Friday, 11 January 2019 11:32

City Investment in Arts Brings Economic Return

SARATOGA SPRINGS – In early 2018, the City Council authorized taking “a first step” to target the arts as a potential economic driver for the local community.  Early indications are that the plan is working.

“To me, the arts are a huge part of economic development,” said city Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan. “It’s untapped.”  To that point, the city in 2018 awarded $14,000 as a one-time economic development grant to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, which the organization put to use by retaining the New York City based Rebecca Davis Public Relations firm to market the arts and cultural offerings of Saratoga Springs to those living outside the region.   

The plan was to begin a campaign to reach the “cultural tourist” - explained SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol – “to market ourselves, to get the message out that Saratoga is one of the most extraordinary cultural destinations in the world.” The “cultural tourist” spends 60 percent more than the leisure tourist, Sobol added.

Bloggers and other travel writers were invited to Saratoga Springs, taken for tours of the Tang Museum and Caffe Lena, the Yaddo arts colony, and the mineral springs. They ate meals downtown and watched events at SPAC. Sobol pointed to a piece recently published in BBC magazine - “one of the most important international publications speaking to the cultural consumer,” she said, that showcased Saratoga Springs as a cultural destination and acted as a positive example of the marketing outreach.

Commissioner Madigan calls the investment in the arts as economic driver as “having some skin in the game,” and said that investment could play a role in the large upward trend of sale tax figures in the city in 2018.   

“We look at the sales tax for last 12 months – and we don’t have the full year of 2018 in yet – but the last 12 months, year-over-year, sales tax is up more than it’s ever been, it’s up 10.1 percent,” Madigan said.    

The commissioner credited Sobol for also doing a lot to bring SPAC as a collaborator into downtown Saratoga Springs year-round.  “There are multiple ways to gauge return on economic development, but it’s very significant, and this (return on investment on arts) is just one way we would measure economic success,” Madigan said.

Last month, SPAC announced it will spend $195,000 of a $1.695 million state it was awarded grant by the Regional Economic Development Council Initiative, on a multi-media marketing campaign slated to launch in 2020. That campaign will complement the public relations campaign that SPAC and the City of Saratoga Springs initiated in 2018 to promote Saratoga as a cultural destination.

Last year’s city investment was a one-time economic development grant based on city reserves and an analysis will need to be conducted to determine if an investment in the arts, whether it involves SPAC or another entity, will be made in 2019.    

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