Thomas Dimopoulos

Thomas Dimopoulos

City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
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SARATOGA SPRINGS — A six-day festival in June anticipated to produce an economic impact in 2024 of more than $50 million will feature a free kick-off concert on Broadway with the band Blues Traveler, officials announced during a May 1 press conference at the Skip Scirocco Music Hall at Saratoga Springs. 

Nicknamed “Belmont on Broadway,” dozens of local business, tourism and government leaders were on hand for the announcement of a multifaceted celebration being planned for the week of the 2024 Belmont Stakes Racing Festival. 

 “Not only is the Belmont going to help economically for the city, but it’s going to put us on a pedestal that’s going to be worldwide,” said Saratoga Springs Mayor John Safford, “This is just going to bring it to a whole new level.” 

With construction ongoing at Long Island’s Belmont Park in 2024 and 2025, the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival will shift to Saratoga Race Course over the next two years. Racing days in 2024 will begin on Thursday, June 6, continue through Sunday, June 9 and will be highlighted by the 156th edition of the Belmont Stakes - the third leg of the Triple Crown - on Saturday, June 8. 

Belmont on Broadway activities, slated to take place June 4 through June 9, will include a downtown window decorating contest, a pre-festival event called Embrace the Belmont, and a variety of other events including the free, outdoor concert with Blues Traveler, which will take place on Wednesday, June 5. 

The concert will start at approximately 6 p.m. (with Blues Traveler going on around 8:30) and end promptly at 10 p.m. The stage will be set directly on Broadway adjacent to the City Center and face south. Broadway will be closed likely from Van Dam to City Hall the day of the show, said Saratoga Springs City Center Executive Director Ryan McMahon. 

Organizers anticipate 5,000 to 10,000 people to attend the event. Opening bands participating in the all-ages free concert as well as satellite parking, shuttle options, and additional weeklong activities will be announced leading up to the June 4-9 festival.    

“We’re anticipating people will be coming up a little earlier in the week (prior to the June 6 race day start), so that’s why we’re trying to create these opportunities for people to have fun things to do, opportunities to engage with our community. And our hotels are definitely seeing some occupancy earlier in the week, so that tells you some good things,” said Discover Saratoga President Darryl Leggieri. “It’s also something for our locals. Doing this free concert downtown, I want locals to know they’re welcomed too, they’re a part of this, were celebrating together.” 

What will be interesting to learn is whether the staging of the Belmont in Saratoga brings different visitors to the area, compared with visitors who flock to Saratoga during the New York Racing Association’s annual July-to-September summer meet.   

“Everyone is going to learn off the first year, and we can build on that in the second year,” said NYRA President & CEO David O’Rourke, who spoke at this week’s presser. “It’s a new big event. You have the Whitney, the Travers, and now The Belmont,” O’Rourke said. “You might see more of an international (crowd); it’s typically on another level in terms of international exposure - and then if you have a Triple Crown, that’s just going to change the dynamic.”       

Tuesday, 30 April 2024 11:19

Elevator Activated!

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Twisting scarves, bodies in motion, and the purposeful crash of a gong accompanied by the sustained resonance of an electric cello descending the stairs. 

Artists MIZU, Theresa-Xuan Bui, and Antonius-Tín Bui, along with dancer Glenna Yu presented an “activation” of the Tang Museum’s elevator and staircase on April 17. 

The performance that included music, movement, spoken word poetry, and audience interaction, framed in a setting of traditional Vietnamese garments - called áo dài. 

Event description via the Tang: The audience joins the diasporic artists on a migration embodying the hesitations, expectations, and contemplations of returning home.

“Elevator Music 48: Alone, only in flesh” will be on display at The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College through May 19. For more information, go to: 

BALLSTON SPA — The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors approved a variety of resolutions during its monthly meeting held Tuesday, April 16 at the county complex in Ballston Spa. 

Among the resolutions approved: 

-The County entered into an agreement with Callanan Industries, Inc. for construction of the New Fixed Base Operator Terminal Phase 3- Apron project, at the Saratoga County Airport at a cost up to $947,357.50.  In 2022, the Board authorized the acceptance of an Upstate New York Economic Development and Revitalization Grant from the New York State Department of Transportation for the project. 

-An agreement be executed with Esoteric, LLC for the provision of providing a four-day UTK hostage rescue training course in Saratoga County to include tactics, techniques, and procedures employed when dealing with hostage rescue. The contract will be in effect April 1, 2024 through March 31,2025, at a cost up to $18,975. 

-Execute all necessary documents and agreements with the New York State Division of Criminal Justice for the acceptance of a NYS DCJS Law Enforcement Equipment Program Grant in the amount of $89,190 for the term of April 1, 2024 through March 31, 2025. The funds are intended to be used to provide for the purchase of uniforms (nearly $50,000), equipment (just over $20,000), and training services (just over $19,000) for the Special Operations Team of the Sheriff’s Office. 

- The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution to proclaim “National Crime Victims’ Rights Week” in Saratoga in late April. 

“We must do everything we can to show survivors that hope— the belief that the future will be better—is not just tangible but within their reach,” according to the resolution. “National Crime Victims’ Rights Week encourages all people to ask themselves the question: How would you help a victim of crime?” 

The proclamation is to reaffirm Saratoga County’s commitment to continuing to support a victim service and criminal justice response that assists all victims of crime - not just during Crime Victims’ Rights Week, but throughout the year.

A certified copy of the Resolution was forwarded to the New York State Crime Victims’ Task Force, Wellspring, Mechanicville Area Community Services Center, MADD, The Prevention Council, Saratoga Center for the Family, and Parents of Murdered Children.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — A 21st century TV episode showcasing events that occurred in 18th century Saratoga had its local screening premiere this week in a 19th century hall in Saratoga Springs. 

Last September, “Travels With Darley” producer and host Darley Newman visited Saratoga County with a film crew for a busy five-day zag through the county capturing historic locales and contemporary venues alike. The completed project, presented as a 30-minute episode of the Revolutionary Road Trips series, was showcased during a local premiere at Universal Preservation Hall April 22.     

The episode highlights area historic sites like the Saratoga National Historical Park, Congress and High Rock parks and post-Saratoga battle venues in the villages of Schuylerville and Victory, among others, as well as paying visit to numerous stores, breweries, shops, eateries and hotels in and around Saratoga Springs.    

“Stories of triumph and sacrifice, of compassion and betrayal that are part of a journey to create a nation,” Lauren Roberts - Saratoga County Historian and Chair of the Saratoga County 250th Commission, told the large crowd assembled at UPH to view the screening. 

In the fall of 1777, two battles took place in Saratoga that resulted in the surrender of the British army and is referred to by historians as a turning point in the Revolutionary War, as it convinced France to ally with the United States and aiding in the eventual victory over the British. 

The British surrender at Saratoga has been immortalized in a painting by John Trumbull that hangs in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., and in 2015, the U.S. Mint issued a “Saratoga” coin to represent New York state in the America the Beautiful Quarters Program. The coin depicts a close-up of the moment British Gen. John Burgoyne surrendered his sword to Gen. Horatio Gates alongside an inscription that reads: Saratoga.

“The 250th anniversary of the Battles of Saratoga gives us a stage to tell our stories in a new way that breathes life into history,” Roberts said. The region will celebrate the 250th anniversary of the victory in a series of events leading up to, during, and after the 250th anniversary in 2027. 

In 2022, Saratoga County officials unveiled the official brand “America’s Turning Point” to commemorate the anniversary of the Revolutionary War Era events that happened in Saratoga County, and the county Board of Supervisors committed $150,000 in seed money to a newly formed Saratoga County 250th American Revolution Commission to help advance a mission of promoting education, historic preservation and heritage tourism. 

Roberts serves as chair of the 13-member Saratoga 250 commission which comes up with programming ideas and commemorations, she explained. Campaign for Saratoga 250 Inc., a separate non-profit group, is charged with locating funding and grants to support the programming.

This week’s screening at UPH saw numerous county officials, community members and business leaders in attendance. In addition to commentary provided by Roberts, introductory remarks were offered by Board of Supervisors Chairman Phil Barrett, Adirondack Trust Company President and CEO Charles Wait, Jr, and Saratoga Arms proprietor Amy Smith. 

“It’s great to be here for the premiere showcase of ‘Travels with Darley’ and to be able to better share with the general public the golden moment this is,” Congressman Paul Tonko told the audience. “As we approach our 250th anniversary, let’s all celebrate together knowing the sense of place that we call home is indeed a powerful one - deepened by its stake in history, heritage and strategy that enabled us to be the nation we are. It created that infancy walk of a greater nation charged by its framers to always search for a more perfect union.”     

While the two Battles at Saratoga and the British surrender took place in 1777 with its 250th anniversary to be celebrated in 2027, the Commission will extend to 2033, marking the anniversary of the end of the American Revolution. “After the Battles of Saratoga we still have involvement: in 1780 there was a rain on Middletown Road in the town of Ballston, and there are actually soldiers in Saratoga until the end of the war in 1783,” Roberts said. 

Signature annual events include the springtime Women In War Symposium and the Siege Encampment weekend in the fall. Currently in process are educator workshops that will provide teaching tools for K-12 students, interpretive exhibitions that will be housed separate from the battlefield, including using technology to showcase underrepresented stories in places like Schuylerville.

Travels With Darley Revolutionary Road Trip series episode featuring Saratoga is anticipated to broadcast on WMHT-TV regionally and PBS stations across the country in June. Viewers with access to on-demand video streaming apps such as Tubi may be able to currently view the episode.

BALLSTON SPA — The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors during its monthly meeting on April 16 expressed its intent to create a Local Law that authorizes property owners to request the removal of unlawful occupants from dwellings. 

The potential law’s stated purpose “is to protect owners of dwellings in Saratoga County from unlawful occupants commonly referred to as ‘squatters’ and to protect lawful occupants of dwellings from unlawful evictions.”

“The unlawful property and intruder law is in relation to the stories we’ve seen publicized, both in New York State and around different parts of the country,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Phil Barrett. “Generally known as squatters, these are people that take over peoples’ homes, set up shop and decide to live there.”

According to a draft of the proposed law, an “unlawful occupant” is defined as “a person who knowingly enters or remains unlawfully in a dwelling having entered the dwelling without permission of a party entitled to possession.” 

Barrett said he has asked county attorneys to draft legislation for supervisors to consider. 

Additionally stated, the draft explains the proposed law “does not mean a person who entered the dwelling upon consent of a party entitled to possession even if the consent is later revoked including: tenants whose oral or written lease has expired; family members who have been in the dwelling unit for at least 30 days; roommates or other licensees of tenants and occupants who have been in the dwelling unit for at least 30 days, or workers who have been provided housing as part of their job.”

To request the immediate removal of an unlawful occupant of a dwelling, the property owner would need to submit an affidavit to law enforcement that lists 27 points, including that they had directed the unauthorized persons to leave the dwelling, but the person(s) had not done so.

Once the claim has been verified, law enforcement may then take the unlawful occupants into custody and may bring them before a local court judge to face applicable charges, including trespassing.

“We’ve had instances of this in the past in the county, and it probably will become more prevalent,” Barrett said. “It’s become increasingly concerning because it’s clearly a coordinated effort. There are organizations working to identify vacant properties and they have people they send in to take over that property.“

A Public Hearing regarding the proposal will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday May 14, at the next county Board of Supervisors meeting. A vote may follow. Meetings are held at the county complex in Ballston Spa.     

If approved, the local law is slated to go into effect 60 days after being adopted. 

BALLSTON SPA — “Your happiness is now taken away from you, like my happiness was taken from me. But I have no fear of you anymore. We are moving in different directions.”

The words of the 9-year survivor of a kidnapping and assault that occurred last fall echoed across a packed Saratoga County courtroom April 17, after the reading of her victim impact statement. 

Craig N. Ross Jr., the 47-year-old man who abducted the girl, was sentenced to serve 47 years-to-life in state prison, after pleading to kidnapping in the first-degree, and predatory sexual assault against a child.

Offered the opportunity to express remorse in front of the girl’s family, Ross declined to do so. 

The girl was with her family and enjoying a bike ride in Moreau Lake State Park when Ross approached and asked her to help him find something in his truck.

“What began as an idyllic day on September 30, 2023 turned into a living nightmare,” Saratoga County Judge James A. Murphy III told the packed courtroom where about 100 people wedged into eight long pew-like rows - more than one dozen uniformed members of law enforcement and Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen, among them. 

Once in reach, Ross snatched the girl, taking off with her in his truck and confining her in the kitchen cabinet of his camper after he reached his destination in Milton. 

“Ross began a pattern of sexual, emotional and physical abuse so horrific that this court dare not speak of the details,” Judge Murphy said.

“Because of you I can’t sleep at night. Why did you do what you did?” reads the girl’s victim impact statement. “It bothered me that you took advantage of me being nice.”

Ross was arrested Oct. 2, following the issue of an AMBER alert, and the discovery of a ransom note left in the family mailbox of the abducted girl’s home. Fingerprints on the letter were entered into the New York State database and a match was made involving a DWI in 1999 in Saratoga Springs. 

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The subsequent investigation led authorities to the camper in Milton where the girl was located by state police, and Ross taken into custody. 

“This case drew national and international attention because quite simply it shocks the conscience,” Judge Murphy said, while announcing the 47-year sentence based on the two felony charges. 

The girl’s mother read her own statement inside the courtroom. “There will never be a sentence that will be sufficient for what you did to my daughter,” she said, her voice cracked with emotion, her hands tensely turning over a tissue in her hands. 

“I don’t understand why people like you do the things you do,” the mother continued. “You took something from my daughter that cannot be replaced. And I don’t forgive you for that. You don’t deserve forgiveness.”

Ross, wearing a green flannel shirt and shackles that wrapped around his torso, stared at a fixed spot in the distance where a vacant table stood, visually expressing no emotion and saying little. 

“You probably hope that this will affect me the rest of my life,” reads the girl’s statement. “I was in prison for 2-1/2 days and now you will be in prison for 47 years. You will crumble and I will be standing tall.”

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Roots scholar, multi-instrumentalist and Caffè Lena favorite Michael Eck will be staging his 60th Birthday celebration at Caffe Lena on April 19, and he’s bringing a full band AND a brand new album along with him. 

Eck, who first debuted at Caffè Lena in 1990 will be joined by an all-star ensemble featuring Rosanne Raneri, Kevin Maul – who’s flying in from Florida for the show, and Sten Isachsen and Bob Buckley of Jim Gaudet & The Railroad Boys. 

“A nifty little ensemble to accompany me on an evening of original chestnuts, new compositions and classic folk songs at my favorite venue,” Eck says. 

The new album is titled “Fermata,” and will be released in conjunction with the show. 

“A fermata is a musical notation. It looks like a bird’s eye and is sometimes called a hold. It allows the player discretion regarding the value of a note or a rest. To me, it speaks of freedom in music,” says Eck, who will spend the earlier part of the show date getting the design tattooed on his back. 

“Each of the characters singing these songs, whether myself, an addict in Kentucky, an old coin, a bereft wife or a bullet in a revolver, has been thrown an unexpected pause—a hold. And I know from pauses,” he says. 

Eck’s musical legacy in the region is lengthy – breaking in with the Albany punk scene of the early ‘80s with Glaze, to more recent collaborations with Ramblin Jug Stompers and Lost Radio Rounders. The release of Fermata comes 30 years after Eck’s debut, Cowboy Black, and along the way he has served as curator and host of WAMC’s American Roots Series at The Linda; assistant producer of the Music Haven Concert Series, and producer, host of fundraising concerts, and longtime board member at Caffe Lena, alongside among many other accomplishments. 

“It’s a celebration of my 60th birthday, and I hope you’ll join me,” says Eck. “I’m not old, I’m seasoned!”

The special Michael Eck and Friends performance will be staged 8 p.m. Friday, April 19, at Caffe Lena, 47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs. For more info, go to:

SARATOGA SPRINGS – A collaborative effort between the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation and the recent purchaser of an Excelsior Avenue property is being hailed as a success in preserving the city’s landscaped heritage. 

Located at 182 Excelsior Ave., the property was sold by Louisiana Management, LLC - which acquired the 2.5-acre parcel in 2004, to Excelsior Ave Property Owner LLC for $1.35 million on March 20, according to Saratoga County Land Records. 

The LLC that acquired the property is associated with brothers Brian and Gregory Green, whose initial plans called for wholesale demolition of the historic buildings on the site. 

Upon learning about the plans for demolition and subsequent research of the property, the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation reported it learned of the significance of the 1869 Henry Lawrence House beyond its Gothic Revival architecture. After sharing this information with the new owners, they began to re-evaluate development plans to see if it was possible to retain the structures as part of their plan to construct apartments, according to the Foundation. 

“Many developers would have held forth on their original plans or walked away from the project - Brian did not.  He was willing to work on a creative solution that allowed for the development of apartments and the preservation of the buildings,” Samantha Bosshart, Executive Director of the Foundation said, in a statement. 

Henry Haydock Lawrence acquired the Valley of Ten Springs, land that extended from what today is Loughberry Lake to Lake Avenue, in 1829. By 1858, Lawrence’s son, also named Henry, retubed and bottled the waters from Excelsior Spring and was selling them worldwide. In 1869, he built the distinctive Gothic Revival residence at the corner of Excelsior Avenue and Excelsior 

Through a series of meetings, a tentative agreement was made to would allow for key elements to be preserved. It required a reduction in the number of apartments built, significant changes to the site plan, and the subdivision of the property to allow the historic buildings to be made into six condos to make the project financially feasible, to ultimately move the project forward. 

“We at Green Springs Capital are tremendously excited to begin construction on the new 182 Excelsior Avenue,” Brian Green said in a statement. 

“It has been quite a journey the past two years as our team has worked diligently to carefully design a development that will provide homes with exceptional quality while ensuring we honor Saratoga’s storied history. The process was not without its challenges, but in the end, we believe the project will be a huge success,” Green said. “The Lawrence House will be fully restored with six new condominiums and the newly constructed apartments will be home for 36 families. We are very grateful for this opportunity and look forward to making this vision a reality.”

The Foundation added that it believes the final agreement and Planning Board approval will result in the long-term preservation of the 1869 Henry Lawrence House and its carriage house for generations to come. 

Wilton —­ A new 125,000-square-foot medical center and a 130-unit apartment and commercial development are under consideration on Maple Avenue/Route 9 in Wilton. 

The medical center would be sited at 612 Maple Ave. on property featuring 13.66 acres. The proposed two-story building would house multiple medical and surgical practices with a total floorspace of 120,000 square feet - 60,000 square feet per floor. 

The mixed-use development would stand at 631 Maple Ave. on 15.78 acres and include 17,800 square feet of commercial/retail space and 136 apartment units, according to documents submitted to the town of Wilton Planning Board. 

The project is awaiting final approval from the Wilton Planning Board in the next few months, after a public comment period and final traffic reports, according to a published report by Chelsea Diana, of the Albany Business Review. 

The Wilton Planning Board next meets at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 17 at the Wilton Town Hall, 22 Traver Road. 

WILTON — A man of many talents, it is his passion as an avid mountain climber for which Wilton resident Ray O’Conor will be featured in a documentary that will broadcastWednesday, April 24.

The film - “An Above Average Day” - tells the story of Ray O’Conor and Joe Murphy, two hikers who after a chance meeting forged a close and lasting friendship that has inspired them on a series of wilderness adventures. 

“My good buddy Joe and I have done a lot of hiking and climbing over the last 15 years. We hiked more than 400 different mountains, most of them together and more than 5,000 miles of trail,” told Saratoga TODAY as the film was nearing its completion last year. 

O’Conor was contacted several years ago by Veda Films company co-founder Katera Kapoor who told him she’d been following O’Conor’s adventures with his buddy and was interested in putting a documentary film together.  Katera and her husband Aviral subsequently began following O’Conor and Murphy on their hiking journeys capturing footage and conducting interviews. 

The film celebrated its debut screening last year at Saratoga Arts Center and on Wednesday, April 24 will be streamed into homes. The broadcast debut will take place at 5:30 p.m. on WMHT/ PBS. 

“If you had told me five years ago that the founders of Veda Films, Katera Noviello-Kapoor and Aviral Kapoor, would produce and direct a film in which my buddy Joe and I would co-star and that it would be broadcast on WMHT / PBS… I wouldn’t have believed it,” O’Conor said. 

“There are two sides to the story,” O’Conor explained. “One is the adventure side about hiking and mountain climbing. The other is about the relationship between Joe and I,” said O’Conor, whose lengthy  resume includes work as a financial consultant with a Wall Street investment firm,  a United States Border Patrol Agent and a Special Agent with the U.S. Department of Defense, local bank CEO, Wilton Town Councilmember, and author of the book ‘She Called Him Raymond.’

“One of the focal points is the relationship between these two guys who met by chance and spent a lot of time together over the past 15 years on mountains and on trails.”

O’Conor’s fondness for hiking was born during an early morning climb in the late 1980s at the urging of Roy McDonald when O’Conor decided to run for the town board in Wilton, and McDonald – who later would be elected to the state assembly and senate – was town supervisor. 

Since that time he has climbed the 46 high peaks of the Adirondacks, the 32 mountains between the Catskills and the Adirondacks that have fire towers on them, and journeyed to the Lake George 12ster, the Saranac Lake 6er and the Northeast 11, while working his way through the 50 highest points and peaks in the country all across the United States. 

The rewards are many. “It’s as good for the mind and the soul as it is for the body,” O’Conor said. “There’s something special about being out in the wilderness. The Japanese have a term they call it: Forest Bathing. Being out in the woods, on the trail, in isolation. Getting away from all the world’s troubles is magical.

“An Above Average Day,” a Veda Films documentary, will broadcast on WMHT/PBS at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 24. 

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