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The Downtowner Hotel
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Downtowner Hotel is seeking modifications to an approval from the city Design Review Commission for exterior changes to the existing structure at 413 Broadway. It is anticipated the DRC will review the application at its next meeting, which will be held at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 7.
Additional applications under consideration for the meeting include: an Architectural Review of 18 townhomes – exterior; an Advisory Opinion to City Council regarding the proposed installation of missing link sidewalks located in the right-of-way within the city’s Historic District (project title: Saratoga Springs Missing Sidewalk Links Project), and modifications to an approval for exterior modifications – specifically a south façade porch extension, new east façade porch – at Mouzon House.
• A sketch plan conducted by the LA Group regarding a subdivision at 110-114 Nelson Ave. was submitted to the city Planning Board on behalf of applicant JW Hemmingway LLC, and property owner CRND Properties, of Watervliet.
The sketch plan calls for 2.16 acres to be subdivided into 12 lots. The land, which is currently vacant, sits opposite the Saratoga Race Course on the Nelson Avenue side, and across from Frank Sullivan Place. In addition to the independent lots, the property is also proposed to site a “neighborhood rooming house,” according to plans, that will house three guest suites.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A proposed 21st century development may return the corner where Broadway meets Washington Street to the visual splendor it enjoyed in the 19th century.
A newly proposed application under review by the city’s Land Use Boards calls for the construction of a five-story apartment and hotel structure on Washington Street that would tie in with the neighboring former Rip Van Dam Hotel, and the property of the Adelphi Hotel.
The application, filed by 353 Broadway Acquisitions, calls for the construction of approximately 86 new apartment units – 30 two-bedroom units and 56 one-bedroom units (for a total 116 bedrooms) - as well as 31 one-bedroom hotel rooms. The hotel office will be set in the existing stone house at 23 Washington St.
The corner building which houses a Starbucks Coffee Company store will remain. The existing building adjacent to it at 5 Washington St. will be demolished.
The dimensions of the proposed five-story structure on Washington Street would stand 70 feet in height, 118 feet in width, stretch 273 feet long, and would require a dredged/ excavated area of just over a half-acre.
Plans also call for new street frontage walkways on both Broadway and Washington Street to overall improve the streetscape. Vehicle access will be on Washington Street and a split-level parking layout, on the lower level and ground floor, will include spots for about 100 vehicles.
Earlier proposals approved for a portion of the site but never materially developed in the past have included the construction of a 176-room hotel with a 200-seat banquet hall.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The City Council will host the second of two special meetings regarding proposed police department reforms on Wednesday.
The meeting will be held via zoom at 7 p.m. on March 31 and will include public comment, after which the council is anticipated to vote on the matter, in advance of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s April 1 deadline.
Last year, in the wake of the death of George Floyd, Gov. Cuomo signed an Executive Order requiring each local government in the state to adopt a policing reform plan by April 1, 2021. Municipalities not certifying adoption of a plan prior to the deadline are subject to having their state aid jeopardized.
The first of two special City Council meetings to address police reform was held via zoom on March 23. The near-two-hour meeting, which grew testy at times among some council members, included approximately 40 public speakers, the overwhelming majority of whom urged the council to “adopt and ratify” a 50-point plan submitted to the council by the ad hoc Saratoga Springs Police Reform Task Force. Among the 50 points are Task Force recommendations that the police department be precluded from initiating no-knock warrants under any circumstance, and that a Civilian Review Board, or CRB, be implemented.
A group of residents gathered on the steps of City Hall earlier this week to call on the council to adopt and ratify the plan and to express that the council be clear in its language by stating specific steps should be outlined for a CRB to be implemented, and not merely as being potentially considered. It was an expression similarly echoed by a great majority of comments made by public commentators during the council meeting that followed: specifically, from “accepts for consideration recommendation,” to “adopts for implementation.”
The city’s most recently updated resolution draft may be viewed on the city’s web site, at: saratoga-springs.org. The March 31 meeting will be broadcast live on the city’s web site. Those interested in making public comments to the council during the meeting must do so via Zoom, and a Zoom registration link is also available on the city web site.
WILTON — Mt. McGregor and Grant Cottage Historic Site are preparing to launch a new vision for the future of the historic site, which would include a series of improvements and some new development.
Potential plans include improved parking access, the expansion of trails, the development of a rustic gazebo and replica train station that once stood at the site, a pavilion that could host more than 100 people, and using a five-acre parcel that was once part of the former Mount McGregor Correctional Facility recreation yard for signature events.
Former U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant spent six weeks at the cottage in 1885, completing his final memoirs prior to his death.
“Grant Cottage really started out as a little place in northern Saratoga County where Ulysses S. Grant was invited up to because he had terminal throat cancer,” Grant Cottage President Tim Welch explained, during a presentation to the county Board of Supervisors last week.
“He was invited up because the temperature was so hot in New York City in 1885, his doctors didn’t think he would survive to complete his memoirs. He spent only six weeks in Saratoga County, but he completed his memoirs and Mark Twain published them. He wrote his memoirs because he was dead broke. His son got him into a Ponzi scheme and he lost $200,000 – everything he had – and he had like 89 bucks in his checking account. So, that’s why he wrote his memoirs. Within a year after his death, his wife got a check for $450,000 in royalties from Mark Twain, which today is worth $11 million,” Welch said. “This is part of the story we have to tell as we attempt to expand the footprint of Grant Cottage with the Master Plan the LA Group is helping us put together.”
The expansion would help the site meet a growing interest and entice more visitors to the cottage specifically and the area in general, officials said. Attendance restrictions brought on by the pandemic aside, there have been positive signs of late regarding the site. Last year, the History Channel announced its presentation of a three-part mini-series on U.S. Grant, with the Grant Cottage featured in the docudrama. Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company, which filmed at the cottage in October 2019, Grant Cottage also was the recipient of a $10,000 donation from DiCaprio. This past January, Grant Cottage was approved as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service.
Grant Cottage was headed to closure on the 100th anniversary of Grant’s death in 1985 until a group of concerned citizens got together to save it by having a volunteer staff and keeping it open to the public for five months of the year.
The cottage is looking to reopen for the season “in the next several weeks,” Welch said.
County & City Police Reforms
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The city is targeting an April 1 deadline to comply with an Executive Order issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo stating that municipalities across the state adopt local plans for police department reform. Two special meetings of the City Council – to take place March 23 and March 31 - have been scheduled to review and approve recommendations for Saratoga Springs police reform.
Last June, in the aftermath of the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minnesota and subsequent protests across the nation demanding change and accountability among the law enforcement community, Cuomo directed a comprehensive review of existing police force deployments, strategies, policies, procedures, and practices be conducted, and plans for reform adopted by local municipalities by April 1, 2021 to be eligible for future state funding.
Last week, the results of a survey used by them to assist in finalizing their recommendations to the Saratoga Springs City Council was posted online. The 97-page report may be read at: saratoga-springs.org.
On March 5, the 13-member Saratoga Springs Police Task Force released its 108-page report: Reinvention Plan: Toward a Community Centered Justice Initiative.
“It contains more than 50 recommendations intended to improve the policies and practices of the Saratoga Springs police Department,” city attorney Vincent DeLeonardis explained to the council during its meeting on March 16. “It is now up to the Council to review and deliberate on the proposed recommendations and determine which of those recommendations will be implemented – and how.”
A draft of the report may be viewed on the city website at: saratoga-springs.org.
“This is a big first step that we’re taking here, but it has to go on. We can’t possibly reform everything in seven months,” city Mayor Meg Kelly said, regarding the amount of time which the Task Force was granted to conduct their review – in between the time of Gov. Cuomo’s order and the city’ s adoption deadline.
“We have to have a plan moving forward and I think that’s what we’re doing with this resolution. We’re going to continue working with the Commissioner of Public Safety (Robin Dalton) and working with the chiefs to continue on the reform,” she said. “We have to submit something April 1 and then we can continue to work through all these changes. Police reform has to continue after April 1, it doesn’t end.”
Two special meetings of the City Council were scheduled to specifically review the task force recommendations for police reform. Those meetings will take place 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 23 and 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 31. The meetings will be live streamed via Zoom and on the city’s website, and public comment will be allowed at both meetings.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Public Safety Department is comprised of a full-time administrative office staff, a Police Department, Fire Department, Code Enforcement Division, Central Dispatch, Traffic Maintenance, Animal Control Officers and a Health Officer. There are approximately 161 full-time and 11 part-time employees. The part-time employees work as school crossing guards, vehicle traffic controllers, part time cleaners, part time clerk and summer laborers at the traffic garage.
• The Fire Department operates out of two fire stations and serves the City of Saratoga Springs, which encompasses 29.07 square miles of residential, commercial, and agricultural properties and parks.
• Fire Department 2020: The Saratoga Springs Fire Department responded to 4868 calls for service, which represents a 7.38% decrease overall from 2019. Specifically, there were 85 calls for service regarding fires – the highest number of fire responses since 2017.
• Ambulance 2020: 3,454 Emergency medical calls, a daily average of 9.46, and 2,269 transports.
• The Police department currently employs 72 sworn law enforcement officers. Over the past five years, averaged approximately 30,500 calls for service, 1,290 arrests, and 28.33 incidents involving uses of force per year.
• Police Department 2020: 30,880 calls for service. The Investigations Unit assisted in 39 missing person cases in 2020, and officers deployed Narcan on 16 separate calls for service.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — One year after battening down the hatches in response to the oncoming 2020 pandemic, area performance venues are starting to piece together their plans for reopening.
“The one-year anniversary of shuttering the venue, with no clear end in sight - but then came the sudden news that performing arts venues in New York State are allowed to re-open at 33% capacity on April 2,” said Caffè Lena Executive Director Sarah Craig, in a posting on the venue’s website. “It means we can stop treading water and we can start swimming toward a goal.”
The café plan is to reopen April 2 with safety protocols in place. While guidance would allow 35 people at the venue, the capacity will be limited to an audience of 24.
“We won’t serve food and drink yet. That means masks can (must) stay on from entry to exit,” Craig said. “We’re getting the air filter systems that we didn’t think we’d need ’til September. Even so, we’ll keep the windows open a little. Wear a sweater.”
Caffè Lena first opened in May 1960 as a small beatnik coffeehouse, Bob Dylan first visited the club in 1961 and played a full weekend of shows for which he was paid a total of $50. Appearances by Rosalie Sorrels brought admirers like Hunter S. Thompson and William Kennedy to the venue, and in the fall of 1965, Don McLean made his first of his many appearances at the café.
In the 12 months since everything shut down, the café counts 209 livestreams it had broadcast and $100,000 raised for musicians.
In the meantime, Lenas continues to broadcast a slew of productions via its online platforms. For more information, go to: caffelena.org.
“We’re at the beginning of the end,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, during his March 9 presser. “The end is the vaccine. The vaccine is the weapon that wins the war. It’s going to still be an annoying few months, but we’re getting there.”
Plans are also underway at the 700-seat theater-in-the-round space at Universal Preservation Hall (UPH).
“We will open the hall in July for the School of the Performing Arts for Kids – a rock music camp for middle-schoolers, and our goal is to become an exhibit hall in the summer,” says Teddy Foster, campaign director at UPH.
“I don’t know what April will bring, so right now we are holding tight, but we will be doing another exhibit this summer – which was our plan all along, to become an exhibit hall in the summer and put on really cool, family-friendly exhibits which will also help draw people downtown.”
Last year’s interactive summerlong exhibition featured music-themed pinball machines and memorabilia from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame that featured artifacts used by everyone from Dolly Parton to Alice Cooper.
“Even in the middle of the pandemic last summer our pinball exhibit brought in 2,000 people,” Foster says. In “normal” times, UPH anticipates it will serve an estimated 65,000 visitors per year, with a $3.5 million annual economic impact as a year-round venue space, according to a statement issued in 2018,
The building was erected in 1871 and served as a Methodist church for its first 100 years, as well as playing a role in the city’s civic life by providing a venue for visiting statesmen including Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, William Jennings Bryan and Frederick Douglass. But by the 1960s, it had fallen on hard times. Local preservationists organized a nonprofit group and helped save the structure. More recently, Foster oversaw an operating alliance created with Proctors, and a $13.5 million renovation project that followed was celebrated with a fabulous opening night performance featuring Rosanne Cash last Feb. 29 to re-christen the grand hall.
This coming summer’s exhibition, which Foster didn’t identify by name, is currently being negotiated and anticipated to open in late July for a display that will be active for a number of months. When the venue does reopen to the public, everything will be staged in a safe manner, Foster says. “One of the things that makes UPH so safe to be in is we have an extremely high-tech HVAC system and we clean like maniacs, so people will be able to come into our building with confidence because it’s safe.”
For more information about UPH, go to universalpreservationhall.org.
VICTORY — A once-burgeoning mill a top a historic landscape has been targeted for a large-scale residential reuse that could transform this small Saratoga County village located on the north bank of Fish Creek.
The village of Victory, located in the town of Saratoga, counts approximately 600 residents and borders the village of Schuylerville. It played an important role during the era of the Battle of Saratoga in the 1770s and a century later served as the home of the Victory Manufacturing Company – employer of several hundred people. After hitting its peak in the 1870s, an economic downturn in the early 20th century forced the company known for creating high quality cotton goods to begin laying off employees.
The mill – built in the early 20th century and standing just north of the site of the original 1846 plant – was last occupied in 2000. This week, the Saratoga County Industrial Development Agency approved $41.9 million in tax incentives over a 30-year period in connection with a plan that calls for the redevelopment of the mill to house 186 apartments.
The 186 apartments atop the 6.6-acre property would include 127 one-bedroom and 59 two-bedroom apartments with rents anticipated to range from $800 to $1,300 per month, says Larry Regan, president of Regan Development Corporation.
The anticipated residents filling the apartments of the converted five-story building Regan says, “commuting professionals looking for a place that is not in a downtown city, who want more of a suburban location in a cool retro-fitted building, and who want a large, good-price-point affordable apartment.”
Regan Development has been involved in quality developments and revitalization throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut for a generation, most recently a complex that combines 72 workforce rental apartments at the mixed-use five-story Swinburne Building in Albany.
“This would not only be a boon to the community for the residential, but we’re looking to do a brew pub with a group that would have their brewery operations in the back on the lower section, with a patio that faces the Fish Creek. That section is very picturesque. We’re also looking to build an amphitheater for outdoor concerts in the warmer weather,” Regan said.
“We worked very hard to come up with something that’s not just a residential use, but a mixed-use to try and synergize economic redevelopment and revitalization of the building and the village. We want to make this right, not only as a residential spot but as a destination for people to come and enjoy.”
Following the departure of the building's last tenant in 2000, its assessed value fell from $3.7 million to about $650,000. A Malta resident purchased the lot in 2003 with designs of renovating it for mixed-use space, but nearly $460,000 in unpaid taxes were accrued before the project could get started. Harmony Group Capital, led by developer Uri Kaufman, subsequently secured the Victory building, and the sale to move forward with the Regan Development project may come as early as June. Regan says approvals have been secured from the local Planning Board and Saratoga County IDA, and village building permits have been filed.
“Timewise, right now, things are in a state of flux because of the state budget - we’re using a fair amount of state resources here - and because of COVID; costs for things like lumber and metal have gone up substantially, so we’re sort of waiting in a queue and hoping things can move forward for a potential June closing,” he said. “If not June, then we’re hopeful for a year-end closing. So, this is going to happen. Everything is in place.”
Construction would start as soon as a scheduled closing date is secured. The construction process is anticipated to take about two years, Regan said.
“We’re very pleased with the relationship we have with the village, with the town, with the county and with the state. Everybody’s coming together to make this happen. It’s just a matter of waiting COVID out - and then hit the ground running.”
BALLSTON SPA —
Saratoga County officials announced March 3 the launch of a new Potential Vaccine Interest List phone call-in number, which will now enable residents to sign up for the vaccine interest list by telephone. A similar companion registry was launched online on Feb. 17 and has secured the names of approximately 11,000 local residents.
As vaccines become available in the county, names are randomly selected for vaccinations and those people are notified. Signing up on the list is not a guarantee of getting a vaccine, officials noted.
Residents may continue to register directly online at www.saratogacountyny.gov/vax. The Inbound Call Center, which allows residents to sign up on the Interest List by telephone, may do so by calling 518-693-1075, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.
If registered online, there is no need to call to register again, and there is no benefit to registering multiple times, county officials said.
Saratoga County Public Health Services is directly administering the Pfizer vaccine for the first time this week. Previously, the County had only offered the Moderna vaccine. Officials said they expect to have some of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccines available “very shortly.”
More than 45,000 residents overall – nearly 20% of the county population - have received at least one dose of vaccine. About 12,000 of those residents had been vaccinated by Saratoga County Public Health Services department or the county’s partners in the local EMS community. Just over 24,000, or more than 10% of county residents, have completed their vaccination series with both doses.
“In addition to our own clinics, we will continue to engage with our partners throughout the county to distribute vaccine as quickly as possible and hold mass-vaccination clinic events when supplies warrant,” said Saratoga Springs Supervisor Tara Gaston, who also is chair of the county Health Committee. Eighteen locations around the county have been identified as mass vaccination sites, including the Saratoga Springs City Center, and when the county is delivered from the state ample supply of vaccine to open a mass vax site, the county is prepared to do so, Gaston added.
Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine – which does not require cold storage – has arrived in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, during his presser on March 3. Approximately 164,800 doses are anticipated in that first J & J tranche and will be distributed while supplies last at mass vaccination sites to be open 24/7 later this week at Yankee Stadium, the Javits Center, and the New York State Fair.
The governor also announced new Gathering Limits. In effect March 22, residential gatherings maintain at 10 indoor, but go up to 25 outdoor. Social Gatherings in public spaces go up to 100 people indoors, 200 people outdoors.
Beginning April 2, event, arts & entertainment venues reopen at 33% capacity, up to 100 people indoor, 200 people outdoor. With attendee testing, capacity increases to 150 indoor, 500 outdoor. Masks and social distancing protocols still required.
Infection-wise, Saratoga County’s 7-day rolling average percent positivity is 2.3%, as of March 4. “The continued progress that is being made in the county is encouraging,” said Dr. Daniel Kuhles, commissioner of Saratoga County Public Health Services. “However, it is imperative that we do not lower our guard and leave our communities and hospitals vulnerable to another surge in cases.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — After serving Spa City customers for more than a quarter-century, a popular Phila Street eatery has closed its doors for the final time.
Four Seasons Natural Foods, which stood at the corner of Phila and Putnam Streets since 1990, is in the contract process of being sold to new owners.
“In the restaurant business, it’s a crazy ride,” says owner Richard Frank. The store portion of Four Seasons was relocated in 2014 to 120 Henry Street – where it has and will continue to operate - and the Phila Street location was re-configured into the Four Seasons café.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the country, and like many other businesses, the Phila Street venue was affected. “Everybody took a hit in sales, but as far as ours, last summer we were doing about 25% of what we had been doing the summer before,” says Frank, who grew up in Pennsylvania and was introduced to Saratoga when he began spending summers here at the age of nine.
Four Seasons was launched in 1988 near Caroline Street and Broadway and relocated to Phila Street in 1990 when Frank joined the store, leasing it for a handful of years before eventually purchasing the building in the mid-1990s. A relocation of the Four Seasons “store” to 120 Henry Street was made in 2014, with the Phila Street location moving into its “café” phase. The company scaled back during the pandemic in 2020 and closed its Phila Street doors in November.
“The moral of the past year is that you have to be flexible. What we thought we know, we don’t, and you have to be able to adapt,” Frank says. “I was sort of waiting to see what would happen next when a nice couple came and offered to buy the building. It made sense.”
The sale is under contract and as for future use, the expectation is the couple purchasing the building are interested in a retail endeavor. Since the 1930s, the single-story building has served as meat market and a grocery store, a military recruitment center, a wine store, and as Mrs. London’s Bakeshop and Restaurant during the 1980s.
“We were there 31 years, but overall, I think it’s great because the people seem super-excited and it’s great to see someone who’s going to love the building. It’s a great corner,” Frank says. “It’s definitely a loss of a casual vegan restaurant,” Frank acknowledges; however for Four Seasons at 120 Henry St., life goes on.
“We’ve always done sandwiches and soups and we’ve been augmenting our kitchen a little. We do our desserts at the café, but we’re going to be able to do them here. Over time (post-pandemic) we might be able to re-organize and have some sort of casual eat-in,” he says. “To some extent we’re not really doing anything different; yes, the café is a big piece that now won’t be part of us, but we’re still in business, we’re still doing food, I still have food service I believe in and we serve good products, so it’s not an end of the road or anything like that. If anything, it’s better here, better for our staff and better for our customers.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — “Nothing bears any resemblance to past seasons,” says Elizabeth Sobol, president and CEO of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
The SPAC campus first opened on a July night in 1966 when it welcomed to the stage the New York City Ballet. A few hours downstate, Mickey Mantle hit a home run in each game of a doubleheader against the Washington Senators at Yankee Stadium, and all across America, The Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” dueled with Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers In The Night” for a spot at the top of the charts.
In ballparks, across broadcast networks and atop performance stages, last summer was like no other, preceded by a distress of unpredictability over what could happen. Looking ahead to the upcoming summer, that still unpredictable aura has seemingly transformed into what can possibly be.
“This time last year – March, April, May – when it was clear what was going to end up happening – we started asking ourselves the question: Who and What is SPAC when you can’t use the amphitheater?” Sobol says.
Currently, there have been “regular and very fruitful conversations with all our resident companies,” she explains, referring to the New York City Ballet, The Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. “There is a huge effort going across many different organizations, because we all know how important it is to have some presence by these companies up here. We’re committed to having all of them in Saratoga and they’re committed to being here in some way, shape or form.”
SPAC also plays host to the annual Saratoga Jazz Festival, Opera Saratoga, and a summerlong staging of pop concerts presented by Live Nation, as well as the annual Saratoga Wine and Food Festival and an additional slate of imaginative programming. Right now, what form they will take: “Nobody knows yet,” Sobol says. Still, preparations are underway. And there have been a multitude of things learned.
“We learned so much about so many things. It gave us time and quiet to contemplate things we normally don’t have time to contemplate. The last year has honed our skills living with the jaws of uncertainty wide open, 24/7, and it’s forced us to not take anything for granted.”
Showing its merits beyond an oft-misplaced public perception as being solely a site for an amphitheater, SPAC exhibited its mettle as a holistic organization with a series of community collaborations alongside cultural agencies and the business community, as well as continuing its outreach in the world of education – where in 2019 alone it served 50,000 students around the Capital Region and worked with more than 120 local schools and non-profit organizations to present more than 400 unique classes, events, performances, and presentations.
“We started asking ourselves: How can we provide experiences that bring people together around beauty, rather than pushing them apart. That kind of informed everything we did: let’s look at our campus like a blank canvas and all the opportunities and possibilities we have here. So along with that question of who and what is SPAC when the amphitheater stage is dark, is also the question of how we can best serve art, artists and the community.”
On campus meanwhile, the organization last summer unveiled The Pines at SPAC. The new 4,000 square foot indoor/outdoor, year-round education and community events space features a pavilion and a terrace where some small gathering events may take place. While it is a structure much of the public has not yet seen, The Pines has been used to host more than 200 events since late last summer, 50 people maximum capacity at a time, and the grounds have also featured things such as dance classes, wellness classes, a teaching space for healing arts practitioners, and the launching of Culinary Arts at SPAC events.
A “Soundwalk” project was also initiated, merging performance and programming that takes audiences more into nature. “An embracing of our place in the natural world in a much more direct and celebratory way is going to be a big piece for us moving forward,” Sobol says. “Anything we could do using our rigorous COVID protocols and procedures to create a safe space for people to gather outdoors and do the things they needed to do for their soul. So, we now have a blueprint for doing things on a very small scale, for being flexible and agile. It honed a lot of skills for us.”
SPAC’s summer ballet gala will be re-imagined in 2021. “It’s not going to be a massive event with hundreds of people at the Hall of Springs on the lawn, but now that we know we can replicate these events – let’s say it’s for 50 people - maybe we’ll do 5 or 10 of them. We now have that blueprint, and we can execute that pretty nimbly,” she says. A culinary concept that has to do with ballet history is also being put together for a limited capacity gathering in 2021, and possibilities of having “rolling audiences” – that is, a few hundred people being rotated into the grounds at any one time – are being considered as a way to stage the summer Jazz Fest.
“We’re looking at every possible option so that if things are still very restrictive, we can accommodate that, and if they are looser we can accommodate that too,” Sobol says.
“‘All of these things are things we’re all working on together – how to bring companies to Saratoga, finding ways to perform that are safe for the audience and the performers and the crew, and also models that are financially viable for us and for them.”
Promoter Live Nation will have its own decisions to make regarding the summer pop season. More than one dozen scheduled shows are slated to take place from mid-July through September, featuring artists such as Rod Stewart, Hall & Oates, Maroon 5, Backstreet Boys, and Alanis Morissette, among others. A phone call to Live Nation seeking comment for this story was not returned.
As far as capacity in the amphitheater, a 10% max limit recently imposed on large venues by Gov. Cuomo would keep the audience inside the pavilion to 500 people, although those percentage numbers could fluctuate depending on vaccine roll-out and COVID-19 infection rates. SPAC being an amphitheater – a somewhat open building with an attached outdoor lawn – the stipulations specific to the venue are not clear.
“We are working on a regular basis with the governor’s office to talk about what amphitheaters look like, what that’s going to be, but imagine if we’re still at 10%,” Sobol says. “Even if we do use the lawn, we’re still limited to 500 people in the amphitheater. If they don’t give us a percentage but say we have to limit according to the six-foot rule, then that would limit us to about 1,200 people. It has enormous financial implications. And none of us knows right now. Trying to plan for July and August when we don’t even know when vaccinations are going to be widely available is tough,” she added.
SPAC is a 501(c)3 charitable organization with an annual operating budget of about $10 million. To normally meet that budget, about $5 million in revenue is generated from ticket sales, rent paid by promoter Live Nation which stages the summer pop concerts, and other miscellaneous sources. The other $5 million must largely be raised through SPAC memberships, charitable donations and corporate underwriting.
When programs were first cancelled last May and June, SPAC projected a $1.3 million shortfall, “but the community really rose up and was so generous that we ended up able to end the year in the black, so there’s tremendous gratitude around the generosity of the community,” Sobol says. “But at the same time, 2021 is going to be a lot more perilous for us, because we didn’t have the (high) costs last year. We are committed to major resident companies, so support at SPAC for this year is going to be even more important than it was last year.
“Most of our planning is done years in advance and right now what we have is about 50 plates juggling in the air waiting for a moment – which will probably be sometime in early April - to say this is our best bet of what three months is going to look like, because we’ve got to basically have 90 days between the time we pull the trigger on something, and we have our first performances. That’s an absolute minimum,” Sobol says.
“It’s also about the perception. There are more and more studies out there that ask, ‘Do I dare go out into an environment where there are hundreds or thousands of people?’ That’s the big quotient we can’t predict: behavior.”
Ultimately, SPAC is planning to actively showcase all its resident companies in 2021. “We just don’t know what that’s going to look like,” Sobol says. “Is it in the amphitheater at vastly reduced capacities? Is it in some other performance space – because if we’re seriously limited then we may have to look at some other spaces. But, we are committed to having the musicians and the dancers here in some capacity.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga Springs hosted its annual State of the City Address on Jan. 26.
Each of the five council members and both supervisors representing the city at the county level were allotted time to speak. The meeting included a moment of silence for all who died during the pandemic. COVID-19 accounted for the deaths of 108 residents of Saratoga County - 38 specific to Saratoga Springs, to date.
Due to COVID-19 precautions, the annual address was livestreamed via Zoom.
“There was a time when we thought we had (already) faced a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence: the lightning strike that closed City Hall in 2018 (and) relocated us to the Recreation Center for almost two years,” Mayor Meg Kelly said. “Obviously, 2020 unfolded in very unexpected ways. We had to pivot and work remotely, social distance, and meet in Zoom rooms.”
Here are some excerpts of the address. A transcript of the entire meeting may be read at the city’s website.
• The Saratoga Greenbelt Geyser Road Trail will soon open to the public and have a ribbon-cutting in the spring. The Geyser Trail is an 8-feet-wide, 2.8 mile-long trail that follows Geyser Road, from the Milton town line to the Saratoga Spa State Park.
• Renovation of the vandalized Civil War memorial in Congress Park is nearly complete and is anticipated for return to the park in the spring. Repair costs were covered by insurance; additional costs will be incurred for new security cameras and improvements to the site.
• The city delivered several new federally funded programs, including $540,000 in CDBG-CV funding to local service agencies, the COVID19 Small Business Grant Program, and the COVID-19 Emergency Housing Assistance Program - the latter preventing homelessness for 13 Saratoga Springs households. More than $490,000 in Block Grant funding assisted 3,000 households.
• In 2020, the city’s three Land Use Boards issued 178 decisions. There are currently 96 active applications in the review process.
• Due to the pandemic and subsequent shortage of business revenue and state aid in 2020 resulted in much lower sales tax, occupancy tax, service fees and other city revenues, reflected in the city’s 2021 budget, which was adopted on Nov. 30.
• In 2020 the city paved 12 main roads and intersections.
• Future: a Broadway Master Design Plan was created via a partnering of the DPW and the Downtown Special Assessment District. The aim is to incorporate many ideas into one cohesive plan that recognizes the historic charm of the city’s downtown, while acknowledging the growing community and business expectations for public spaces. More information about the initiative is expected in the near future.
At the county:
• The new Public Safety facility at the County Farm Road complex was completed and is in operation. The county approved $350,000 to improve technology in the board room, support live-streaming of meetings and increased public engagement, as well as install Public Wi-Fi in appropriate areas.
• A new Government Review and Efficiency committee was established and charged with the responsibility of looking at all of the county’s laws, policies, and procedures, appointed boards and committees, and as well review each departmental operation.
• The County created the new position of Commissioner of Saratoga County Public Health Services, and Saratoga Springs resident Dr. Daniel Kuhles was hired to fill the position. Steve Bulger was named new County Administrator.