Thomas Dimopoulos

Thomas Dimopoulos

City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
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Thursday, 16 May 2024 13:40

Alice Returns To The Capital Region

ALBANY — Does your temperature go rising, your pulse go racing and your basal metabolism go roaring at the mere thought of that adorable archfiend, Alice Cooper? 

Fifty years ago this month, that question marked the opening passage of 16 Magazine’s front-page featurette showcasing a “clinical and super-scientific test devised by the divine Dr. Alice Cooper.” 

The Coop was at the time celebrating the honors bestowed upon him by a world made all the more fun in the aftermath of releases like “School’s Out,” “Love It To Death, “Killer,” and “Billion Dollar Babies.” 

And while that classic Alice Cooper group – the original lineup of Alice’s band - have been impossible to match, recent on stage groupings of musicos supporting Alice The Singer have come pretty darned close.   

Alice Cooper will bring his latest tour, “Too Close For Comfort,” to Albany’s Palace Theatre July 31. 

Tickets range from $39.50 to $124.50 and are on sale via Ticketmaster at, as well as at the Palace Theatre Box Office, located at 19 Clinton Ave. 

SARATOGA SPRINGS —Sarah Craig stood on Phila Street flanked by Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner and Saratoga Springs city Mayor John Safford. 

“Sixty-four years ago on this day, Bill and Lena Spencer were still working day and night to convert an abandoned woodworking business on the second floor of this building right here into Saratoga’s first coffeehouse - a cool, trendy, artsy coffeehouse such as you’d find in Greenwich Village,” said Craig, the recently created iron gated entryway to the cafe framing the trio. 

“They planned to fill it with espresso, folk singers, poets and actors along with the young women of Skidmore College – which was just about a block away then - and anyone who craved some smart company and culture.” 

The Spencers had been working on the building since fall of 1959 and would open in June 1960. 

Bill and Lena Spencer have a burning belief in the supreme importance of the arts and the great thrills the arts offer humanity (and) both feel that the Saratoga-Albany area is rich in tradition, beautiful to behold, and a fine place for culture to flourish in. Next week, Lena Spencer will make her debut as an actress, her husband directing. Scheduled for presentation are Tennessee Williams’ “Auto-Da-Fe” and Vincent Ferrini’s “Sea Root,” in its first stage production. Since their arrival about a year ago, a great deal has happened, most of it due to backbreaking work on the part of both Spencers. Go on and have a cup of coffee and see the next show — July 1961, The Knickerbocker News. 

“Some things went as planned,” Craig continued. “The crowds came, and musicians traveled in from all corners of the world to play a venue well-situated between the east coast urban hubs and points west and north. Some things didn’t go as planned - opening night was delayed by a plumbing snafu, Bill left his wife after a couple of years, and in the age of disco folk fell out of favor, and Lena died unexpectedly in October 1989.” 

Through it all, the café not only survived, but flourished, and it was this that Assemblywoman Woerner and Mayor Safford celebrated in a ceremony they attended earlier this month that recognized the 110-seat coffeehouse for its naming to the New York State Historic Business Preservation Registry. Administered by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the program spotlights businesses that have operated for at least 50 years and have contributed significantly to their community’s history.

“Caffè Lena’s new designation underscores the profound impact on the history, heritage, and identity of Saratoga Springs,” Woerner, who nominated Caffe Lena to the Registry, said during the honoring ceremony, which included a pop-up concert by Joe Jencks. For his role, the Chicago-based musician strapped a capo across the fretboard of his acoustic guitar and serenaded with strings being strummed and in a rich baritone voice a song he wrote about the welcoming spirit projected by Lady iberty in the New York harbor. 

Going to the Gallery Theater is a pleasant experience not quite like anything else locally. Bill Spencer’s Siamese cat whose name seems to be Pie or Pasha—he answers to both—is likely ‘to skitter on stage any minute and upstage everybody; when the show’s over and Bill is telling folks what’s on next week, you can hear the actors going over what they’ve just done and allocating praise or blame. – September 1961, Times Union. 

Lena booked afternoon hootenannies and hosted weekend residencies with musicians who performed three sets a night and often stayed over at her apartment in the Collamer Building on Broadway. She also made frequent trips to New York City and made connections with key figures in the thriving Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 1960s. The café’s reputation grew among musicians and theater groups traveling around the Northeast.

Bob Dylan first visited the club in 1961 and played a full weekend of shows for which he was paid a total of $50. Appearances by Rosalie Sorrels brought admirers like Hunter S. Thompson and William Kennedy to the venue, and in the fall of 1965, Don McLean made his first of his many appearances at the café.

“During the 29 years she operated what became the longest running folk music coffeehouse in the country, Lena established and approached the business that they don’t teach you in MBA programs,” Craig said. “This is how she described it: Don’t do it like you’re in it to make money, just do it with a whole lot of love like you’re in it to serve.”

The state Historic Business Preservation Registry program was established by legislation in 2020 and currently lists 160 diverse historic businesses on the registry – from restaurants and barber shops to farms. Caffe Lena marks its place on the registry as only the fourth live music venue on the state registry – the Tarrytown Music Hall, the Capitol Theater in Portchester and the Village Vanguard in lower Manhattan are the others.

It takes a certain amount of intestinal fortitude, or an awful lot of money, to venture into this type of business. Most coffee houses last about as long as a will-o-the-wisp. They spring up, go for broke-and usually make it—to the bankruptcy courts. Cafe Lena is the exception. One of the prime reasons the place has prospered is due to the proprietor herself. An eager listener and a quiet talker, Lena Spencer makes friends rapidly. She is part of Saratoga now and though her brand of entertainment is on the opposite end of the spectrum of the world of music, the cafe has made its place in the area’s culture.  October 1966, Times Union.   

Lena ran the café for nearly 30 years. In 1989, she was severely injured after a fall down the café’s steep staircase and died a few weeks later. Executive Director Sarah Craig joined the Caffè Lena staff in 1995 and three years later an all-volunteer board raised $400,000 to purchase the café. Later faced with structural challenges that would require major renovation, a $1.5 million capital campaign was launched in 2013, and a collaboration struck with local developer Sonny Bonacio which provided the café a 21st century remodeling. 

Subsequent to Lena’s passing there was no certainty about how long the café would last, Craig explained. “But it did. Why? Because of people coming together in the spirit of love and service; it’s sustained by all the people who bring their art to the stage, the people who buy tickets, by members and by those who volunteer on the hospitality crew, and by people like (Assemblywoman) Woerner and Mayor Safford who know that history is one of the three pillars of Saratoga’s identity.”       

In an age of millionaire entrepreneurs. Lena Spencer still books unknowns and struggles to break even at her small but famous coffeehouse in this historic resort. ‘I mean I just barely break even and sometimes I’m lucky if I do,’ she said. ‘But I can’t imagine myself ever doing anything else.’ – December 1978, Rockland County Journal News. 

MILTON— Hailed as a gateway to the Capital Region for tech companies, performing artists, horse owners and business and leisure travelers alike, area officials gathered at Saratoga County Airport this week where a $35.2 million construction project is underway. 

“The uniqueness of this area, driving the innovations of the world, whether you’re coming to the Nanotech facility in Albany or Global Foundries, we want to make sure we have the infrastructure in place and that it’s state-of-the-art for anyone coming to do business in the Capital Region,” said New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez. 

“Anytime you leverage a transportation investment there’s a direct economic benefit; not only do you create jobs, but there’s also a ripple effect,” Dominguez said, crediting Gov. Kathy Hochul ‘s office for launching the Upstate Airport Economic Development and Revitalization competition. The contest  awarded $230 million to nine upstate airports for revitalization projects that reimagine and further modernize their airports. 

Saratoga County was awarded $27 million by the state, with an additional $2 million coming via federal funds, and the balance of the $35.2 million project provided by Saratoga County. 

“The overall economic impact of the airport to Saratoga Count exceeds $10 million,” said Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Chairman Phil Barrett, standing atop a landscape framed by concrete blocks, mounds of dirt and new metal gleaming in the midday sun. The gentle rumble of work trucks sounded in the distance, accompanied by the occasional streaming of a Cessna 172 across the sky. 

“Our timeline is very tight: two years,” Barrett said. “We entered into a contract with DOT to get this project underway in February 2023, and demolition of the old building that was on this site began in the fall-winter 2023. The entirety of the project will be completed by 2025.” 

The project is anticipated to be ready prior to Saratoga Springs’ hosting of the Belmont Festival in June 2025. 

Matt Veitch, who represents Saratoga Springs at the county level, recalled when the potential of an airport revitalization project was first initiated.   

“We had an old terminal building here built way back that wasn’t really meeting the needs of our modern traveler,” said Veitch, who had chaired the Saratoga County Buildings & Ground Committee, when the initial discussions took place. 

“We had a meeting right here at the airport with a lot of our economic development agencies to think about what we could do better here at Saratoga County Airport,” Veitch said. 

“This is a huge shot in the arm for us,” added Scott Ostrander, the supervisor representing the county airport’s host town of Milton. 

Plans indicate the new building’s first floor will provide two spacious passenger waiting areas, a multi-media conference room, new hangar space, with a courtyard opening to outdoor access. The lobby will feature a display area of classic automobiles, and the building’s second floor will make available space for pilots as well as a restaurant, conference and office space and feature an exhibit area showcasing the work of local artists. 

The hangar portion of the building will be finished with aged, reclaimed wood to mirror the look of the many Saratoga County horse and agricultural barns, with a solar array atop the hangar roof, helping reduce the airport’s collective carbon footprint.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Deemed as creating a more equitable distribution of public resources, the Saratoga Springs Finance Department in Spring 2022 launched a Participatory Budgeting pilot project. 

One year later, 864 city residents voted for nine projects they most wanted to see addressed in the pilot program introduced by Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi. 

The Participatory Budgeting process encourages local community members to participate in the city’s budget process by voting on how to spend a portion of up to 0.25% of the City’s total budget - approximately $150,000. 

The city announced this week it is now accepting participatory budgeting project proposals through July 1, 2024 for cycle three of funding. 

Last year, a total of 15 submissions with proposed projects ranging from smaller-scale recreation initiatives to larger community-wide accessible programming were accepted for cycle two, and in December, residents voted from among these five final projects on the ballot: Bocce Ball Court, Saratoga Farmer’s Market, Opera Saratoga Family Programming, Solar Charging Bench for the Saratoga Springs Public Library, and Lake Avenue School Centennial Celebration. 

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The City Council voted to approve applying for a $100,000 Grant from Congressman Paul Tonko’s office to fund a Truck Origin Destination study on Van Dam Street. 

Recognizing truck traffic as a top priority for the city to remedy, the city hopes to address the issue of high volume non-local trucks that disturb air quality and increase traffic congestion. 

Last September, the Capital Region Transportation Council (CRTC), in coordination with former city Mayor Ron Kim’s Office conducted the truck traffic study to explore options for enhancing safety and improving traffic flow through the downtown corridor by collecting data on the number and classification of trucks traveling through the city, their routes, and speed. The potential areas of study were Broadway (U.S. Rte 9); Ballston Avenue (NY Rte 50); Church Street (NY Rte 9N); Finley/Adelphi Streets; Geyser Road; Lake Avenue (NY Rte 29); Union Avenue (NY Rte 9P); Van Dam Street; Washington Street (NY Rte 29).

This month, the city acknowledged while it had secured a high level study completed through its Metropolitan Planning Organization, it was “no substitute for a full origin destination study which can inform city planning and set us up for additional funding for years to come.” 

The Van Dam and Church Neighborhood Association have advocated for this work along with potential alternate routes. In a letter requesting action be taken on a comprehensive truck rerouting in Saratoga, the Van and Church Neighborhood Association wrote: “the city has been negligent in addressing this issue for decades while the problem continues to get worse…and the city must immediately take action to implement a comprehensive rerouting of tractor trailer traffic.” The group further advocated that the city retain a qualified traffic engineering firm to conduct a comprehensive analysis of truck traffic through the city, including multiple alternatives to the current routing through the historic core.

The city’s Complete Streets Advisory Board has a dedicated budget line for matching grants and multimodal transportation projects.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The city public library parking lot will be going to a paid parking scheme this summer, although provisions are being made to allow library card-holders to continue to park free of charge during the library’s normal hours of operation. 

The Saratoga Springs City Council unanimously approved a pair of measures during its May 7 meeting, allowing the proposal to come to fruition. 

Since its opening in 1992, the 75-or-so parking spaces in the Saratoga Springs Public Library (SSPL) lot, which sits between Putnam and Henry Streets one block east of Broadway, had offered free parking to the general public on a first-come, first-served basis. 

“Since then, the city of Saratoga Springs has constructed four parking garages and service lots and more recently a seasonal public parking permit program to accommodate a growing population and tourism industry. These recent developments would impact the use of the library parking lot,” city DPW Commissioner Jason Golub said during this week’s council vote. “SSPL approached the city to develop solutions for protecting patron use of the space.” 

The library – which serves 700 people per day, is chartered not simply by the geographical boundaries of the city of Saratoga Springs, but in the larger school district which serves about 52,000 people. 

“Regulations are intended to provide library patrons with priority use of the lot during library hours and to allow the city to charge for parking in the evenings,” Commissioner Golub said, adding that the library lot is anticipated to return approximately $52,000 in revenues during the seasonal parking plan. 

A new seasonal paid parking program affecting six city-owned, off-street parking facilities was approved April 2, prior to the addressing of the library lot. Overall, it was anticipated the seasonal program would run Memorial Day through Labor Day, although that may be headed toward a post-June 9 start, following the conclusion of the Belmont Stakes Festival. 

When the plan goes into effect, Special Permits will be required for library patrons to park in the library lot during designated hours. Permits, which will run via a license plate system, will be available to patrons who register and have a library card. Although the software to approve permits is not yet in place, library staff will be the ones responsible for registering patrons on a portal site provided by the city. 

“People will need come into the library to register for the permit, because it will require that they are a resident of the school district and a library card holder,” said Library Director A. Issac Pulver. 

“The library is essential to our community and serves a lot of our people,” said Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi.  “The library is the lifeblood of our community in so many different ways…the ability to gather together and learn from each other… I’m happy we came to a solution that works for the library and the city.” 

Draft Regulations: 

(a) The Library Permit will enable Library Patrons to exclusively use spaces in the Library Lot from the hours of 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily, for a three-hour time limit. 

(b) Library Permit holders may continue to use the lot for free for three hours until 9 p.m. daily, but the spots will be on first-come, first-served basis and the lot may include paid parking users after 6 pm. 

(c) Library Permit Patrons seeking to use the lot 9 p.m. - 9 a.m. will be charged a fee by the city when the city parking program is in effect. 

(d) The city may charge a fee for Non-Library Permit Patrons after 6 p.m. daily and on days or holidays when the Library is closed.

The anticipated charge for paid parking will be at the rate of $2 per hour. On holidays and other days when the library is closed, the city may charge for parking at any time. Tickets will be issued for violations. 

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Last week, regional officials announced they anticipate the hosting of the Belmont Stakes Festival at Saratoga to have an economic impact in 2024 of upwards of $50 million.

Shifting to Saratoga next month, the 2024 Belmont Stakes Racing Festival will begin on Thursday, June 6 and continue through Sunday, June 9. Belmont on Broadway meanwhile, billed as a locally based multifaceted celebration, is slated to take place June 4 -9 featuring concerts and other complimentary events to the 2024 Belmont Stakes Racing Festival. 

That $50 million projection comes from applying a mathematical formula that takes the overall economic activity of the annual 40-day summer meet at Saratoga and assigning it to the number of days of the upcoming Belmont festival.   

“The historical number for the 40-day meet has been $370 million so we simply took what we knew to be fact - $370 million – and divided it by the number of days for the Belmont Festival on Broadway, including the Belmont Stakes. That’s how we came up with the $50 million,” Gregory Connors, president and CEO at Saratoga Economic Development Corporation, explained this week. 

That overall 40-day meet figure, at just over $370 million, was detailed in a study commissioned by the Saratoga County Industrial Development Agency based on data from 2021 and released in 2023. The study additionally cited nearly $2.1 million of tax revenue in Saratoga Springs, almost $2.4 million in Saratoga County, and over $7.3 million of tax revenue in New York State as attributable to the 40-day meet. 

As a curious aside, of those counted as visitors to the racecourse during the 40-day meet, the study pointed to nearly 6 in 10 visitors as coming from outside of the Capital Region, and indicated that overall, just under half of all track visitors stayed overnight locally. It will be interesting to learn, if such movements are to be tracked, the way those numbers will trend for the Belmont.   

Saratoga Hosting Belmont Stakes 2024 & 2025, Scheduled to Return to Long Island in 2026 

Last December, the New York Racing Association announced the 2024 Belmont Stakes would be relocated to Saratoga Springs, and three months later followed up with an additional announcement that the 2025 Belmont Stakes would be staged in the Spa City as well. 

In its post-Kentucky Derby story published this week, the Associated Press referenced Saratoga as playing host to the Triple Crown’s final race for the next “three” years while Belmont Park is being reconstructed. It is a rumor that has been circulating throughout the spring – although no one in any official capacity has said likewise. To be clear, current plans for the near half-billion-dollar redevelopment of Belmont Park hold firm that renovations to Belmont Park are expected to be completed in time for the Long Island racetrack to host the Belmont Stakes in June 2026. 

Connors said he has not heard anything other than that the Belmont is expected to return to Long island in 2026.  “My sense is, and my personal opinion is that it’s all connected to the construction schedule on Elmont, Long Island at the Belmont track. If they’re on the construction schedule that they hope to be able to follow it’s more likely to be a two-year thing (in Saratoga),” he said. “In any event we know we’re going to put on a great show in 2024 and 2025.” 

SARATOGA SPRINGS —Whitman Brewing Company, which occupies the building that had long housed the offices of The Saratogian newspaper, has submitted an application to the city Planning Board for two, one-day events to be held in a portion of the outdoor parking lot which is bordered by Lake Avenue and sits between Maple Avenue and Pavilion Row. 

The first event would run 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, June 1 and consist of live music (no stage) and local breweries pouring four-ounce samples of their beer. The ticketed event, limited to 300 people, would serve as a fundraising event benefiting Saratoga Pride. 

The second event, featuring similar activities and capacity, would run noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28.

BALLSTON SPA — A Public Hearing will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 14 at the county complex in Ballston Spa regarding a proposed Local Law stated “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.”    

“We want to hear from the public,” Saratoga Springs city Supervisor Matt Veitch announced at the City Council meeting this week. “Essentially it gives some process and procedure for landowners to file affidavits for law enforcement if there are folks occupying their properties unlawfully.”

The county Board of Supervisors generally meets at 4 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month (May 21 this month), but the Public Hearing on the proposed law – titled Local Law no. 2 of 2024,” will take place at 4:30 p.m. this Tuesday, May 14.     

County residents interested in reading about the proposed Local Law are instructed they may do so on the Saratoga County government website. Here’s how: 

1. Go to:

2. Scroll past the header picture and down to “Board & Committee Meetings,” click on that and a new page will open. 

3. Scroll down to “Board of Supervisors” meetings, find “April 16, 2024,” move to and click on “Agenda,” and a new page will open. 

4. Scroll down to page 56 – where Resolution 118-2024 is titled “Introducing A Local Law Authorizing Property Owners To Request The Removal Of Unlawful Occupants From Dwellings, And Setting A Public Hearing,” and read pages 57 – 60 where the proposed Local Law is detailed.   

WILTON — A large multifamily housing project recently given the thumbs-up to proceed is anticipated to offer hundreds of new residential units as early as the summer of 2026 in the town of Wilton.

The project will take place alongside the existing Wilton Mall and is expected to be developed in two phases, with 296 apartments available for occupancy in the summer of 2026 and 86 townhomes made available the following year. 

The Wilton Mall will remain largely operational, and the hope is it will gain new interest as a result. The space formerly housing the Bon Ton store will be demolished and atop nearly 9 acres of land, 296  “market rate apartment units” will be constructed in its place. Demolition may take place as soon as this spring. 

The additional 86 townhome units will be developed just across the road in the northeast corner of the property and on nearly 5 acres of land during the project’s second phase. 

Mike Shaffer, general manager of Wilton Mall, is hopeful the combined 382 new units will provide a financial boost for the mall. At its peak in 2016, the mall generated about $95 million in sales, but by 2022 sales had dropped in half, due to factors such as the closure of Bonton and Sears, the pandemic, and a public shift to shopping online. 

“The mall needs that residential catalyst to attract new interest,” Shaffer told the Wilton Town Board during its April meeting when it approved the creation of a Planned Unit Development District (PUDD) to allow the project to move forward. Specifically, Shaffer cited the project as catalyst to potentially attracting national retailers, restaurants and new uses such as entertainment. 

The evolution of the mall over the past decade or so has included bringing in Healthy Living, Planet Fitness and a 22,000 square feet Home Goods store as a tenant. It transitioned the vacated Sears box store to Saratoga Hospital for primary care, clinical care and administrative uses, sited Orangetheory  Fitness and recently celebrated the reopening of a cinema. The redevelopment of the vacant BonTon marks the next step in the evolution of the mall.

To meet the spring 2025 construction plan, design and preparations are anticipated to take three to four months, site plan subdivision approval four or five months, and building two or three months in time. The hope is to have the first apartments online and for rent in the summer of 2026. 

The Macerich Corporation and Paramount Development are collaborating on the project. “For the construction, we have 318 jobs, $14.5 million in associated earnings, $37.5 million in sales spent locally,” Tawney Farmer, of Macerich, told the Wilton Town Board during the 35-minute presentation and vote, which was approved 4-1, with Wilton Supervisor John Lant casting the lone vote against.  “Annually, after the apartments are built, we will generate 125 permanent jobs, $5.6 million in associated earnings and $16.6 million in annual sales.” 

Additional estimates point to the Town receiving $368,000 in new sales tax revenue annually, and the Saratoga City School District experiencing a net benefit of $809,000 after estimating 25 new enrolled students the project may produce.

The proposal for the project had been in the discussion and debate stage for at least two years. The Wilton Planning Board and the Saratoga County Planning board had each previously issued a positive recommendation for the project.

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