Thomas Dimopoulos

Thomas Dimopoulos

City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
Contact Thomas

Thursday, 09 March 2017 15:35

Notes From City Hall

City Identifies Dangerous Roads

“I do get communication from residents regarding traffic issues in the city. Some we can do something about, some we can’t,” Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen said during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

Mathiesen explained that a half-dozen or so problem areas fall under state Department of Transportation jurisdiction and that he sent a letter to the DOT asking the agency to look into those six area of concerns. Those are:  

1.  Intersection Union Avenue, Meadowbrook Road, Gilbert Road.  The DOT reduced the speed limit on Union Avenue to 45 mph, but more needs to be done.  Ideally, a traffic circle would reduce speeds on Union Avenue and make it much safer for motorists.

2.  Intersection Lake Avenue, Gilbert Road, Weibel Avenue.  The city has received many complaints about this intersection, especially for vehicles trying to access Lake Avenue from Gilbert Road. 

 

3.  Outer Lake Avenue, Route 29.  The 55-mph limit in the vicinity of the Saratoga Independence School should be looked at, and a lower school zone limit considered. 

 

4.  Outer Church Street, Route 9N.  The 45-mph speed limit begins immediately to the west of the West Avenue intersection, and is too fast given the subsequent intersections to the west with busy residential streets and the large nursing homes/senior facilities.  

 

5.  South Broadway near W. Kaydeross Road intersection.  A reduced speed limit from the existing 55 mph and possibly a caution light would be helpful given the year around activity at the barbeque restaurant.  Pedestrians have been killed in this area.

 

6.  Outer Washington Street, Route 29, and especially Intersection with Brook Road/Slade Road.  This intersection has been intimidating for motorists trying to cross Route 29 or trying to turn into Slade or Brook Road from Route 29.  The speed limit is 55 mph.  Vehicles must come to a nearly complete stop in order to turn off Route 29.  There are no turn lanes and the roadway shoulders are sub-standard.

 

According to city statistics, 22 traffic accidents were reported at this intersection between January 2012 and December 2016 involving 48 vehicles and causing injury to 19 vehicle occupants.  Ideally, a traffic control device on Route 29 - with a 45-mph speed limit from the city line east to Buff Road and a 40 mph limit from Buff Road to West Avenue - would make the stretch of outer Washington street /Route 29 much safer.

 

City Seeks Purchase of Private Land near Loughberry Lake

The City Council set a public hearing to take place at 6:40 p.m. on Tuesday, March 21 regarding the city’s potential acquisition of a privately owned 2.4-acre lot adjacent to the Route 50 gateway and in the Loughberry Lake vicinity. The owner of the land is willing to sell the parcel to the city, which was appraised last month by GAR Associates at $135,000. The purchase would help protect the watershed and retain a scenic vista on a signature gateway into the city. Should Loughberry Lake no longer be used as a reservoir in the future, the parcel could potentially serve as a pocket park with access to the waterfront for active or passive recreation, according to the city.

 

City is Lead Agent for Geyser Road Trail

As it had similarly done in regards to the Pitney Farm property last month, the City Council on Tuesday voted to approve Saratoga Springs act as SEQRA Lead Agency for the Geyser Road Trail. The State Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQRA, requires all state and local government agencies to consider environmental impacts equally with social and economic factors during discretionary decision-making.

Spa City Solar Park Set to Power Up

A groundbreaking ceremony will be held April 5 at the Saratoga Springs' Solar Park. The project, developed on the city-owned landfill will meet about 40 percent of the City government’s electricity needs. It is slated for completion in late June, and is anticipated to be “energized” by late July

 

Upcoming

The annual Memorial Day Parade will take place 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 25. The city asks anyone willing to volunteer for the community event contact City Hall at 587-3550.

The Zoning Board of Appeals will host a meeting at City Hall at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 13.

The Design Review Commission will host a meeting at City Hall at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 15.

 

 

 

 

SARATOGA SPRINGS -  ''Every time I sing something, I try to sound just like Paul Rodgers,'' declared Joe Bonamassa during an interview with this reporter many moons ago, while preparing to go onstage at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in support of Bad Company and Foreigner.

 His solo debut, ''A New Day Yesterday,'' had been released a year or two earlier, and the blues-rock guitarist, who grew up in Utica a musical child prodigy, came to Saratoga with a career full of promise.

 This week, Bonamassa announced a new US summer tour in support of his latest studio album, “Blues of Desperation,” which kicks off Aug. 4 in Atlantic City, New Jersey and pulls in to SPAC on August 15. Tickets are $66 to $156 and go on sale Friday, March 10. 

 Bonamassa’s musical talents were first recognized at the age of four - when his father bought a Stevie Ray Vaughan album, the young man said he was hooked on the sound for life – and began touring at the age of 12. He received mighty praise from none other than B.B. King and up to that point shared that his grandest musical moment came when he’d been joined onstage by members of the band Jethro Tull. 

 Fifteen years later, it’s safe to say Bonamassa has created some new career highlights; he’s been nominated for a Grammy Award – twice – and has been featured on the cover of virtually every guitar magazine multiple times. Bonamassa has secured 16 number 1 Billboard blues album hits, performed everywhere from Radio City music Hall to Royal Albert Hall, and has sold more than 3 million albums worldwide.

Neighbors: Snippets of Life From Your Community

 

Who: Dawn Oesch.

Where: Saratoga Sweets Candy Co., Washington Street.

Q. What are you doing today?

A. I’m making bunnies. Chocolate bunnies, and Tall Bunny - the big guy is 2-1/2 pounds.

Q. Where are you from originally?

 A. Lake Placid.

Q. How long have you been in Saratoga Springs?

A. Nineteen years. I love the city more than anything. Moving here, I loved that it had the same charm as Lake Placid, but on a bigger scale.

Q. How has Saratoga changed over the years? 

A. We’ve been getting more commercial with more big-box stores coming into our area, which is a little scary. There’s room for everybody, but you don’t want your quaint town to turn into Everyday U.S.A. because you can go anywhere and see these places. So, keep it to the minimum we have now. No more thank you.

Q. What’s the best thing about Saratoga? 

The people who live here. Some say this is a tourist town, that money falls from the sky, but any business person will tell you it’s not like that, especially when they first open. What makes it is the locals. I love that I know their names and what they want. That’s the best part of it.

Q. What is the biggest challenge you personally face?

A. My dogs destroying the garbage can every day. I have two dogs, both beagle mixes: a beagle basset I rescued last year who’s three or four, and Sawyer – a six-year-old beagle border collie who’s stubborn and smart I’ve had since he was a puppy.  With the garbage can, I even have a lock on it and they still get into it.

Q. What is the biggest challenge you face business-wise?

I’ve been here for 19 years and I love my little store. This is my baby and I would like to be here for another 19, but our landlord sold our building, or is in the process of selling it. We can possibly go in the new building (when completed), but where do you go while they’re building the new building?

Q. Tell me a joke

A. My favorite is a knock-knock joke. It goes like this:

Knock-knock.

Who’s there?

Interrupting cow,

Interrup—

Moooooo. 

 

Q. You are active in regional theater?

A. My favorite theaters to work in are Home Made Theater in the State Park, and the Local Actors Guild at the Arts Center.

Last fall I directed “Shrek The Musical”  at Home Made Theater. We had  a cast of 32 and a tech crew of 15.  There was a three-week run and it was awesome. The next thing I’m going to do is “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” That has a cast of about 50. that will be next spring, so I can start planning now. I’m a planaholic. I like to be uber-organized.  

 

 

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Did you know a freight train disaster at the Saratoga Railroad Station in 1940 resulted in nine injuries and two deaths? How about the mid-1970s incident that saw a sniper open fire on a west side elementary school playground that wounded two children?  Or, that the Saratoga Race Course provided the scenery for a handful of Hollywood movies - from “Saratoga” in 1937 to “Seabiscuit” in 2003 - to say nothing of novelist Ian Fleming’s visit to the track to conduct research for his James Bond book, “Diamonds Are Forever.”

Saratoga’s history, from the well-documented to the obscure, can be unearthed in a handful of places in the city, most of which are readily open to the public and provide a wealth of resources, if one knows where to look.

“The city historian, the museum, and the library are three separate entities – we all work together - and there are others,” says city historian Mary Ann Fitzgerald, as she muscles open the heavy vault door inside her office at the Saratoga Springs Heritage Area Visitor Center. Here, Fitzgerald says, people need to know what they’re looking for before they come in, because of the overwhelming number of primary materials and other original documents.  

Inside the vault, the shelves reveal handwritten council meeting minutes dating to the city’s incorporation in 1915, criminal dockets from 1876, fire disaster records, urban renewal papers, and countless other original documents, including a prized signature by Saratoga Springs founder Gideon Putnam that dates to 1810. The vault is perused largely by archivists and historians searching for original source material.

Across the street, the Saratoga Springs History Museum is being prepped for its upcoming exhibition - “Internationally Famous” – featuring Cris Alexander - a celebrity photographer and artist, and Shaun O’Brien, a dancer with the New York City Ballet. The couple moved to Saratoga Springs in the early ‘70s and were together for more than 60 years. Collectively, their lives trace a line through the art, dance and celebrity world of much of the 20th century. 

In addition to its changing exhibitions and its permanent displays – original furniture and gaming equipment sit in the historic 19th century casino – the museum’s library houses research-friendly manuscripts, diaries, and business records of prominent local families like the Batchellors and the Walworths, as well as rarities documenting Caffè Lena, and the life of Frank Sullivan.

A third aspect of the museum’s offering is the George S. Bolster Collection. Culled from approximately 360,000 images, glass plates and negatives, the compilation depicts a long-gone era of city hotels and lake houses, public events, visiting celebrities, and time-captured scenes of the race course and private homes in their original splendor.

“People looking for pictures come to me,” says Bolster Collection Curator John Conners. “Some of them date back to the 1870s and every time I look at the pictures I still find something different, something I haven’t seen before.”  

In 1928, the city’s borders cradled 14,000 year-round residents and housed 16 churches, 287 retail stores, five grade schools, one high school and two parochial schools. The house numbers and owners’ names can be found in the pages of the city directories - beginning in 1868 - at the Saratoga Room, located inside the Saratoga Springs Public Library. A few yards away, visitors can unearth the everyday lives of early 20th century residents in Sophie Goldstein’s oral narratives in the Saratoga County Jewish History Project.

The Saratoga Room also boasts a multi-media collective of Saratoga-related films and documentaries, publications, illustrated newspapers, cookbooks, street maps with numbered houses dating to the 1800s, and a popular collection of Saratoga cookbooks. Frank Sullivan’s personal library consisting of more than 100 books and his personal typewriter are here, as are a treasure-trove of high school yearbooks, a century old.   

 

Discoveries To Be Made: Did You Know?

The New York Knickerbockers and Boston Celtics played an NBA exhibition game at Convention Hall in 1955.

Sylvia Plath found peace on earth during her residence at Yaddo in the winter of 1959.

The Olympic Torch passed through Saratoga Springs in 2001.

True Crime: The bullet-riddled body of the victim of a suspected “mob hit” was found on the steps of Saratoga Hospital in 1936; A grisly discovery of the dismembered body of a young woman was made at Saratoga Lake a decade later.

Sophie Tucker, Senor Wences, and “a breathtaking ensemble of lovely girls!” performed at The Piping Rock in 1947; 16-year-old Philip Seymour Hoffman studied acting at Skidmore in the 1980s; The band U2 performed at Saratoga Raceway – the current grounds of Saratoga Casino – in 1992, and Bob Dylan earned $50 for a two-night stand at Caffè Lena  during his first visit to Saratoga Springs in 1961.

Fires: The city’s worst occurred in 1955 on Caroline Street and claimed the lives of eight people; The “Great Fire of 1957” destroyed a block of the downtown business district on Broadway, and eight years later the 5,000-seat Convention Hall was destroyed in a mammoth blaze.

Activism: In 1965, more than 600 Saratogians took part in a “Stand Up To Be Counted” silent March down Broadway in support of Civil Rights.

 

Some Saratoga History Resources – note some are by-appointment.

Brookside Museum, Saratoga County Historical Society. 6 Charlton St., Ballston Spa. Phone: 518-885-4000. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Web: www.brooksidemuseum.org

Crandall Public Library, Center for Folklife, History, & Cultural Programs, Glens Falls. Phone: 518-792-6508, Todd DeGarmo (Director) x237; Erika Wolfe Burke (Archivist) x238. Web: www.crandalllibrary.org.       

Saratoga Springs History Museum and George S. Bolster Photographic Collection at The Casino, Congress Park, Saratoga Springs. Phone: 518-584-6920. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Web: www.saratogahistory.org.

National Museum of Racing, 191 Union Ave., Saratoga Springs. Phone: 518-584-0400. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Web: www.racingmuseum.org.            

Saratoga County Historian, 40 McMaster St. Ballston Spa. Phone: 518-884-4749. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Web : www.saratogacountyny.gov.

Saratoga National Historical Park, 648 Route 32, Stillwater. Phone: 518-664-9821 ext. 224. E-mail: Contact Form at website - www.nps.gov/sara.    

Saratoga Springs City Historian, Mary Ann Fitzgerald, at the Saratoga Springs Heritage Area Visitor Center, 297 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. Phone: 518-587-2358. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Research hours by appointment.

Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation, 112 Spring Street, Suite 203, Saratoga Springs. Phone: 518- 587-5030. www.saratogapreservation.org.               

The Saratoga Room at the Saratoga Springs Public Library, 49 Henry St., Saratoga Springs. Phone: 518-584-7860, x255. E-mail: Contact form at website - https://www.sspl.org/research/local_history/collections/.

Skidmore College Library, Department of Special Collections, Saratoga Springs. Phone: 518-580-5509. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Web: www.skidmore.edu.

NYS Military Museum & Veterans Research Center, 61 Lake Ave., Saratoga Springs. Phone: 518-581-5100. Web: www.dmna.state.ny.us/historic/mil-hist.htm.

 

 

Friday, 24 February 2017 12:04

Notes From City Hall

Plans to Develop Agricultural Center at Pitney Meadows Farm A Planned Unit Development (PUD) is being sought for the development of a 35,000+ square-foot agricultural center at the Pitney Meadows Farm on West Avenue. The center would sit on a small non-farming portion of the land. The goal is to provide facilities to allow for direct resident education and interaction with agricultural methods relating to producing healthy and nutritional foods in a sustainable manner. On Tuesday, the City Council unanimously agreed there is merit for review of the zoning amendment, that the City Council would act as Lead Agency in the matter, and voted to seek advisory opinions from the city and county Planning Boards, as well as the Saratoga Springs Design Review Commission. Update on DPW Garage Fire Marilyn Rivers, city director of Risk and Safety, informed the council of insurance implications related to a Jan. 27 fire at the DPW complex on the city’s west side that badly damaged a city garage. The entire metal building will require demolition - save for a small concrete vault – and $25,000 deductible aside, it appears the city’s insurance carrier will cover costs to demolish the building, replace tools and equiptment housed within, and cover costs of a re-built structure on the site. The fire was deemed to have started on the east side of the building in an area that housed a work bench, some chemicals and staining gloves, although more specific information on cause remains undetermined, Rivers said. Saratoga Go! Technology Competition Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan announced a Smart City technology competition - Saratoga Go! – aimed at challenging individuals, small businesses and software companies to create community innovations to improve the local quality of life. The three-month competition kicks off in April, and participants will have the opportunity to attend workshops designed to provide valuable information and resources to aid them in their development of the applications. Participants can submit any solution aimed at developing Smart Cities, and is open to all U.S. residents 13 and older. Workshops will offer training in data, pitching, marketing and customer discovery. At the end of June, participants will pitch their solutions at an event and winners will receive marketing, promotion, cash awards, and other opportunities to promote their apps. Registration information will be uploaded to the city’s website, Madigan said. A presentation by the city’s partners in the program will be made at the next City Council meeting, on March 7. City Sales Tax Receipts Up 3.2 Percent Over Last Year The city received sales tax revenue of about $11.98 million for the 2016 fiscal year, representing a 3.2 percent increase over 2015 receipts, although about $291,000 less than what had been budgeted. “Even though actual receipts were 2 percent less than budgeted, the city continues to see growth in sales tax for the sixth year in a row,” Finance Commissioner Madigan said. “Saratoga County also reported sales tax growth in 2016 by 2.97 percent - another indication of our strong economy not only in the city, but across the county.” Upcoming Meetings The Zoning Board of Appeals will hold a meeting 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 27 at City Hall. The Design Review Commission will hold a meeting 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 1 at City Hall.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The City Council held a lengthy and at-times heated discussion Tuesday night about whether to fund a Special Election in May or June as requested by the Charter Review Commission, to potentially change the way the city is governed.

Since its inception as a city in 1915, Saratoga Springs has operated under a Commission form of Government – that is, with four commissioners and one mayor each running separate departments and all having equal say. Mandated to review the City Charter every 10 years, the Charter Review Commission, a 15-person group appointed by members of the City Council, recommended bringing to voters a proposal that the city adopt a Council-Manager form of governing. Under such a plan, the council would be charged with hiring a professional city manager to carry out policies.

A measure to fund the Commission’s $46,000 administrative budget – which includes fees for legal consulting, sending informational mailers to residents and a clerk to transcribe meeting minutes – received unanimous council approval, but a $37,000 request to fund a Special Election in May or June was rejected by a 3-2 vote.

City Mayor Joanne Yepsen, who voted to support funding the Special Election, said if the Charter Commission desired to hold a vote in May, then it was their right to do so. “I think we’ve got to let the voters decide. I don’t think it’s up to us - when it should be, or what they should put on the referendum,” Yepsen said. “I think it’s in our best interests to move this forward regardless of what we all think personally.”

Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, who vehemently opposed funding a Special Election, argued that the council’s actions are not politically motivated whereas the Charter Commission’s are, and received like-minded commentary from Accounts Commissioner John Franck. “To say this group has not advocated for a change in the form of government is blinking at reality,” Franck said. “They’ve been disparaging the current form of government, but telling about this new form of government. They’re not supposed to be doing this. They’re supposed to be educating.”

Franck, Madigan, and DPW Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco rejected the funding request, and each stated the public would be better served – both in cost savings and by a larger voter turnout - should the referendum be held in November.

“I think it disenfranchises people. This is voter suppression, I don’t care what anybody says,“ said Scirocco.

Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen, like Mayor Yepsen, voted in favor of funding the Special Election. He argued that the issue requires its own attention rather than it being added to this November’s Election Day slate, which will include all five council member seats up for vote.

“I think this is such an important issue and a vital part of looking at where our city is going that it needs to be decided upon separately, and in an environment not muddled by the political intrigue that often comes with our November elections and all the special interests that rise up,” Mathiesen said. Following the vote, Yepsen attempted to provide information about the ramifications of the council’s vote and what the next steps might be regarding the Charter Commission’s potential actions, but was not permitted to do so by other members of the council.

“This will come down to a lawsuit, I suspect, and the courts will decide what they’re going to do with this,” Franck said. “There may even be a lawsuit at the City Council level.”

Friday, 24 February 2017 11:33

750-seat Venue Targets Fall 2018 Opening

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Galleries, museums and classic architecture. A cinema. Public parks. Taverns, restaurants and cafes. Together they are the elements that contribute to community vibrancy.

But, for the past half-century, one noticeably missing piece in this walkable city has been the lack of a year-round, mid-sized venue – an unfulfilled need since Saratoga’s 5,000-seat Convention Hall was destroyed by fire in 1966.

With an extensive renovation of Universal Preservation Hall set to get underway, that cultural vacancy is set to soon be filled. “This will be an acoustically perfect theater-in-the-round and will hold about 750 people,” said Teddy Foster, campaign director at UPH. “There will be a lot of music, Broadway cabaret and live theater.”

The current schedule of events will conclude in five weeks and a $5.5 million renovation of the historic building is slated to get underway in June. When UPH re-opens in the fall of 2018, it will house new heating and air conditioning systems, a kitchen, an elevator and new light and sound fixtures with acoustic treatments.

“It will have everything,” Foster said. The main room’s flexibility will allow for the relocation of seats as events dictate and a community room located on the building’s lower level will hold another 140 people. New entry doors will be set on the building’s Broadway facing-side to provide theater-goers close proximity to a 450-vehicle public parking garage on Woodlawn Avenue.

The Victorian Gothic structure on Washington Street 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 building 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.

Today, the nonprofit group UPH owns the building and maintains a 21-person board of directors. A local Baptist congregation – which continues to host weekend services at the hall - owns the land on which the church sits. An initial wave of renovation work began in 2003 after $3 million was raised. The current Capital Campaign - The Road To Opening Night – is ongoing and has secured about 90 percent of the $5.6 million it seeks to raise, Foster says. A fundraiser will be held in May at Saratoga National.

In 2015, UPH 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, in addition to other areas. Proctors was built in 1926 in downtown Schenectady and was one of a dozen vaudeville houses along the east coast of the country. A half-century later, it was among the last standing theaters of a deserted downtown landscape. Like UPH, it also was saved from the wrecking ball.

Last week Proctors’ creative director, Richard Lovrich, and its publicist, Michael Eck, staged a slide show presentation and discussion at UPH based on the release of their new coffee-table book, “Encore: Proctors at 90,” which depicts everything from the backstage application of character makeup for a production of “The Lion King,” to images capturing gracious remembrances of a theater visit by Sophia Loren. It is a narrative of renewal and rebirth, and a tale of a city and a theater taking turns saving each other, the authors say.

After undergoing a transformative restoration of its own, the historic theater today features everything from ZZ Top, this weekend, to the staging of “Hamilton,” during its 2018-19 season. Of UPH, Proctors CEO Phillip Morris says he envisions a welcoming place to gather and 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. “I like to say I imagine the hall as Saratoga’s living room,” Foster said.

Friday, 17 February 2017 10:22

Notes From City Hall

Fire Damages DPW Garage SARATOGA SPRINGS — A fire of unknown origin at the DPW complex on the west side damaged a city garage, Department of Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco announced on Friday, Feb. 10. The fire occurred on Jan. 27 and originated in the carpentry area in the building, located in the northeast corner of the DPW complex. “I had anticipated sharing this information at the Feb. 7 City Council meeting but was waiting for more information on the insurance claim. That information is forthcoming but I thought that the public should know more about this situation,” Scirocco said. “What’s most important here is that no one was hurt.” The cause of the fire has yet to be determined. While no major piece of DPW equipment or vehicles were damaged, hand tools and equipment were lost in the fire, and the building itself experienced fire and heat damage to wiring, insulation, and the structure. Preliminary reports from the director of Risk and Safety, and representatives from the City’s insurance provider, indicate that the building should be stripped down to the steel beams and concrete with all other components of the building removed and rebuilt, according to Scirocco. DPW officials are working with city departments and the city’s insurance carrier to investigate the fire and ensure the city receives full coverage for the damage it caused, Scirocco said. The esitimated cost to repair and replace items damaged by the fire has not yet been discussed by the City Council. Upcoming Meetings The City Council will hold a pre-agenda meeting 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21, and its full meeting at 7 later the same evening at City Hall. The Planning Board will hold a workshop 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21 and a full meeting 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23 at City Hall.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — It was born of a community’s compassion on Christmas Eve in 2013, in the aftermath of tragedy that claimed as victim one of its own. On Valentine’s Day it received a gift of permanence that promises to help provide a successful continuum of care for its survivors.

Local business owner Ed Mitzen, and his wife Lisa, announced Tuesday they will pay for the costs of a new Code Blue homeless shelter to be built on the current Shelters of Saratoga property on Walworth Street. Shelters of Saratoga, or S.O.S., oversees the Code Blue program, and siting an emergency shelter at a permanent location has been a high priority following a series of temporary shelter venues that have been staged at St. Peter’s Parish Center, the Salvation Army building and the Soul Saving Station Church.

“This phenomenal gift solves the consistent challenge we have faced over the last few years of providing a permanent home for Code Blue,” said Michael Finocchi, executive director of S.O.S. Initial plans call for a two-story building with a large kitchen, laundry room, men’s and women’s sleeping rooms, multiple showers and bathrooms, a large storage area for donated food and clothing, and a small Code Blue office. Local firms Bonacio Construction and the LA Group will be involved in the development of the building and both have agreed to forego any profits to keep the costs as low as possible. Design plans will be evaluated by the city’s Land Use boards. Finocchi said ideally, the new building will consist of 6,500 square feet of space and house about 50 beds. The hope is that the new building will be operational by Nov. 1.

Need for Shelter is Great

The average number of overnight guests this season – 41 per night – is an all-time high, as is the number of openings – 89 nights as of Valentine’s Day – already surpassing all previous season totals, with presumably more to come til warmer climes prevail. The shelter initially opened when temperatures dipped below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Earlier this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order which directed emergency shelters to operate when temperatures dropped below 32 degrees.

The need for a city emergency shelter during the winter months is great. Between 2007 and 2015, although homelessness nationwide decreased by 11 percent, it increased in New York, rising by 41 percent, according to the 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Between 2014 and 2015 alone, New York State’s homeless population jumped by 7,660 - the largest increase in the nation for the one-year period.

The Code Blue Saratoga program was born from the tragic death of Nancy Pitts. The 54-year-old mother of two sought shelter on a Williams Street porch during a frigid December night in 2013. She was discovered by police the next morning. Within days of the homeless woman’s death, a cooperative partnership between then mayor-elect Joanne Yepsen, non-profit organizations, and members of the community was initiated and a plan set in motion to site an emergency shelter in the city.

“The proposed plan gives Code Blue a permanent home, as opposed to its current revolving status, which will be critical to ending homelessness in Saratoga Springs,” said Yepsen, who also publicly thanked Ed and Lisa Mitzen “for making our long-term goal a reality.”

Ed Mitzen, owner of the marketing agency Fingerpaint Marketing, grew his local health care ad agency Palio Communications from a five-person shop to a multimillion-dollar company with nearly 200 employees. In 2006, he sold the company and two years later founded Fingerpaint Marketing, eventually setting up shop on Broadway in a building formerly occupied by Borders Books and Music. In an interview with this reporter in 2015, Mitzen said philanthropy is a core value. “We’re blessed and fortunate to have good jobs and good careers and we feel a tremendous sense of pride to be able to give back to the community,” Mitzen said. “We’re always looking for ways we can help other people.” The donation includes costs for the building and amenities, such as appliances, although operating costs will come from other means. S.O.S. currently operates two other buildings on its property as well as a twice-a-week “drop-in” center which draws 20 to 22 people each day. Finocchi said having the Code Blue shelter on the same grounds will be beneficial. “Having Code Blue in close proximity to the case-managed shelters maximizes the opportunity for Shelters of Saratoga to provide the full continuum of homeless services to the individuals we serve,” Finocchi said. “This project will allow us to more easily connect homeless individuals with the support services they need, including case management, mental health counseling, and alcohol and drug rehabilitation. Our ultimate goal is to get them stable and housed.” Over the past four years, 36 individuals who have used Code Blue services have successfully transitioned into the Shelters of Saratoga case managed shelter.

The council unanimously approved to accept the determination and findings of the New York Eminent Domain Procedure Law as it relates to the Geyser Trail project. By voting to accept the findings, the council reserved its right to the eminent domain procedure and to subsequently seize private land, should it need to do so. The two-mile long Geyser Trail would create a continuous, non-motorized connection linking the town of Milton/Saratoga Springs city line with the Saratoga Spa State Park. The trail, which would be for seasonal and not year-round use, passes by large residential developments, the Geyser Road Elementary School, Veteran’s Memorial Park, the Grande Industrial Park, and a handful of parcels privately owned that the city would take over. The development of the trail would include portions of nine properties, seven property owners. Two of those property owners are, thus far, opposed to the development, and an opposing petition citing safety and cost concerns has garnered nearly 100 signatures. “We certainly don’t want to proceed with eminent domain proceedings if we don’t have to,” Mayor Joanne Yepsen said, adding she was hopeful an agreement may be made with the two opposing land owners. “I don’t think an eminent domain has happened in the city…ever.” By law, the city is required to provide just compensation to the owners of the properties to be taken, and up to $80,000 has been appropriated for that purpose. The findings stated, among other things, that the project serves a specific public benefit available to a broad number of city residents, and that it would not have a sufficiently negative impact on the aesthetics or the environment. The four steps in the right-of-way acquisition process include: holding an initial meeting with each property owner, a real property appraisal, establishing just compensation and negotiating a settlement and transferring title to the city. The Geyser Trail project has been in the works for more than a decade. To Uber or Not to Uber? The City Council voted 4-1 in a resolution to support bringing ride-sharing services such as Uber to upstate New York. “It provides more options for tourists as well as residents,” Mayor Joanne Yepsen said. DPC Commissioner Chris Mathiesen voted against the resolution. Any measure to bring such services upstate requires approval from the state legislature. Finance Department Appoints Acting Deputy Commissioner Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan announced the appointment of Susan Dugan-Armstrong as Acting Deputy Commissioner of Finance. Dugan-Armstrong has served as the city’s Website Content Coordinator and was responsible for the design and implementation of the City’s Smartphone Application “Saratoga Mobile.” She will fill in for Deputy Commissioner of Finance Lynn Bachner, who is on leave. DPW Names New Deputy Department of Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco last week appointed 20-year DPW veteran Frank Coppola, Jr. as Deputy Public Works Commissioner. A 1977 graduate of Saratoga Springs High School and native Saratogian, Coppola began working for DPW in 1994 as a laborer in the Water Utilities Department. In 2005 he was promoted to Working Supervisor and managed important water infrastructure projects in Saratoga Springs. “Frank has been involved in a multitude of major infrastructure projects and will be extremely valuable in our continued work to improve our city’s infrastructure and manage the DPW workforce,” Scirocco. said, in a statement. Coppola has also led a hall of fame career as a driver and trainer at the Saratoga Raceway. He was raised in the harness business, started his own stable at the age of 23 and was inducted into the Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame in 2011. Throughout his career, Coppola has won over 5,000 races and has a career purse winnings of $17,038,430. Upcoming Meetings: The Zoning Board of Appeals will hold a meeting 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 13 at City Hall. Design Review Commission will hold a meeting 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 15 at City Hall.
Page 68 of 73