2019 IN REVIEW
The Saratogian’s top-10 local stories from this past year
SARATOGA COUNTY, N.Y. >> This past year was filled with many positive and negative stories that occurred throughout Saratoga County.
The top stories in 2019 ranged from Saratoga Springs icon Marylou Whitney passing away, to the Saratoga Race Course season being expanded, to political stories and development throughout the city of Saratoga Springs.
With the year coming to an end this week, the editorial staff at The Saratogian ranked its top 10 stories from 2019.
1. Marylou Whitney passes away
Over the summer, horse racing fans along with local elected officials and Capital Region residents mourned the death of Marylou Whitney. On July 19, 2019, Whitney passed away at 93.
The Saratoga socialite, philanthropist along with owner and breeder, was as much Saratoga Springs as its history of horsing and mineral springs.
It was the Whitney’s who founded the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) in 1966, bringing world-renowned musical acts and ballets to Saratoga.
In 2008, Marylou Whitney and her husband, John Hendrickson unveiled the Saratoga Backstretch Appreciation Program in 2008 and in 2015 Marylou Whitney and John Hendrickson gifted a statue of Native Dancer that stands proudly at the start of Union Avenue, the home of Saratoga Race Course.
In 2003, Mrs. Whitney was honored by the New York Turf Writers with the Ogden Phipps Award. In 2010, she was presented the Eclipse Award of Merit. As she accepted the Eclipse Award, Mrs. Whitney was also honored by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s mother, Matilda, who presented her with a citation proclaiming her the “Queen of Saratoga.” The following year, Mrs. Whitney was elected to The Jockey Club.
In 2018, Marylou Whitney was in attendance as the Racing Hall of Fame inducted three generations of Whitney’s as Pillars of the Turf, including Sonny, his father, Harry Payne Whitney, and his grandfather Williams Collins Whitney, who purchased Saratoga Race Course in 1900 and helped create Belmont Park.
In August, Whitney was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame. Also, in August, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans to create ‘The Marylou Whitney Pavilion’ at the Saratoga Race Course.
The Marylou Backstretch Pavilion will replace the temporary tent used by Whitney and Hendrickson with a permanent building that holds up to 400 people.
The Marylou Whitney Backstretch Pavilion is expected to be completed in July 2020.
2. Saratoga Race Course expands season
Earlier this year, NYRA officials shocked some racing fans when they announced in February that the 2019 racing meet would be longer on the calendar, but maintain its current 40 racing dates that have been the norm since 2010.
This year the Saratoga meet began on July 11 and ended on Labor Day, the meet continued to have 40days of racing with the inclusion of an additional ‘Dark Day’ a day of no racing, now two consecutive days, Monday and Tuesday.
Previously Saratoga was a six-day racing meet with Tuesday designated as its Dark Day.
The news was well-received by businesses as the earlier calendar start will add an additional weekend of tourism for the Spa City.
3. 2019 Saratoga Springs elections
Some races in the 2019 election season in Saratoga Springs became heated at times.
Incumbent Commissioner of Finance Michelle Madigan faced Patty Morrison in a Democratic primary in June. Morrison defeated Madigan in the primary, however, Madigan appeared on three ballot lines — Working Families, Independence, and SAM, while Morrison succeeded in obtaining the support of the City of Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee after it withdrew its endorsement of Madigan when Morrison won the June primary.
In the November general election, Madigan retained her seat after she defeated Morrison by nearly 1,000 votes.
Another seat up for grabs in the 2019 city elections included the commissioner of public safety seat, which was between two new faces. With the retirement of Commissioner of Public Safety Peter Martin, Robin Dalton and Kendall Hicks ran against each other in the general election.
That race was won by Dalton, a Republican.
Also re-elected to serve was Republican Anthony “Skip” Scirocco to continue for another term as Commissioner of the Department of Public Works. He ran against chemical engineer Dillon Moran, a relative newcomer to politics who expressed concern about the city’s aging infrastructure during his campaign.
Commissioner of Accounts John P. Franck is the seven-term Commissioner of Accounts for the City of Saratoga Springs. Endorsed by the Democratic, Independence and Working Families parties,
Franck ran unopposed and was also re-elected and will serve an eighth term.
City of Saratoga Springs Supervisor on the Saratoga County Board of supervisors Tara Gaston ran against political newcomer Stephen Mitter and although the vote was close, Gaston, a Democrat, retained her seat for another term. The other incumbent in the race - Republican Matt Veitch - garnered 4,536 votes, followed by Gaston (3,499) and Mittler (3,273).
Incumbent Mayor Meg Kelly, a Democrat, also defeated her Republican challenger Tim Holmes in the 2019 general election.
4. Democratic Committee upheaval
During the heated election season in the city of Saratoga Springs, leadership members of the city’s Democratic committee resign from their positions with the committee.
Courtney DeLeonardis, chair; Ellen Kiehl, 1st vicechair; Jeffrey Partridge, 2nd vice-chair; Kathleen Wilson, 3rd vice-chair and Joanna Zangrando, secretary, announced their departure from the committee in July.
“It is with regret that I announce my resignation and that of four additional Executive Committee members, effective immediately. We believe the time is right to give the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee a chance to have a new leadership team who will support the Democratic nominee for Commissioner of Finance, in accord with the outcome of the recent primary election,” DeLeonardis said in a statement in July.
In August, eleven additional people announced they were leaving, including Jennifer Blanchard, Charles Brown, Frank Capone, Cynthia Corbett, John Daley, Michele Feinstein, Nancy Goldberg, Kathryn Gorman, Janet Kuczynski, Michael Sharp, and Jane Weihe.
With the election of Sarah Burger as its new chair and Cassandra Bagramian as its new treasurer, the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee met the prerequisite minimum number of leadership positions in August to move toward stabilization and taking a step forward after a tumultuous summer of upheaval in the organization.
5. Saratoga Hospital expansion
A contentious debate during City Council meetings this year included a proposed expansion for a new medical office building by Saratoga Hospital.
Throughout the process, Saratoga Hospital has mailed a letter to neighbors of the hospital dated February 27, 2019, from President and CEO Angelo G. Calbone, as well as soliciting letters from employees mailed to the Planning Board declaring their perceived sense of necessity for the construction of the proposed threestory, 75,000-square-foot building, and 300-space parking lot.
The project would be built on the property immediately adjacent to homeowners in the Birch Run and neighboring residential developments.
Some of those neighbors have organized into a group called “Saratoga Concerned Neighbors.”
Last week, the Saratoga Springs City Council voted 4-to-1 vote in favor of the zoning map amendments to 18 parcels, bringing them into compliance with the City’s Comprehensive Plan.
The vote constituted a go-ahead nod to Saratoga Hospital to continue on to the next phase of plans they have pursued since 2015, to build the fourstory, 80,000-square-foot building medical office and parking garage complex on Parcel 1 of the 18 parcels under debate.
Opponents vowed to continue the fight.
6. City Center parking garage groundbreaking
Many people who visit downtown Saratoga Springs know that parking isn’t always easy to find.
To help with that problem, the City Center proposed a new 600 space parking garage.
The need for additional parking was apparent when the Saratoga Springs City Center opened its doors in the early 1980s; now short and long-term visitors to the city as well as residents can look forward to an end to the need to spend inordinate valuable time circling the block in search of a parking space and instead head conveniently on in to the City Center which will now be able to host an increased multitude of events.
The new parking structure on Maple Avenue opposite the City Center will connect via a pedestrian bridge directly to the City Center. The design was developed by Envision Architects and the L.A. Group and the building contract has been awarded to Bette & Cring for the project, which is estimated to open in late 2020 after many revisions and much controversy.
Developed by the Flat Rock Working Group and spearheaded by Mayor Meg Kelly with participation from the City Council, is the culmination of 2 years of planning and development.
7. City Hall renovation update
Following a lightning strike on August 17, 2018, which resulted in some fire and significant water damage to the south side of the Saratoga Springs City Hall building on Broadway, which was built in circa 1871, the City Council was proactive in beginning to restore what had been damaged.
Earlier this year, the Saratoga Springs Department of Public Works released preliminary renderings of the City Hall restoration and renovation project.
The renderings include a view of the main hallway, entrance vestibule, and music hall, along with renderings of the new City Court hearing room and elevator.
“The concept was to preserve historical elements as part of the project and to showcase public areas so that everyone in our community can enjoy and appreciate the beauty of the building,” Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco said in a statement in May.
The project includes the addition of an HVAC system, court offices, an ADA compliant elevator, and additional public meeting spaces with IT and security enhancements. Building infrastructure improvements to the electrical, plumbing, heating and sound attenuation are also planned.
Professional construction estimates put the renovation project at approximately ten million dollars. A majority of this cost can be attributed to building changes that are a result of adding additional court facilities. Funding for the project will come from the city’s capital budget program and a portion from insurance reimbursement.
The Design Review Commission (DRC) meetings are opportunities for DPW to obtain valuable feedback on the project from DRC members, the Preservation Foundation, and members of the public.
The project schedule has been adjusted for partial completion by the end of 2019, with final completion in early 2020 based on the outcome of the bid process.
8. Renovations at SPAC
Thousands of people flock to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center for concerts and other events each and every year. Although the site is kept up well, a $9.5 million renovation project at Saratoga Performing Arts Center to improve visitor services and add four-season event space is underway.
As part of this project, SPAC will undergo a complete replacement and upgrade of the existing concessions and restroom facilities.
Two new concessions buildings will replace the existing tent structures, which have lacked proper security, infrastructure and storage space.
In the center of the main plaza, a new open-air covered pavilion will further establish a more park-like aesthetic, while restoring the original sightlines from the Route 50 bridge to the Victoria Pool.
The main concession building will include a second-story, offering yearround event space to support and encourage expanded educational programming, audience development, and community engagement activities. The exterior facade of the upper level will include a glass and aluminum storefront design, allowing guests to walk out onto a rooftop terrace facing the amphitheater.
The enclosed portion of this building will provide climate-controlled space for events, and the lobby atrium leading to the second floor will feature the history of SPAC as well as space for local artwork.
The second building will aim to further improve the guest experience by adding new restroom and concessions facilities, and creating more open, usable space which will help further improve guest movement throughout SPAC.
The existing infrastructure systems and utilities will be improved to support the new buildings and surrounding public space. Upgraded pedestrian walkways will improve access between the amphitheater lawn and the main plaza and provide easier paths for travel throughout the venue.
The project is supported by $8 million in private funding from Live Nation and Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
New York State is providing up to $1.5 million in grants from Empire State Development and State Parks, awarded through the governor’s Regional Economic Development Council initiative.
9. NYRA President Chris Kay resigns
The Saratoga Race Course did not just make big news when Marylou Whitney passed away and when NYRA announced the extended racing season. Before all of that, in January, NYRA President Chris Kay resigned from his position.
On Jan. 23, 2019, the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) Board of Directors announced that it has accepted the resignation of Kay, effectively immediately.
According to Daily Racing Form at drf.com, the board asked for Kay’s resignation after it learned that Kay had used NYRA employees to do private work for him at the house he owns in Saratoga, which is considered a breach of company policy.
O’Rourke joined NYRA in 2008 as Director of Financial Planning. Since 2011, O’Rourke has been responsible for NYRA’s business development strategies across a range of disciplines including industry relations, simulcast markets and contracts, television and ADW operations, and capital projects.
Kay was named President and CEO in 2013. Under his direction, NYRA improved the quality and safety of racing operations; enhanced the overall guest experience; and was returned to private control.
NYRA immediately named David O’Rourke as its interim CEO. Then in March, NYRA announced O’Rourke as CEO and President.
O’Rourke, 45, first joined NYRA as Director of Financial Planning in 2008 before becoming Vice President for Corporate Development in 2010. In 2013, he was appointed Chief Revenue Officer and Senior Vice President. In that role, O’Rourke was responsible for NYRA’s business development strategies across a range of disciplines including industry relations, simulcast markets and contracts, television strategy, advance deposit wagering (ADW) operations, and capital projects.
During his tenure, O’Rourke has played a signature role in spearheading the development and growth of NYRA Bets, NYRA’s national ADW platform currently available in 30 states. He has also helped shepherd the dramatic expansion of NYRA’s flagship television broadcasts, Belmont Park Live and Saratoga Live, which will feature live coverage nearly every race day in 2019 from Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course.
10. Saratoga Springs introduces new police chief
The Saratoga Springs Police Department saw a change in leadership in 2019. In March, former Police Chief Greg Veitch announced his intentions to retire from the department on May 31, 2019.
Veitch served the Saratoga Springs Police Department since 1995. He was promoted to chief in 2013.
City officials said Veitch’s tenure as chief was a transformative period for the Saratoga Springs Police Department. The chief oversaw the implementation of the department’s successful body camera program, the first in the State of New York outside New York City, according to city officials.
It also saw the department help develop and implement an integrated dispatch system with departments throughout Saratoga, Albany, and Rensselaer counties.
In August, Saratoga Springs Commissioner of Public Safety Peter Martin announced the appointment of Saratoga Springs Police Lt. Shane Crooks as the city’s next police chief.
Crooks assumed the office of police chief on Sept. 7.
The iconic Marylou Whitney, with her husband John Hendrickson, was an area fixture until her passing earlier this year.
A groundsman fusses with plantings at Saratoga Race Course on Opening Day. This past year the meet began on July 11.
Left to right: Charley Brown, Courtney DeLeonardis, Meg Kelly, Robin Dalton, Michele Madigan, Anthony Scirocco, Matt Veitch, and Saratoga Springs Republican Committee Chair Chris Obstarczyk on election night in November.
The Saratoga Springs City Council recently voted 4-1 in favor of the proposed zoning map amendments, a go-ahead nod to Saratoga Hospital to continue on to the next phase of plans to build a four-story, 80,000-square-foot building medical office and parking garage complex on Parcel 1 of the 18 parcels.
Chris Kay resigned as New York Racing Association CEO in January.
A press event was held at High Rock Park by a second group of members of the City of Saratoga Springs Democratic Party to announce their resignations from the committee. Past SSDC leadership Charles Brown and Courtney DeLeonardis, middle.
Assistant City Attorney Tony Izzo reads the oath of office to Chief of Police Shane Crooks at Tuesday’s ceremony in which Crooks became the 21st to hold the position.
The 2020 budget focused on several of the priorities facing the City, including the successful renovation of City Hall after the lightening strike that hit the historic structure in August 2018.
Saratoga Performing Arts Center is undergoing a complete replacement and upgrade of the existing concessions and restroom facilities.
Officials take part in the groundbreaking for the new City Center Parking garage.