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By Michele Madigan
For Saratoga TODAY
I want to clarify certain facts regarding the City Center's plans to build a parking structure, and clear up any confusion amongst members of the public regarding the City's RFP to develop the entire High Rock parking lot. It is important to note that the City Center Authority is not a private entity; it was created by a legislative act of New York State to carry out governmental functions. The Mayor is an ex-officio member, and the Finance Commissioner acts as its agent, empowered to examine its accounts, finances, contracts, and leases, among other things. As such, the City Center and the City have a very close working relationship that is written into New York State law.
The City Center approached the City Council on November 20, 2012 with a proposal to lease a portion of the High Rock lot upon which they would build - at their expense - a facility to provide much needed parking. The lack of covered and connected parking for vendors and exhibitors to unload marketing materials and wares at City Center events places them at a competitive disadvantage, which will worsen once competing local convention facilities are open for business. This is unfortunate, as the City Center is a vital part of our local economy, drawing thousands of visitors each year to our hotels, restaurants, and retail establishments, supporting local businesses and generating tax revenues that fund our government and help keep our property tax rates stable.
At that meeting, the Council agreed unanimously to allow the City Center to move forward with its plans. Although questioning the proposed $1 lease payment and resulting financials, I did offer my support, as did Commissioners Scirocco and Mathiesen, and Mayor Johnson. Commissioner Franck said that this was the best High Rock lot proposal that he had ever seen; he’d "worked the numbers" and was in full support. Soon thereafter, the City Center issued an RFP (Request for Proposal), receiving several responses and selecting one. Their plans have been subject to numerous public discussions, which resulted in several modifications. The current plan to lease approximately two-thirds of the lot and build a parking structure (that includes space for community events) on half of the leased land, with the City retaining development rights for the other half, has received all of the necessary approvals from the City's various land use boards.
While the above was transpiring, several local residents expressed reservations about these plans, suggesting a grander multi-use development of the entire High Rock lot that would simultaneously meet the needs of the City Center and provide other opportunities. The Council unanimously agreed to explore this alternative, and in the summer of 2015 the City issued an RFP soliciting proposals to develop the entire lot. The City Center's original RFP was focused on meeting the demonstrated downtown parking needs, with a structure occupying a portion of the High Rock lot, which they would pay to build. The purpose of the subsequent RFP issued by the City was to solicit plans to develop the entire High Rock lot while meeting those parking needs, which the City Center would not fund. The Council clearly stated that while we were issuing this RFP, and would be reviewing subsequent proposals, the City Center should continue to move forward with its plans. The City received two responses to this RFP, and the Council appointed the Technical Review Committee to review the proposals. At a special City Council meeting on February 25, 2016 the Technical Review Committee said they could not recommend either proposal due to parking, financing, urban form, and engineering concerns.
The City has been negotiating the aforementioned lease with the City Center since 2013; I assumed responsibility for these negotiations in September 2014. Given that the City Center has received all necessary approvals for their plans, and the Technical Review Committee's concerns regarding the two High Rock lot development proposals, I presented this lease to the public and the Council on March 1, 2016. I plan to ask the Council to make a decision regarding the lease in April. If the Council approves this lease then the City Center will be able to move forward with their plans - leaving approximately two-thirds of the High Rock lot available for future development.
Michele Madigan is the Commissioner of Finance for the City of Saratoga Springs
Seeking to Develop High Rock Parcel
SARATOGA SPRINGS – At a special Saratoga Springs City Council meeting on Tuesday, November 10, the only agenda item was presentations by the two groups seeking to develop the last large parcel in Downtown Saratoga Springs. The 2.6-acre site bordered by Lake, High Rock and Maple Avenues adjacent to High Rock Park has been the subject of intense interest, and the meeting was moved upstairs from the Council room to the larger Music Hall.
Community Builders/Paramount Realty and a team led by Hyman Hemispheric, LLC delivered presentations. Both proposed development scenarios involved mixed use: Combining parking with residential and commercial applications and both noted that they were attempting to respond to the needs of the community which they indicated had desired more than just a parking garage in this location, while attempting to respond to the need for more parking for the Saratoga Springs City Center, as well as being sensitive to the impact on the adjacent Mouzon House Restaurant. They did differ on several key points as to how best to accomplish these varied goals.
Community / Paramount presented first and detailed a $77 million mixed-use plan called High Rock Village that had 607 parking places (259 earmarked for the City Center, 30 for City Hall use, 140 for the development’s residents and 178 for the public) and presented a financial scenario that assumed the first hour of parking would be free, $1.50/hr. thereafter; and 166 mixed housing units: 64 senior, 42 “workforce housing” for young professionals and families, 36 condominiums and 24 market rate apartments. The plan anticipated about 50,000 square feet of retail space. The plan had several design features detailed including a pedestrian promenade running North/South and a possible water feature, perhaps including a ‘living wall’ fed by the water along the High Rock Park side of the development. Overall, their financial plan anticipated 50 percent of all revenue from the development going to the City, with about $2 million in annual tax revenue.
Hyman Hemispheric presented their team, which included Sequence Development, Phinney Design, Consigli Construction and JCJ Architecture. They noted that the team had worked together before and involved a local presence (e.g.: Phinney and Consigli). Their plan involved an outright purchase of the land for $2.6 million and would have 656 parking spaces, of which 350 would be reserved for the needs of the new development; 106,000 square feet of housing – a mix of market and workforce; 65,000 sq. ft. of office space in a four-level structure and retail. Mike Phinney noted that much of the actual design of the development would best be reserved until a charette (a meeting in which all stakeholders in a project attempt to resolve conflicts and map solutions) was conducted among concerned interest groups (such as the Downtown Business Association) and the public. Phinney indicated that the best projects are those placed before the land use boards with the public already supportive of the design detail.
However, their presentation did have some important broad design elements, such as setting aside 35,400 sq. ft. for open space, ‘green notes’ such as pocket parks and other pedestrian oriented features, including a park space facing the Mouzon House. The presenters stressed the primacy on an east-west flow of people, from the development to Downtown and the City Center, as well as retail across High Rock Avenue. The philosophy of the development was to use retail and housing to minimize the “garage presence”, concealing the parking portion to the greatest extent possible.
While generally appreciative of the two presenting teams’ efforts, some of the Council’s comments following the two presentations indicated that they had concerns that the two proposals did not adequately address the amount of parking space needs for the City Center, and did not provide for direct connectivity to the City Center from the parking area. Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan expressed concern with the overall magnitude of the two projects for the area available, and called for a comprehensive traffic study involving traffic flow, congestion and parking requirements in the immediate and surrounding areas. Commissioner of Public Safety Chris Mathiesen raised the point that part of the parcel might best be reserved for a City Hall annex to alleviate overcrowding and satisfy the need for a mandated second courtroom in the city.
Space Derby is your Online Solution.
SARATOGA SPRINGS—For years, decades even - the real race has always preceded the races on the historic Saratoga Race Course oval.
The race for a decent parking space.
Where will I find one? Will I find one? And how much am I going to pay? The tension and uncertainty surrounding these questions have been as much a part of the Saratoga Race Course experience as the walking ring and the Big Red Spring.
Thanks to Saratoga Springs native Hans Theisen, you now have a solution at your fingertips: on your smart phone or any computer device.
Behold SpaceDerby.com – an online solution that makes finding and securing parking around the track (and soon, downtown and other areas) as simple as ordering a pizza or as Hans puts it “Think of it like booking a hotel.”
“Research has shown,” Theisen said, “that nearly two-thirds of same day hotel bookings are on a mobile device. We are just adapting it to parking.”
It really is so simple; your child could do it while you driving up the Northway. Once logged onto their site, you choose a date, and various options (locations and prices appear.) Click, book, pay online and receive an email or mobile receipt in seconds with your license plate number.
For instance, if you wanted to book a parking space for track opening day, July 18, you search on that date, and in this case, options ranging from $5 to $34 will appear. For Travers Day (August 23) the range is from $15 to $42, while a post-Travers weekday might be in the $5-$29 range.
Each location has a little profile page, showing a map and picture of your destination, which could be very helpful for first-time visitors, as well as various amenities (such as available restroom facilities) and even, in some cases, promotional incentives. For instance, at the Mexican Connection, a complimentary “Park-a-Rita” (a $6 value) is waiting for you inside and for your $7 parking fee at the Horseshoe Inn on opening day, you also get a 15 percent discount off your food bill that night.
Well, you do the math. Less stress and a more fulfilling experience. Sounds like a beginning of a winning day to me. You also have flexibility. You can reserve for any day of the meet, book a number of adjacent spaces (Tailgate!), pay for a client’s parking and even cancel with 24 hours notice.
Theisen, an entrepreneur who has participated in five previous start-ups is launching this one solo. He has been talking to downtown entities, and has plans to expand this concept to major markets like NYC, Boston and Los Angeles, where the appeal would be obvious, though certainly the logistical challenges would be greater.
“But I wanted to launch it here,” He said of his hometown. “I’m still here every August, and I am aware of the unique situation we have in this market every year.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Saratoga TODAY Newspaper has learned that there is potential pending litigation against the City of Saratoga Springs’ Department of Public Safety, seeking relief and potential damages against the pending imposition of a one-way street plan in a neighborhood that borders Saratoga Race Course, during the six weeks the Race Course is in operation.
The affected area will involve Wright Street, Frank Sullivan Place and a portion of Lincoln Avenue between the Race Course and Nelson Avenue. The portion on Lincoln Avenue fronts Siro’s Restaurant and a handful of private residences. Some of these residences have provided parking on their lawns/driveways to race goers for decades.
The information was derived from on-the-record conversations with Mr. Keith Kantrowitz, owner of Siro’s; Mr. Kantrowitz’s attorney, Bob Sweeney a partner in the Albany law firm Whiteman, Osterman and Hanna; and Ms. Rose Tait, a resident of Lincoln Avenue for decades.
Mr. Sweeney would only confirm that “my client has retained me to explore all legal options” at press time.
But there is no doubt that Mr. Kantrowitz is drawing a line in the sand. “They (the city) are playing with the wrong guy.” He said. “This is another example of a vicious and malicious attempt by government to interfere with private enterprise. I’m more than ready to push back this time.”
The “this time” Kantrowitz refers to concerns an earlier battle with the city over noise levels for live music. Mr. Sweeney confirmed that his client agreed to install a sound barrier to mitigate the noise, at a cost of about $500,000. The barrier has to be put up and removed each season as well.
At that time “I enlisted the aid of the downtown business community and others.” Kantrowitz said. “I told them: Siro’s fight today is yours tomorrow. Now look what the city is doing with live music noise ordinances. I even agreed to a lower level than they did.” (Downtown music venues are supposed to adhere to a 90-decibel limit.)
In the current case, Kantrowitz takes issue on two broad-levels: The one-way streets plan itself; and the way it passed through the city council.
The one-way street plan, in short, would have traffic routed from Nelson along Wright Street (which is the site of the Trackside Grill and other vendors in addition to pedestrians and vehicles). Traffic would then turn left in front of the drop-off point at the Racecourse’s clubhouse entrance onto Frank Sullivan Place, and then left again onto Lincoln and out of the neighborhood.
The stated goal is to make things safer for all, yet Kantrowitz believes it may have the opposite impact.
“Look, first of all, there have been no accidents here for five years. It’s not like people are speeding around the corners.” He said. “But now, cars are going to have to go through this storm of traffic, with pinch points and backups as the clubhouse cars attempt to merge, people walking from the gates, and what used to be a smooth easy ride along Lincoln to get to our entrance is now a nightmare!”
He continued. “I’m putting the city on notice. They will be responsible for all that happens going forward. And I’m warning all visitors, pedestrians particularly: Be careful!”
“This has worked just fine since the 40s. Why are they messing with this now?” Kantrowitz concludes.
The second issue involves the timing of the plan’s adoption and the way it was done. Back on February 18, an item on the city council’s official agenda appeared for a public hearing to “Amend Chapter 225-72 Schedule VII -One Way Streets.” There was nothing specific to one area or another. As it turns out, the area was revealed to be the area around Siro’s. No one from the public spoke at that hearing.
The city is required to do certain things to notify the public of these hearings; putting legal notices in the daily press for instance, and there is no allegation that they did anything less than they are legally required to do.
Yet, in the modern online era, is this sufficient. Note well that these notices are not carried onto most newspaper websites. In any event, Kantrowitz, who has his business headquarters downstate, said he did not know this was on the agenda.
“Of course I would have come up had I known.” He said. “Why wouldn’t I? This is going to have a big impact on my business. But I ask you, why does something like this have to be decided in February? It wasn’t just me who wasn’t here at that time.”
“I came back from my winter home in South Carolina in April, and the first thing my friend said to me is: ‘Rose, they sure screwed you!’” Rose Tait said.
Yes, if you are having trouble mustering up sympathy for the rich, flamboyant owner of Siro’s, consider the plight of his neighbor (and friend) Rose, who has the property two doors down beyond Siro’s, closer to Nelson Avenue.
On that property, she parks cars, as it has been done since the 1930s. It’s a pretty good-sized lot, I would estimate you could get about 40 cars in it, and while she didn’t want to reveal how much money she makes from parking cars, she did indicate that “it pays my city taxes” most years, although in recent years it would be a rare day that it would be filled to capacity. By the way, the house on the property is paid for – she’s not in danger of losing it.
Rose added this perspective to the mix:
On the notice: “I think they should have come and met with us.” She said. “Wasn’t there was some precedent set for this?”
“Back when Ron Kim was commissioner, they were looking to do something similar,” she explained. “A whole contingent met with us at Siro’s, including Kim, Deputy Mayor Shauna Sutton, City Attorney Tony Izzo, representatives from police and code enforcement.”
“Even Eileen Finneran was there. She was Kim’s deputy then.” Ms. Finneran is also the current deputy of public safety under Commissioner Chris Mathiesen. “So I would think something similar is in order.”
The economic impact: “It’s going to hurt, no doubt. It used to be an easy way for people to get a convenient space near the track. Now it’s going to be like navigating through a sea of cars and people.”
“But more to the point, I have tenants on my property that I’m worried about. They are going to have to drive down some dimly lit streets after dark to get home. What people do not realize is that this isn’t just going to be during track hours. It’s for the whole six weeks.”
Rose and other affected neighbors have spoken out at recent council meetings asking that the whole idea be revisited. Commissioner Chris Mathiesen had indicated that he was willing to meet and discuss this, but Rose is skeptical. “Sure, he’ll meet. But only to give his side of things. He’s not going to change his plan unless he is forced to.”
With the Race Course meet just two weeks away, the only recourse the neighborhood may have is injunctive relief. Certainly Keith Kantrowitz is ready to do battle:
“If this kind of thing happened in Russia, we’d be sending over troops and demanding democracy.” He said. “How about democracy beginning at home?”
A Fresh Approach To Urban Planning?
“It would be shortsighted to rush something through.”
- Bill Sprengether, Cardinal Direction Landscape Architecture
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The reveal of the Saratoga Springs City Center parking structure plans last week has brought about a mixed bag of reactions.
Some like it, others don’t. Some, like the Pedinotti family, owners of the Mouzon House, a beloved restaurant housed in a historic building (home to Saratoga Springs’ first family of color) believe that the placement of the structure literally squashes them in the shadow of progress and places their future viability in jeopardy.
“If this goes through as is, we don’t think it’s likely that we’ll make it to next summer.” Co-owner Diane Pedinotti said.
Whether this is the case or not remains to be seen, but no one denies that there will be a negative effect on their business – a five-story structure 75 feet away that literally blocks out the sun at times cannot help but have an impact.
For his part, Mark Baker, President of the Saratoga Springs City Center, has expressed that he has reached out to the Pedinotti’s to try to modify the plans for the structure to the extent possible, yet he acknowledged that their were both economic and engineering restraints that needed consideration.
Saratoga Springs Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan, reached by phone, indicated that she intended to look at all aspects of the parking structure proposal: from a financial, design and residual impact standpoints. “By no means should anyone consider this a done deal at this point.”
If that is the case, perhaps the citizenry of the city should participate. Perhaps, since the entire parcel (bordered by Lake, York, High Rock and Maple Avenues) is on city owned land, and represents the last great parcel in the Downtown core, a fresh look at this important parcel is in order.
Certainly Bill Sprengether thinks so.
On his own, Mr. Sprengether (a landscape architect whose firm, Cardinal Direction, is on Catherine Street) developed a few conceptual designs that were shared (via Harry Moran of Sustainable Saratoga) with both Mark Baker and the City Council at its Tuesday, June 17 meeting.
Mr. Sprengether noted “…these concepts are simply to be used to start a public conversation within the City of Saratoga Springs in order to identify how to best utilize this vital piece city owned property so that it contributes to the positive growth our city's urban fabric and economy.”
Sprengether’s concepts incorporate increased parking, which everyone recognizes as a necessity. It also includes park increased parkland, in some cases retail space and one iteration even includes reclaiming the original water source that was covered up nearly a half-century ago in the name of “urban renewal.”
The Pedinotti’s have reviewed these concepts and have stated that each incorporates elements that would be more favorable to the Mouzon House’s future viability. Yet, Sprengether admits that these concepts have not been costed out, and that they might be unfeasible either from an engineering or economic standpoint, yet “…the intent of these drawings is to illustrate a few of the wide range of potential site plans for the project site…. development of the current surface lots offers a tremendous opportunity to our City and we should make informed choices as to the direction we want our City to grow.”
At this point, we truly have more questions than definitive answers, but given the critical location of the city’s last great downtown parcel, many citizens have expressed the desire that these questions be asked – in order to determine the best solutions for development. Development that is done in a manner that incorporates critical needs like parking – yet is done in a manner that Saratoga Springs would be proud of.
Along that exploratory path are relevant issues such as whether retail could and should be part of the mix. There is the benefit of increased sales tax from this, yet it is obvious that neither the City nor the City Center has the desire or the wherewithal to be a retail landlord. A commercial developer would have to be brought into the mix.
As far as the park extension scenario’s, the reclaiming of the water underneath, there is support for this, from what might be surprising quarters to some:
“I like them.” said Mark Baker, referring to the park concepts. “I hope the City looks into doing some of them.” In fact, it must be remembered that this is all City land – in effect, the people’s land, which represents an opportunity.
Mr. Baker speaks from the perspective of a forthright advocate for the City Center, yet, as both a member of Sustainable Saratoga and a past President of the Downtown Business Association he balances his advocacy with a larger view. A view of a complete downtown everyone can be proud of, with amenities like parking and parks in sufficient supply.
If in fact, as Commissioner Madigan states, it’s not a “done deal,” the time to make your voices heard on downtown’s last great parcel is at hand.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – “It’s not a garage, it’s a parking structure.”
So said Mark Baker, president of the Saratoga Springs City Center on Wednesday, June 11, as he and other members of the City Center Authority, along with design and architectural experts, gave authority members and the public a first look at the actual proposed paid parking facility, adjacent to the City Center between Maple and High Rock Avenues.
This is a major step, yet only one in a process that will have several opportunities for public comment by both the public and members of the Saratoga Springs City Council (several of whom were in attendance Wednesday). The structure is on city-owned land and a lease arrangement would have to be executed for any facility to go forward.
The next phase in the process will be a presentation to the city council next Tuesday, June 17. The City Center Authority did unanimously pass a resolution to seek lead agency status on this project.
Cost and Design Details
- Mr. Baker estimated that this project would cost between $10.2 - $10.6 million. He noted that the City Center Authority would bond the money, which means the city would not incur any additional debt, or any additional tax burden for residents.
- Revenue would come from paid parking, which would be open to everyone. Mr. Baker noted that the exact cost schedule to park is still being worked on, but that it was likely that the first hour would be free—enabling residents to visit the neighboring farmers’ market, for instance.
- The plan as detailed calls for a five-level facility, with access from both High Rock and Maple Avenues. A total of 511 spaces could be accommodated under this plan. Bike racks and charging stations are built into the plan.
- A major design element has a covered portion over Maple Avenue, with direct access to the City Center at its southeast entrance. There will also be a drop-off area here.
- Another design element at the High Rock Avenue side is an open public area that was called “agora” (see illustration) – porticos that are 20 by 45 feet and could be used for events. Mr. Baker noted it might replace the former City Center loggia area (which was removed in the 2011 expansion) for events such as Hats Off. The top deck of the garage could also be adapted for similar public performances, he said.
The City Center’s ideal timetable is to break ground this fall, with completion in the summer of 2015. During the public approval process, including Design Review Commission and Planning Board hearings, changes to design and other elements could affect that schedule.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — With the Floral Fete Promenade stepping off at 7:30 pm from the intersection of Broadway and the Arterial (CV Whitney Highway/SR9/SR50), motorists can expect delays in the downtown area between 7:15 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., on Friday, August 2.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Fingerpaint’s Parking for a Purpose program still has dates available for charitable organizations looking to utilize the company’s parking lot on Division Street for fundraising.