The Sarato­gian’s top-10 lo­cal sto­ries from this past year

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Nicholas Buo­nanno nbuo­[email protected]­i­tal­first­media.com City Ed­i­tor

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.

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