet of retail space. Nearly 600 parking spaces would span across the location to cater to residents, retail workers and shoppers.
Vecino Group project: development of one three-story building and three four-story buildings to stand just east of the Station Park proposal and near the Washington Street post office. Featuring 160 apartment units presumably in the “workforce,” or “affordable” housing categories.
According to city officials, two additional firms are also currently readying proposals for further development in the immediate vicinity of the Station Park project, although the size and scope of those two potential projects are not currently known.
Union Avenue Condominiums, 46 Union Ave., south side of the avenue.
Planned for occupancy by March 2018: A five-building residential property with on-site parking featuring one, two and three-bedroom residences priced from $689,900 to $895,500. Occupies the site of the former Skidmore College dormitory officially called Moore Hall, and commonly referred to as the “pink palace.”
East Side Fire/ EMS station.
Status: Remains on the city’s radar,but no definitive plans at this time.
Condominium Project, 120 Henry St.
Proposal: Development of a five-story condominium building to house 30 units with 70 total bedrooms to be located at 120 Henry St., on subdivided land adjacent to the Four Seasons market.
24 Caroline Street/ 68 Putnam Street.
Proposal: New mixed-use addition and alteration to consist of six apartment units and two commercial spaces, located at site where damage and demolition occurred in the aftermath of a November 2016 fire.
City Center Parking Garage, High Rock.
Proposal: City Center Authority leasing of city-owned land to build a 480-space parking garage adjacent to High Rock Park, behind the City Center.
Status: Project remains in litigation.
Developments, both proposed and amended, are regularly addressed at City Hall meetings by the city’s Land Use Boards – the Planning Board, the Zoning Boards of Appeal, and the Design Review Commission – as well as at City Council meetings. Those meetings, and agendas regarding what each will be discussing, are available on the city’s web site at: http://www.saratoga-springs.org/. You can also subscribe to the individual boards and have the information show up in your mailbox in advance of the meetings.
The Design Review Commission will host a meeting 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 20 at City Hall. Among the items on the Commission’s agenda:
- A review of a new six-story Hotel and Spa at 19 Washington St. that will connect to the Adelphi Hotel. Note, this is different than the existing Adelphi hotel, which is slated to open any day now and which you can read more about here: https://saratogatodaynewspaper.com/home/item/7174-adelphi-hotel-set-to-open-in-september-additional-structure-also-proposed
- The DRC is also expected to issue an Advisory Opinion for the proposed 120 Henry Street Condominium Project. Plans for that project call for the development of a five-story condominium building to house 30 units with 70 total bedrooms to be located at 120 Henry St., on subdivided land adjacent to the Four Seasons market.
- Finally, a Historic Review will be conducted of a proposal for an addition to the Rip Van Dam Hotel, which is located at 353 Broadway. Plans call for a six-story addition - with a swimming pool and restaurant on the top floor and 152 rooms in all - to rise to a height of 70 feet on Washington Street behind the four-story brick hotel and the Starbucks café on Broadway. (See picture above). To learn more about the proposal, visit the city's web site here: http://saratoga-springs.org/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Item/2135?fileID=8995.
Other Meetings This Week:
The Mayor’s Seniors Advisory Committee will host a forum 1:30 – 3:30 p.m. Monday at Empire State College, 2 Union Ave. Public officials will address top concerns of seniors, including healthcare, housing and transportation. Anticipated speakers include: Congressman Paul Tonko, Sen. Kathy Marchione, City Supervisors Peter Martin and Matt Veitch, Mayor Joanne Yepsen, Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen and representatives from the offices of Sen. James Tedisco, and Assembly member Carrie Woerner.
The City Council will host a pre-agenda meeting 9:30 a.m. Monday, and a full meeting 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
The Charter Review Committee will host a meeting 7 p.m. Monday, location TBD.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – A number of fake Confederate States of America bills were discovered at the Saratoga Springs Public Library recently. An unknown quantity were found wedged inside of books shelved in the library’s section of literature related to the Holocaust, according to a library employee.
The “bills” share a general similarity with the original 500-dollar notes in style and imaging - including a profile of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson. The new “bills” were amended to include passages from the Bible and multiple images of the Star of David.
“It’s disheartening to see this going on in our community,” said city Police Lt. Bob Jillson.
The materials were reported to police on Aug. 16 and the incident logged as “unknown subject placed anti-Semitic literature into books at library.”
The local incident immediately followed a weekend during which some white nationalists converged on Charlottesville, Virginia and chanted Nazi slogans to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. That weekend concluded with one alleged Nazi sympathizer being accused of driving his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one person and injuring several others who opposed the rally.
Local authorities said there aren’t any leads regarding the placement of the phony bills into the books, and that the event seems to be an isolated incident.
“This is one more message of hate that is very unfortunate,” said Mayor Joanne Yepsen. “Our city is an inclusive and welcoming city and there is no place for any anti-Semitic action or words in Saratoga Springs.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS – A crowd of more than 200 people, comprised of area residents, members of the city’s fire and police departments, local government representatives and the Saratoga Springs High School Choraliers gathered at High Rock Park on Sept. 11, 2017 for the city’s annual 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony.
City Mayor Joanne Yepsen offered the following comments: “It was 16 years ago today our country was devastated by shock and fear, even though we woke up to a perfectly normal morning,” said the mayor, recalling the blue-sky Tuesday that would take a violent turn.
“The attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives left scars on millions of others. We kept watching our televisions, watching the horror of that day, detail after detail. But then, we watched something else begin to happen. We saw ourselves, a diverse and wide-ranging nation of individuals with different ideas, values and backgrounds, and we became strong together. Unified and supportive of one another,” Yepsen said.
For many of us, the most powerful memory of that day in September is the way we worked together, in any way that we could.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Thin and delicate and with a flurry of leaves wrapped around its crown, a baby tree was planted this week at High Rock Park. A symbol of hope and resiliency, its fast-growing branches are expected to sprout a profusion of white five-petal flowers and rise to a height of 30 feet.
“I think it’s an appropriate addition to this site,” said Department of Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco, standing in the morning shadow cast by the five twisted and sculpted pieces of World Trade Center steel nearby. “It’s a living memorial of a tragedy. A survivor tree. It shows the resilience of the American people.”
The tree planted in Saratoga Springs was grown from a seedling of a Callery pear tree which stands in Lower Manhattan and became known as the "Survivor Tree" after enduring the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. It was the last living thing recovered from Ground Zero.
Severely damaged with snapped roots and burned and broken branches, the original tree was removed from the rubble of Ground Zero, cared for and nurtured by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, and re-planted near the memorial pool that occupies the footprint of the South Tower.
In 2013, a 9/11 Survivor Tree Seedling program was launched to distribute seedlings to communities that site a 9/11 memorial – such as Saratoga Springs - or communities which have endured tragedy in recent years, such as Newtown, Connecticut - in memory of the 26-people killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and Madrid, Spain, in memory of the 190 people killed in coordinated terror bombings against that city’s commuter train system.
The baby trees are individually numbered and overseen by the 9/11 Memorial & Museum Foundation. The one in High Rock is tagged as number 345 and represents the latest addition in what the DPW calls Saratoga Springs’ 9/11 Memorial Park, in High Rock Park.
The city’s annual remembrance ceremony, hosted by Mayor Joanne Yepsen, will be staged at the park at 8:30 a.m. on Monday. A moment of silence will be observed at 8:46 a.m. to symbolize the time when the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
The Tempered by Memory sculpture, which stands 25 feet tall, was created by artists Noah Savett and John Van Alstine and is comprised of five metal pieces from the World Trade Center. Four of the pieces came from the North Tower - distinguished by the antenna on its roof - and one steel beam came from the South Tower. Saratoga Arts commissioned the sculpture. Much public debate followed regarding the placement of the sculpture. Locations in front of the Saratoga Springs City Center, and at the Visitors Center were considered. The sculpture was eventually placed at High Rock Park in 2012.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – An iconic Broadway hotel that harkens back to Saratoga Springs’ grand Victorian Era appears finally ready to reopen following an extensive five-year renovation and a project cost of approximately $30 million.
“We feel this is a process and a labor love and we needed to take as long as it needed to take to make it as perfect as possible. That perfection means detailed craftmanship with every cut, every tile and every piece hand-laid and hand-measured,” said Adelphi Hotel COO Michel Ducamp.
“To do anything less would have been a discredit to the city of Saratoga Springs and to the building – which deserves to be renovated completely and thoroughly with no-holds barred and no corners cut,” said Ducamp, standing on Broadway in front of the hotel in the gleam of an afternoon sun that illuminated the copper face of the hotel’s street-side bar named after Saratoga legend John Morrissey. The one-time world heavyweight champion, congressman, and founder of Saratoga’s thoroughbred race course died of pneumonia at the hotel a year after it opened, and was laid in state in the second-floor parlor that opened onto the piazza.
The Adelphi first opened in 1877. More recently, it was purchased for $4.5 million by RBC Hotels - a hotel management company owned by Richbell Capital LLC- and closed following the summer 2012 season for what was anticipated to be an 18-month renovation. As construction got underway, however, it became apparent that extensive reconstruction would be required.
“With a building its age, one never knows what one may find,” Ducamp said. Richbell Capital and Blue Skies Forever subsequently partnered to create a new luxury hospitality company called The Adelphi Hospitality Group, and additional properties located on Washington Street just west of Broadway and adjacent to the Adelphi were purchased. A plan presented to the city this week calls for an additional six-story hotel and spa with an indoor swimming pool and 50 rooms to be developed adjacent to the Adelphi on the Washington Street side, near UPH. It will be connected in name to the Adelphi as well as physically connected as part of the expanding complex.
“Were trying to create, especially on the room side, a luxury hotel that is so special and different that we’ll be attracting people from New York, from Boston, from Montreal. We’re not competing with our sister hotels in town,” Ducamp said. “We’re bringing more people to Saratoga Springs who will not only stay in our hotel and dine with us, but will go out to the street. They’ll want to clothes shopping, they’ll want to go to SPAC, to the races, and to the shops.“
Inside there is an “old/new” conception that boasts custom designed lobby chandeliers, entryway glass, and restored antiques refurbished in modern fabrics.
“Unfortunately, we pretty much had to gut the building because it was pretty dilapidated. We couldn’t keep very much of it, but we kept what we could. We wanted to keep the Victorian grandeur and at the same time make it appropriate for the 21st century,” Ducamp said. “We did keep the staircase. That is all original and it is spectacular. It was made of American walnut from 1877 from the forest outside of Saratoga Springs.”
The hotel stands four stories tall, the uppermost three floors with 11 rooms each, of which four are suites. There are 32 rooms in all - the variance due to the equivalent of one room being converted into a hotel guest library.
The rooms are equipped with individual thermostats which heat the bathroom floors, the towel bar, the toilet seat and the mirror. Almost all have free-standing European style deep-soaking tubs and a separate shower in the porcelainized Italian stone and marble bathroom. An integrated room automation system operates independent lighting fixtures, shades and drapes via a control panel.
Room sizes vary from about 375 to 550 square feet and costs range from the high $200s or $300s in the winter and $800 to $1,200 in the summer. Suite rates are different and are sized up to 685 square feet and feature a large veranda overlooking Broadway.
Last year, the company opened Salt & Char - a modern luxury steakhouse. Inside the hotel, the owners will open Morrissey’s – which holds additional seasonal seating for about 40 people outdoors on Broadway - and the Blue Hen fine dining restaurant, which sits towards the back end of the lobby. Morrissey’s, like Salt & Char will offer lunch and dinner and the Blue Hen will offer breakfast and dinner. Outdoor seasonal seating aside, all will be open year-round. “The food will be exceptionally good, fairly-priced and unique,” Ducamp said.
The main floor will also feature a large ballroom, the front of which will serve as a social gathering place. At the rear will be the re-created the Adelphi Garden, which is anticipated to open next spring.
“It’s for everybody and very relaxed. People can walk in off the street sit down and chat,” Ducamp explained. “If you’d like to have a cup of coffee in the morning or a cocktail in the afternoon – that’s nice. If you’d like to have a business meeting, that’s great too. It’s purely a gathering place for everybody. We want to make sure people in Saratoga Springs feel welcome. It’s a piece of the city, it’s a part of our culture and we want to make sure that people feel welcome and at home.”
Food and beverage pricing will be reasonable, Ducamp said. “This is a building that goes beyond ownership of a physical asset. This is a cultural asset a cultural icon for the city and it would be shameful if we did not make it completely accessible to local residents.”
There are hand-carved mahogany and walnut mirrors in the hallway dating to the original hotel in the 1870s, custom-designed wall patterns exclusive to the hotel, an original raw steel support pole that travels along a north-south path through the floors, and a massive mahogany-and-walnut staircase that was painstakingly disassembled and completely restored.
“All of the wall coverings, all of the light fixtures, all fabrics are custom-designed, or are original. It’s not something that you can find in any store.”
There is a focus on sustainability both in the guest rooms and in the food and beverage detail, where non-GMO products are provided nearly entirely by local farmers, and everything is completely composted.
The exterior colors of the hotel very closely match the colors of the Adelphi in 1877, before the 20th century color palette moved toward darker colors and the rooms incorporate vintage glassware, hatboxes and magazines – the latter dating to at least the 1920s, as well as Italian linens and lighted makeup mirrors. The beds incorporate custom-designed linens made in Italy, a unique artistic pattern that matches the wall coverings. and a 1-1/2-inch-thick mattress topper made of a product comprised of the processed bark of a eucalyptus tree that was grown in a biodynamic and sustainable forest in Austria.
“It’s absolutely divine and there’s nothing like it. Once you get in, you’ll never want to get out,” Ducamp said. “In three weeks, we hope to open. It’s getting very, very close.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The skies were clear and the temperature a comfortable 60 degrees last Saturday when Travelin’ Soldier suffered an injury training at Saratoga. Returning to the barn lame, X-rays were ordered and revealed a fractured leg. The horse was euthanized and marked the 17th equine death at the Spa this summer – the largest number in any one summer meet dating back to when records started being kept on such things in 2009, according to datany.com, which publishes reports regarding equine accidents and deaths.
There doesn’t appear to be any definitive pattern, weather-related or otherwise, to the 17 equine deaths at Saratoga this year, which are pretty evenly distributed among horses in the act of training and those racing.
The highest previous death total during the summer meet at Saratoga was 16 – which occurred in both 2016 and in 2012, followed by 15 horse deaths in 2015. The lowest was nine, which occurred in 2011. The nine-year total at Saratoga Race Course, to date, numbers 121 equine fatalities. An additional 29 have occurred during that same period at the harness track.
Quick to respond this week were the New York State Gaming Commission, The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (NYTHA) with an announcement that additional equine health and safety measures will be immediately implemented at Saratoga Race Course.
The actions will include increased regulatory veterinary presence at the track during training hours, state-of-the-art monitoring of horses, and comprehensive trainer education intended to share scientific findings of the types of injuries that occur at state Thoroughbred racetracks. Risk and protective factors that can help prevent injury will also be part of that trainer education.
“Our goal is to reduce the number of racehorse deaths and injuries to zero, and we have taken many productive steps toward reaching that goal over the past four years,” said New York State Equine Medical Director Scott E. Palmer, in a statement. “The Commission, as it does with every equine fatality on the grounds of a track in New York State, is actively investigating the circumstances of each incident at Saratoga Race Course.”
Track surfaces, individual horse risk factors, exercise history and past performances will be closely scrutinized, Palmer added. “Pending the findings of this investigation, we will do whatever is necessary to prevent such injuries in the future.”
Over the past four years, NYRA has implemented reforms and made significant investments to improve track surface conditions and upgrade equipment, provide vets with more authority to monitor thoroughbred health, and establish committees to oversee safety measures, said NYRA Safety Steward Hugh Gallagher.
The number of catastrophic injuries during races occurring on NYRA tracks has been reduced by nearly 50 percent since 2013 as a result of those reforms, Gallagher said. “We remain focused on continuously improving the safety of our racing operations. To that end, we are exploring the possibility of opening the main track for training to horsemen earlier in the year.”
It was also noted that NYRA’s catastrophic injury rate vs. the Jockey Club National Average – which was above the industry average in 2012 - has since dropped, and remains below the industry average, according to the latest reports in 2016.
The Commission and its partners will discuss ongoing aftercare initiatives 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 29 at Empire State College, 111 West Ave. The event is open to the public and will provide horse trainers, owners, connections and the public the opportunity to learn about the importance of retiring a horse before it suffers an injury. The many options for retirement and aftercare in New York will also be discussed.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Architectural renderings were released this week depicting the proposed exterior design of Universal Preservation Hall. Renovation work is expected to get underway at the historic Washington Street building in October, with a grand re-opening anticipated during the first quarter of 2019.
Constructed in 1871, the Victorian Gothic structure has served as a staging ground for everyone from Teddy Roosevelt and Frederick Douglass to Bruce Springsteen E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg.
A century after its construction, the building began to fall into disrepair and in 2000, the city condemned the building. Members of the community rallied to save the structure from demolition. Today, the nonprofit group UPH owns the building and in 2015 got an added boost when it became an affiliate of Proctors. The Schenectady based organization will lend their expertise in securing programming and coordinating ticket sales and marketing,
When it reopens, UPH will provide an acoustically perfect theater-in-the-round experience with a capacity of 700-plus people, said UPH Campaign Director Teddy Foster. The building will feature new heating and air conditioning systems, a kitchen, an elevator and new light and sound fixtures with acoustic treatments.
New entry doors will be set on the building’s Broadway facing-side to provide theater-goers close proximity to a multi-level public parking garage on Woodlawn Avenue and the main room’s flexibility will allow for the relocation of seats as events dictate.
Once completed, it is anticipated UPH will stage approximately 200 events annually, and fill the city’s void of a year-round, mid-sized venue that has been absent since Saratoga’s 5,000-seat Convention Hall went up in a fireball in 1966.
SARATOGA SPRINGS - Following a year of preparation and three days of workshops, seminars, networking sessions and informational panels, Dan Tordjman was appreciating some well-deserved down-time on Wednesday, a day after wrapping up the first-ever Equestricon, which was staged Aug. 13-15 at the City Center.
The convention, billed as “the largest program schedule assembled for any fan event in the history of horse racing,” pretty much matched up with organizers’ expectations, explained the event’s co-founder.
“What we were trying to prove was that there was an appetite for this kind event - a fan base in horse racing interested in learning more about the game, and an industry interested in meeting face-to-face with potential customers,” Tordjman said. “I think we were able to do that.“
The ebb and flow of visitors during event days on Sunday and Monday - as people made their way between the racecourse and the City Center - was augmented by the convention’s largest gathering on Tuesday, when the track goes dark, he said.
For Tordjman, Tuesday’s highlight was the fan-friendly experience which posed attendees for photographs alongside the Kentucky Derby trophy and served as a fundraiser for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF). “One of the most indelible moments was when someone from PDJF came on and could barely get one word out before they broke down crying and thanking us for doing it,” he enthused.
The crowd of approximately 1,000 people registered to attend in advance of the convention were supplemented by a free-flow of visitors attending independent events, many of whom had come from out-of-state and were visiting Saratoga for the first time.
“I think Saratoga has been on a bucket list for a lot of people and with Equestricon happening this year, they figured this was the time to make the trip,” said Tordjman, who credited the city for its hospitality – “they rolled out the red carpet for us” - and added that “everything is on the table” regarding Equestricon’s future staging ground. A formal announcement is expected “in a month or two,” although he anticipated a probable return to Saratoga Springs in 2018.
Monday was punctuated by a keynote address regarding horse aftercare by longtime journalist Soledad O’Brien, who has worked as a correspondent for Al Jazeera America, produced documentaries for CNN, and runs the Starfish Media Group production company.
“One of the things I see analogous between the stories I report and the thoroughbreds I had the opportunity to adopt over the years is that in every story people want to work. They want good valued work, (and) horses, like people, like to work. You like to feel that you’ve accomplished something. They like to be run and exercised and walked – and get treats, too,” said O’Brien during a morning presser attended by more than a dozen credentialed photojournalists, print journalists, TV news camera operators and one millennial who aimed a smart phone at the speaker and announced, “I’m Facebooking-it live,” to anyone who cared to listen. Outside in the main hall dozens of Equestricon staffers wore black T-shirts emblazoned with yellow stencils that read: Ask Me Anything.
“If you had told me 10 years ago that I would have three off-the-track racehorses, I would have said, ‘You have lost your mind,’” O’Brien explained. “I thought: racehorses are hot, somewhat crazy, and you would certainly never put a child on a racehorse.” That assumption was not accurate, she learned.
“My husband and I got into getting horses from aftercare about 10 years ago and we were completely and utterly surprised at how successful it’s been. We went to the aftercare facility and every single stereotype we thought we knew about retired racehorses coming off the track wasn’t true,” O’Brien said. “Over the years we have had three retired racehorses, and a bunch of other horses - different breeds - and there’s no difference between them. They do the same things our other horses do.”
O’Brien, who calls herself “a mediocre-to-average rider who just loves horses,” said the racehorses have smoothly transitioned into great new jobs, retrained as jumpers and specified one in particular, whose name is “Joey” as being her young daughter’s favorite.
“We got him off the track and a couple of days later we were riding him. He’s got the sweetest disposition. At the end of the day, those stereotypes were certainly not true and I think that was my biggest learning curve, recognizing the opportunity with these horses that needed new homes and new jobs.”
Mike Wolf and Frank Fritz, the respective faces of the History Channel series “American Pickers,” will be filming episodes of the show across New York in September and are looking for leads of large, private collections or an accumulation of antiques that they can spend the better part of the day picking through.
The documentary series features the travels of Wolf and Fritz as they journey the country’s back roads from coast-to-coast, antique-picking on a mission to recycle forgotten relics, meeting often-entertaining characters along the way and learning something new about America’s buried past.