A Slice of Life, or Two, out on the Middle Grove plateau…
When certain people ask you– Got any plans for the weekend?— sometimes you gotta admit you’re just not that exciting at the moment: Just doing some yard work, walking the dog, clearing out the basement a bit, gotta drive to the transfer station, that kind of thing… In short– “I need to F’eng shui my place…”
Happy to have a Home to come Home to, and time to spend there. I would like to have said I had concerts to go to, or a trip to Vermont planned, or maybe a local mountain to climb before hunting season begins in earnest. But no, I’m just chillin’ on the home front, and trying to get it winter-ready, for now.
If it weren’t for Bentley, our 7+ month old golden retriever, I likely would NOT have seen today’s cold mid-fall morning being born. After 5 days of grey rain, it was a glorious sight to see the stunning sun rise above the horizon again, shortly after 7:20 a.m., the last week before the clock’s change.
The upper windows of our house, facing due east, ricocheted the solar glow at me from behind, as the rays cleared the trees. It was startling to feel the (reflected) sun strike me in the back from the west as I walked east that early in the morning.
What really comes in handy is that extra acre out back of our home– for which we paid a $5K. lot Premium, way back in 2003– when it’s time to let this volatile and lanky pup run. Bentley now does laps like a greyhound through the wood trails, cornering like it counts, as if a race is at stake. Another athlete in training in the family, and it’s almost as gratifying to see him in action as it was when Miles played hoop, or Daryn sprinted or long-jumped, or Bella danced, or ran track.
Yet, in speaking of sports, my only spectator passion these days centers on professional basketball, not college or high school sports, not baseball playoffs or NFL games. In late October, I am just marking time till the real NBA season begins, which is usually just before Halloween, and the clocks change to create early evening darkness.
The Knicks last pre-season playoff game was last night, a close loss to Toronto in a packed Montreal stadium. Even Canadians– once merely hockey fans– have become fanatics about my favorite sport. Soon I will be watcing in earnest: NBA TV on TWC channel 308, the Knicks on MSG, the Nets on YES, then ESPN or TNT whenever featured games are on in prime time. I will be multi-tasking well into the evenings once these games are on– writing at my desk, researching real estate data, reading and doing the books, with HOOP on in the background–the only way to justify my recurring addiction to b’ball on the tube.
On weekends I take it as my task to become the breakfast chef for the family as they rise, one-by-one: custom egg, cheese, & veggie omelettes of some improvised sort, sometimes with white beans or kidneys on the side, in the low-carb mode. Or it might be flaxseed and buckwheat pancakes, with raspberry syrup. Other times I just cook scrambled eggs with spinach, or plain fried eggs with Ezekial toast. My kids — and occasionally their friends who sleep over– will remember me more for that perhaps than anything else, years from now.
Once well-fed myself, I load up the HHR on Saturday with recyclables & the weekly refuse. Instead of paying Big Waste monthly fees, for the time being, I’m trucking it myself, as I see lots of thrifty elders do. Had a flashback on old landfill visits on certain mornings with my dad, prior to my being 10 years old, I’d guess. Transfer stations much more sanitary now, and you don’t have to drive over the cratered two-tracks of packed-down garbage.
Before the last 4-5 days of persistent rain, the front lawn had been dry as powder, so we certainly needed this long dose of wetness. But today redemption from the dark wet chill of the week came in the form of an idyllic mid-autumn sky, blue as could be.
Now for some long-overdue observations on the geographic & physical changes of the in-town landscape, in real estate terms…
PERIMETER EXPANSION OF SARATOGA SPRINGS…
Coming into town from the west… on 9N from Greenfield Center toward Saratoga Springs, you can’t help but see how much construction is going on between Buff Road and West Avenue. Despite all the talk of “in-fill” projects within the City proper, there is apparently plenty of demand on the outskirts northwest of town.
A lot that sold two years ago is finally being cleared in a hurry and infrastructure is going in tl provide road drains and whatnot. The bulldozers transformed an overgrown wooded lot adjacent to the former Good Shephard home, which sold for $652,000. in 2012, into a parallel expansion of the adult home business, just to the right of the current residential facility. At one time I thought this would become another 7-home McMansion subdivision, but no– it is going purely commercial now under the guidance of Bellamy Construction, whose trucks and front-end loaders and Cats are all over that site. Longtime residents (among them, me) may remember when there were some shabby barn buildings on the property that housed a company called “T-N-T Plumbing & Heating”— those gents fixed my well pumps on more than one occasion. After they moved or shut down the business, those old barns fell down and the second-growth woods took over for a decade or two. Now the woods are scraped clean and the site is smoothed sand with not a tree left on it. Concrete and brick are soon to ensue.
Across the street and diagonally closer to town is another construction site this fall– a medical building that briefly identified “Fresenius & Associates” as the occupants of the building-in-progress. This would be the third medial/dental/office building built in that stretch between the old “Ash Grove Inn”– once a resplendent restaurant with gorgeous views out the back– and the Jeffersonian mansion (purchased in the 90’s by the late-but-rescient Peter Paquet) alongside those classic horse fields which abut Sunnyside Acres off to the left, just before the RR overpass. 25 years ago, said fields underneath the new medical buildings were the growing grounds of an organic farm–way ahead of its time– run by an industrious & eccentric man named Palazzini (who happened to be a hunchback) who’d developed the stretch of farmland on Locust Grove Road to the west of all this, where my family and I lived for 14 years at one point. This section of Church Street Extension has filled in nicely from an economic perspective– but the scenic swath of that formerly bucolic northern view across the McNeary family’s open pastures on Denton Road is now blocked. Such is the cost of progress to those whizzing by…
Over the bridge and past Care Lane you see more new construction– a massive project by local standards– proceeding apace at the corner of West Ave. and Church. This long-delayed project- simply called “2 West Ave.”– at a prominent entry-corner of the Town, dates back to a once- proposed condo project prior to the recession of ’08-09 to the current apartment complex being built by the ubiquitous Sonny Bonacio and a small army of subcontractors. I always think to myself, after hearing doomsayers on the weird inflammatory radio stations that abound on the dial– if the End of the World is indeed approaching, Bonacio’s boys– along with The Galesi Group, Bast-Hatfield, and a multitude of others around here– are going to be building right through it.
You go past that to another 100-foot crane lifting steel beams into place just past the Saratoga Golf and Polo Club… this is the site of Saratoga Hospital’s $36-million annex being built on the west side on their complex, abutting Myrtle Street on the Emergency Room side. Thus, in the stretch of less than half-a-mile of Church Street alone, I would guesstimate there were at least 300-400 construction workers of all kinds, truck drivers coming and going, and heavy equipment operators staying quite busy just on the westside of Saratoga Springs proper. I doubt very much any other upstate city of under 100,000 residents has this much going on right now.
If you cut over to Washington Street (aka, Route 29, heading into town from the west, parallel to Church Street) you will see two other projects “in-filling” what used to be scruffy empty lots for years, awaiting this current, cumulative building boom. Closest to the Mobil Station that has anchored the West Ave. corner for generations now is the Eastside Group’s final touches on their 2-story mixed-use project, soon to be the new home of Saratoga Vision, with apartments on the upper level. A short block or two south there is a new Kodiak Construction project on the left across from the Sherwin Williams paint store… a nice looking office building awaiting tenants.
Turn right onto Birch Street at Roma’s Italian Deli, and before you go left on Grand at the four-way stop– you will see the former Scavuzzo’s Bakery (known to old-timers as such) under re-hab into an expanded single-family residence, and further down Grand Ave., notice 2 or 3 other notoriously-messy homes under full renovation on each side of the street, on the way down toward The Local Pub. One rundown Victorian that fell into use as a drug den, as well as nondescript older working class homes with aluminum siding, are being restored or completely re-built into upgraded housing, contributing to the overall rising of the tide in this town. Check out 152 Grand, for instance, and try to remember how shabby that little home on the site used to be.
Even a scrappy half-lot across an alley on South Franklin Street from the former Figelman’s Junkyard (which recently evolved from a “Scrap Dealers” business, to a more cleanly dubbed “Spa Recycling”)– is the site of a new home being built on (by another Bonacio crew) on the backside of a 4-unit fronting on Oak Street.
Then, the truly massive 6-story Embassy Suites Hotel rises into sight, on the site of the long-vacated, one-floor retail space of Broadway Joe’s, as part of the rebirth of Congress Plaza. Bast-Hatfield has been working here for the better part of 2014, and the results are now evident. Here, 100-foot cranes have been a common landmark, and just recently the top-floor windows on the north (street) side were being installed, in an effort to get the 149-room upscale brand building water-tight before snow falls. New restaurants have already gone in there, while Purdy’s iconic liquor store– having been through a couple of changes-of-plaza before– awaits the lack of construction-site chaos with impatient glee, I would think. The new Hotel– a DCG Development Company project– will be bringing in hundreds more visitors on a weekly basis to a part of town that has mostly retail, offices, and apartments in that area up till now.
On Broadway, there are no cranes in sight, and haven’t been since the Northshire Bookstore Building (dubbed “The Washington”) was built last year. Most of the storefronts are full and vibrant, with the exception of a new For Lease sign on the corner of Congress and Broadway, as apparently Talbot’s is moving out from its highly visible but no-so-profitable location. Across the street, in Congress Park itself, the major change is that a few of the majestic white pines to the left of the park entrance have been taken down this year, presumably because they threatened the Spirit of Life statue and its pool, which were in its shadow. More openness and light are the result, but it’s still a bit sad when primordial trees must come down.
Most of the news on Broadway these days has been “behind the scenes.” The Adelphi Hotel, which has remained shuttered for two summer seasons now, since its sale in 2012, has shown no visible signs of progress toward its massive new makeover. In the meantime, however, the new owners have purchased two separate parcels behind and to the left of The Adelphi proper, around the corner on Washington Street, including a smaller building, a former rectory, part of which is ancient stone. This is all just behind behind the Rip Van Dam building’s parking lot.
Number 23 Washington is the address of the rectory that sold, for $850,000., to the right of the magnificent architecture of the Universal Preservation Hall, which is number 25. The property to the left of the UPH apparently also was a separate part of the puurchase– a rectory that served the Bethesda Grace Episcopal Church, at 41 Washington St.
The word on the street (and later in the local papers) is that the stone portion of 23 Washington will be transformed into an entry point for an expanded banquet hall off the back, for weddings and large social events, as an adjunct to the complementary expansion of The Adelphi’s rearside courtyard/pool/and outdoor bar complex, slated for completion in 2016, if all goes as planned.
This project, along with Bruce Levinsky’s approved plans for a 176-room expansion of the Van Dam Hotel building just south of The Adelphi, will complete a huge transformation of that atavistic block, where Route 29 starts west of Broadway.
As of the date I submitted this, the rectory seems vacated, and the two car garage to its right looks like it may be destined for quick demolition. A truly large and majestic tree (a remaining elm?) has been sliced down and removed (but for the stump). A bulldozer has chewed up some of the turf out back, and the lot looks empty and forlorn; no sign yet of what’s to come.
The gaunt and boarded up backside of the Adelphi looms, dark at night, off to the right, while the south and eastern face of 18 Division Street mixed-use and condo building is semi-lit-up, to the rear and left. The Universal Preservation Hall is still very much in use, having been nicely renovated, at least in the outer shell, due to the efforts of local supporters, former parishioners, and lots of fundraising efforts over the last two decades. At first I thought the iconic Hall itself was part of the Richbell Capital purchase, but that was not the case.
Between the purchase price of the Adelphi ($4.5 mill), the projected renovations (approximately $6 mill, BEFORE structural problems were discovered), and the $2.1 million reportedly paid for the two church properties, this zone will become perhaps the most expensive real estate investment zone in the downtown section of our City at present, rivalled by the aforementioned Hospital additions, or the $30 million dollar high-rise hotel proposed at the Saratoga Racino (or Equine Sports Center, if you prefer), between Jefferson Street and Nelson Ave.
A few years ago (or was it a decade now?), when the quintessential horse property adjoining the Flat Track on Nelson Avenue (formerly the Whitney estate) sold for roughly $27 million to a prominent prince from a Middle eastern Emirate, it was assumed that numbers like that would not be achieved by any other properties in this town for awhile. But the Big Money continues to pour into Saratoga Springs, boding a continuous upward curve in the City’s fortunes, even without the advent of Vegas-styled gambling, which was chased out of town by an unofficial referendum earlier this year.
The beat goes on. In November I will detail some developments, good or bad, you will have to decide– on the East side of Broadway… stay tuned!
Postscript, on my conversion to Dawg ownership:
Ok, to my sisters, who have been dog-lovers for decades, and to many of my friends and co-workers who are devoted dog-people, I confess that I have joined your ranks, somewhat reluctantly at first, but lately with more love and enthusiasm.
I wrote about Bentley when we first travelled north to purchase the “puppy-version” of said Golden Retriever… and of course after 5 months of nonstop feeding (part-goat, part-voracious black hole…), he is now about 60 lbs. of sinewy energy and taut muscle. His paws are almost as large as my hands. When he jumps up on me, his head is chest- or shoulder-high. When he tugs at the leash, it seems like he conveys more momentum force than a small horse. When he stares in my eyes, looking for love in return, he melts me almost as much as one of my own offspring.
The problem is, he demands more attention of me than anyone else in the household, and follows me around nonstop from the moment I wake up till the “night-night” call at 11 p.m. or so. When I come home from work he goes nuts on me like I’ve been around the world, away for a month. If I should get up for a drink of water in the middle of the night, I have to tip-toe down the stairs, hoping not to have him wake up as well.
My morning routine has changed inexorably. Getting up early used to mean having an hour or two to myself, for reading or contemplative music, maybe a light lifting session in the basement before breakfast. Now it means hoing to get some coffee made before he tugs me out the door for the pre-breakfast poop walk and backwoods run. I get more cardio and fresh air now, whether I like it or not. I get to see what the outdoor sky looks like every a.m., before 7 o’clock; sometimes before 6.
I have learned to tolerate the fact that every time out the door is a different “smell-a-thon”– in that he samples the smorgasbord of the world through his nose, his snout, and often his tastebuds and tongue as well. I’ve learned that if he gets away from me on the leash, I will earn the stern gazes of my neighbors, and appear ineffectual when I yell at him to return. Folks ask me if I’ve had him trained yet, and I say, No, it’s more like the other way around.
The real pleasure, as I noted in the beginning of this blog, is taking him out into the woods, and down the hill out back, down to the Kaydeross Creek and doing the 3/4 mile loop along various paths on the HOA lands behind us. He runs manically in figure-8 loops all around me, trailing the leash behind him as I give him some freedom and latitude to really RUN, as he is not allowed to do so anywhere in the neighborhood, of course. Now that my three kids are older and not so inclined to join me on these “Creek Walks,” Bentley is my hiking buddy and that has been a huge boon to my health and our mutual well-being.
Is it worth the cost of dogfood, vet bills, treats, leashes, dog toys, and chewed up clothing and shoes and slippers and sneakers??? Yup, I admit it is. Sometimes I wish he had an OFF button, but in general, we love that Dog Dude, and here in print, I grudgingly admit it.
To those of you who still love cats, so do I, but that is a more passive form of pet ownership, that’s for sure. A dog like this is not purely for petting and sharing naps, and hearing the motor-boat of contentment after a good meal. This kind of Dog is inter-active, highly kinetic, and a source of nonstop affection, attention, and alertness. It has cut into my contemplation time, my writing time, and yet when he sprawls out in front of the desk in my study, I have to acknowledge, he is a cool creature and, I guess, a blessing.
Stay tuned, and see you soon.
Wayne Perras, for WaynesWord2
Having this dog gives me more to blog about and less time to blog it. He provides constant exercise at times when I would normally flop on the couch, or sit at my desk, and takes up considerably more time and attention than anyone in my life since my youngest was a year or two old.
With a cat or two, you can be a recluse first thing in the morning on your rare day off– feed ’em quick and they leave you alone. The dog tugs you out in the world, every darn day of the week.