“You can observe a lot, just by watchin’…”
Yogi Berra, context unknown, a long time ago
I am reporting again from the perimeter. The mini-metropolis called Saratoga Springs, NY keeps my attention and interest by day, then I retreat to my home on its western plateau where woods are behind my backdoor rather than neighbors. By visiting the City of SS newly each day I note the changes and real estate pulse in my rounds. I am hereby getting back into the pattern of blogging about these changes, from the perspective of someone who’s been living here more or less permanently since 1977; though not a native myself, at least my kids can say they are.
Trying to catch up on 2+ years of changes, here we go– as if advancing up Broadway (Route 9, to tourists) from the south, into the City…
- Congress Park Itself… A PLACE OF LIGHT NOW– I have a photo on my office wall at home, taken by notable chronicler of the Saratoga landscape, photographer Sheila A’Hearn. It portrays a view from inside the park, looking toward Broadway, of a completely shrouded silhouette of The Spirit Of Life– the Chester French sculpture set in place at the crest of Congress Parks western entrance since the early 1900’s. The ship mast-quality white pines that hovered over the marble’d enclave dominate the picture, and shade the late day light, casting a shadow over the Renaissance scene that greeted visitors to this iconic Saratoga City Park for a century or more. But the sheer size of the trees was apparently a threat to the delicate sculpture with the raised arms itself… and about two years ago now those trees– a vestige of the climax forest that once grew in and around this central location in town– were unceremoniously removed. Frankly I was heartbroken at first, as it seemed like a natural cathedral had been taken down. But the openness and light that resonates when passersby glance toward the park now may have ultimately been worth the loss of those classic trees.
- The Adelphi Hotel, modern renovation-magnificance only a billionaire could afford to subsidize. As I have written about previously, I worked in this divine throwback structure in the early-80’s, not long after a couple of ballet-aficianadoes named Gregg Siefker and Sheila Parkert had purchased the place, for the then-enormous sum of $100,000, in 1976. It was reputedly the first commercial property to be privately purchased for six-figures, at the time. They managed to save the place over the course of a decade or two, and while Gregg unfortunately passed away from cancer long ago, Sheila held on till the town came back in a big way, and sold for $4.5 million a few years ago. Since then, the current owner had purportedly spent well beyond his original $10 million dollar budget, and is up to at least $30 mill in restoration/renovation/addition costs, though some have said that number, when added to what Mr. Toby Milde and his son have pumped into the adjoining building’s restaurant– Salt & Char— with its vast and broad column’d front porch, redolent of the grandeur of the post-civil war 1800’s era. The restaurant building– the former Rip Van Dam Hotel itself– sold to a Florida-based investor for $8.5 million recently, but the massive improvements to the kitchen and interior dining areas and ballroom upstairs were at the restraunteur’s expense of nearly another $5 million (anecdotally speaking). Non-Disclaimer noted here– this writer happens to work on the 5th floor of 353 Broadway out of the Keller Williams Capital District Realty office– but believe me, I own no vested interest in either the building or businesses on the premises, other than my own. For those who haven’t visited Saratoga for the past year or two, the restaurant was formerly known as Maestro’s, which is history now, in both of its prior incarnations.
- And speaking of long-term Broadway restaurants on the scene, recurrent visitors will note that Lillians isn’t there in the middle of Broadway anymore, a rare empty spot on the downtown scene. Ray Morris was open there with that excellent pedestrian location adjacent to a much-circled and often-missed public parking lot which is where the beautiful Northshire Bookstore building is now. The plans that the new owner has for that 2-story olivecolored storefront building have not materialized yet, but nothing even stays vacant for long on Saratoga’s version of Broadway, so stay tuned.
- Caffe Lena’s Transformation has created a whole new feel to Phila Street– from a funky mini-East Village series of brick rowhouses that also housed a music store, and various versions of a confectionery/eatery, it has now has become a multi-story new brick condo building erected by Bonacio Construction, with sleek glass ground-floor retail or restaurant space still unfilled for the summer of 2017. For those who might not be aware of Caffe Lena’s famed history– it still ranks as the longest continuously running coffe house/music venue in America, since 1960. The most oft-quoted performers to have appeared there in its first decade or two included a pre-famous Bob Dylan, and early ’70’s radio stars such as Don MacLean and Gordon Lightfoot. While I cannot claim to be a fanatic attendee in the past, I saw some notable performances in the distant past by diversely-talented David Amram, and more recently, stellar Troy-born singer/songwriter/guitarist extraordinaire, Sean Rowe, who I believe played the final performance in the old building, before renovation began, just a year and a half ago. I took a lot of pictures that night, wanting to remember how it looked before its glossy makeover.
- Speaking of condos, and more condos…Excelsior Ave, at the corner of East Ave. has now sprouted more brick & glass condos where a cattail swamp used to be, next to Stark’s Muffler Shop… down in the dip. In the real estate realm I recall when that corner lot was for sale for years, like a perennial weed itself, for a mere $99K. in the pre-boom days… not that long ago really. Just recently finished in spring of 2017, also by Bonacio Construction, some condos have been sold but the ground floor tenancy for the commercial/retail/restaurant component has not been filled yet
- Just across and down Excelsior a little, one of the largest in-town projects is continuing with Prime Properties continuing to build more apartments (not condos, at least) in the vicinity of the plaza hosting Fresh Market, Gennaro’s Pizza, SmashBurger, and multiple other businesses that mesh with its mixed-use plan for the otherwise residential site. When I first came to town, this entire corner of Marion Ave. where it meets the 4-lane arterial (Rt. 50) that runs from Broadway out to Exit 15… was the location of a Shell Gas Station and automotive service center called simply SCHROCK’S, after the owner, the late Navy-vet Mike Schrock, a great mechanic and affable owner. My local native buddy Dave Scavone used to frequent the repair shop on a regular basis with his first Pontiac convertible, back in the late 70’s. There were weedy fields adjoining the fences along the highway, and a few classic oak trees that have recently, regrettably, come down in favor of pavement, apartments, and enterprise. Such is progress, and a prosperity other upstate towns envy and try to emulate, but can’t. Saratoga is a magnet for money and development now, and its march is relentless now.
- Back to Broadway, there is a place that now rivals Smashburger for my beef-loving sons’ affection– Burger-Fi, in the building where the leather-boot and accessory store Saratoga Saddlery (which has moved, not vanished, I should add) used to smell so amazing. my connection with that place goes back a few years, when it was for sale, and showing it to a downstate guy who thought it would be a great place for an in-town brewery… before the highly successful Druther’s beat him to the punch down the street near The Adelphi. We were told by the listing agent that his plan was ambitious, but “probably wouldn’t be allowed” by the City due to issues with previously “non-food retail” regarding vents and strong odors of cooking and brewing on that tight and prestigious sector of Broadway. The current owners, some prominent local business with a great pedigree, had no such problem, and honestly it is an amazing to place to eat and drink that wasn’t there before.
- One of the biggest and now most noticible improvements to Racetrack fans as they venture out Union Avenue east of Congress Park is going to be that The Pink Palace is not only down and gone, but has been replaced with more massive new construction for yet-another a new condo project. Early indications are that square footage prices at this location may actually exceed those on Broadway near the other side of Congress Park, and the other, previously-built options on Division Street, Franklin Square, and Railroad Place.
- The Algonquin Building, under re-construction for 2 or 3 years it seemed, largely due to monumental amounts of asbestos removal that was required, is no longer the place to go for a Bohemian low-rent lifestyle in an old walk-up apartment– as it was for the first two decades I lived here. Now it is high-end living, with rents from 2000 to 3500/month. The other key issue is that the apartment building owners now also own the once City-controlled public parking lot, so don’t even think about parking there, yo.
- The last thing I’ll mention in this particular blog, mid-summer 2017, would be the first thing that visitors coming into town from the south would notice, coming up from Exit 13, via the stretch of Rt. 9 that takes people to SPAC, the Spa State Park, the SPA Golf Course, the Lincoln Baths, The Dance Museum, and the entrance to downtown proper. I am talking about the site of the former Weathervane Seafood Restaurant, and long before that, The Country Gentleman, owned and operated by the dearly departed Nate Goldsmith, who also owned the iconic deli on Phila Street that bore his name, Mother Goldsmith’s. This prominent location, just before the beautifully-expanded Honda Dealership and adjacent to the now-shuttered Murphy’s Driving Range, is now the HOMEWOOD SUITES, a fine-looking addition to the ever-burgeoning hotel and hospitality scene for which Saratoga Springs is famous. I don’t feel the need to give kudos to a nationally franchised chain but this building is an improvement over a closed and defunct eatery that became an eyesore in recent years., sad to say.
There are many other areas and specific sites slated for improvement in the coming years– the old Saratoga Diner, home of the first bus-stop I ever used as my point-of-entry to this town over 40 years ago, is due to be bulldozed soon, so take some pix of that facade while you can. The closed-forever Il Paradiso Restaurant has shown signs of life, though it still seems to be For Sale. The Holiday Inn, long a vestige of 50’s & 60’s road culture, has undergone a transformation to its look on Broadway where it meets Circular Street. On the City’s westside, there is another burst of activity on key locations on Washington St and West Ave. Church Street, and some massive projects in the works near the Amtrak Station on West Ave itself. Those are projects to be discussed for another day, but needless to say, the boomtown atmosphere continues to prevail in this small-but-growing City in the Country known as Saratoga Springs, the mecca of upstate NY.
Stay tuned, more to come soon.
Copyright Wayne Perras, 2017, for WaynesWord2