Tuesday, March 28, 2006

March 28, 2006 Victoria Pool


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Weeks after storm, crews still putting Spa Park back together
BY LEE COLEMAN Gazette Reporter

More than a month after the violent wind storm that knocked down hundreds of towering pine trees and claimed the life of a state employee, Saratoga Spa State Park workers are still cleaning up and assessing damaged trees.
Park officials say the Feb. 17 windstorm was one of the most destructive events in the state park’s 70-year history.
The park’s popular Ferndell hiking trail remains closed, blocked by downed trees in a gorge area, and one or two very large trees remain flat on the ground. But all other park nature
trails and roads are open, according to state parks officials.
State parks crews were brought in from five state park regions across the state to help clean up the mess.
"They came with their tree trucks, chippers and chain saws," said Warren Holliday, director of the Saratoga-Capital District Region of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
"We had 65 people in the field," he said, working from "dawn until dusk" for two days after the storm and again two days later.
He said overtime costs, meal allowances, and the cost of lodging at the Gideon Putnam Hotel in the park for out-of-town workers are estimated at more than $125,000. The cost of damage to trees, vehicles and park structures has not yet been calculated.
Parks officials plan to plant mature trees (five- to six-feet tall) to replace those lost — or cut down because they were damaged — by the storm.
They are also creating a highwind policy for the park that would immediately close Avenue of Pines (which runs between Route 50 and Route 9) and even the entire 2,400-acre park depending on the level of winds forecast, according to Catherine Jimenez, a state parks spokeswoman.
Holliday said the powerful winds knocked down more than 300 trees in open areas of the park and along golf course fairways. Many more white pines in heavily wooded areas of the park were also downed.
The wind storm also left the entire park without power along with the entire city of Saratoga Springs and surrounding area, in some cases for more than two days.
"These micro-bursts came through on four different, separate occasions," Holliday said of the wind storm.
He said the micro-bursts started at 10:45 a.m. Friday, Feb. 17, and ended about noon. Winds at the Saratoga County Airport in Milton were clocked in excess of 95 miles per hour for brief periods, he said.
The hurricane-level winds did not last long but were devastating to the park when they hit, Holliday said.
Philip Henzel of Wilton, head of park maintenance, said he was on Avenue of Pines when a wind gust brought down a tree on top of a state Department of Transportation truck at 11:45 a.m. Feb. 17.
"I saw the tree snap off and crush the DOT truck," Henzel said. "It [the tree] snapped off in the air and came down very quickly."
The freak accident killed longtime DOT employee George Green, 53, of Saratoga Springs who was driving through the park from Route 50 to Route 9.
Avenue of Pines was immediately closed, along with the rest of the park. Most of the park remained closed Feb. 18 and Feb. 19 except for cleared areas that allowed people to get to the Gideon Putnam Hotel and the Hall of Springs (for a large wedding reception), the Home Made Theater and the Saratoga Automobile Museum.
As soon as the worst winds subsided the afternoon of Feb. 17 park workers started clearing trees from the Avenue of Pines so that about 300 people in the Gideon Putnam Hotel could leave the park.
"We had 300 people trapped inside the Gideon Putnam," Holliday said. "We needed to clear a path so that they could safely exit the park."
The historic Gideon Putnam Hotel was able to turn on its emergency power generator that provided lights and heat for people attending the Feb. 18 wedding. Power was returned to part of the park late on the morning of Feb. 18. The rest of the park buildings didn’t get electrical power until the afternoon of Feb. 19.
Holliday said his own state car was hit by a falling pine tree as he was approaching it during the height of the storm.
"The trees were creaking and groaning and smaller branches snapped off," Holliday said about the apex of the storm.
He slept in his chilly office (no power) in the park administration building Friday night (Feb. 17) and was back directing cleanup efforts on Saturday.
A handful of protestors staged a demonstration two weeks ago, asking the state not to cut down 18 tall pine trees along Avenue of Pines.
Holliday said all the trees cut down in the park — including the 18 — were damaged during the storm. Some trees began leaning over the roadways at a dangerous angle and others, weakened by woodpeckers, rot, and insects, snapped off at various heights during the wind storm.
Holliday said the only trees being removed are a threat to public safety.
"I’m devastated by this experience," Holliday said about the damage done to the Spa State Park.
"We have absolutely done the right thing here," he said about the removal of damaged trees. "And we found trees in a state that verified our decision."
Trees that appeared healthy on the outside with ample crowns of pine needles came down or started leaning dangerously because they were rotting and hollowed out by insects on the inside, he said.
Parks spokeswoman Jimenez said the trees cut down have been saved and piled up in the park so they can be sold as lumber wood.
"From the sale we will purchase new trees," Jimenez said.
Holliday said most of the trees that came down during the storm were white pines, but there were some red pines and some maple trees that were damaged.
"We have a considerable pile of logs," he said.
Back in 1994, when the Spa State Park was hit by a similar violent wind storm during the summer months, many trees were downed. The state was able to sell the wood from these for more than $20,000 and pump this money back into park improvements.
Holliday said he would like to use money earned on wood sales to plant "trees five to six feet tall that will make an impact when they grow."
"White pines grow very fast," Holliday said. He said such replacement trees — with a fourinch diameter trunk — often cost between $300 and $400 each.
"You work for two and one-half years trying to beautify the park and then see it, in an instant, turned to shambles," Holliday said about the storm and his tenure as regional manager.
The only building damaged by a falling tree was the repair shop building near the Gideon Putnam Hotel. The tree just punched some holes in the roof and didn’t damage the building’s frame, Holliday said.
About a half dozen cars suffered tree damage but only two sustained severe damage, park officials said.
A number of trees came down along the fairways of the park’s two golf courses.
Henzel, park maintenance chief, said he worked 15 straight days directing park cleanup. Holliday said he had to order Henzel to take some time off.
Henzel said his staff of 35 fulltime workers, including electricians, plumbers, and other trades people, have been working on the cleanup. Ten inmates from Mount McGregor state prison’s minimum-security "camp" section have also helped in cleanup work, he said.
"We are still evaluating and marking trees [damaged trees to be cut] but are getting to the end of the process," Henzel said. More work remains to be done but the park is starting to look as it did before the wind storm. "The crown jewel is shining once again," Holliday said. "We have been busy polishing it up."

COURTESY OF SPA STATE PARK DIRECTOR WARREN HOLLIDAY Trees beside the Gideon Putnam Hotel in Saratoga Spa State Park were among those toppled by February’s fierce windstorm.

BRUCE SQUIERS/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER A picnic table in Saratoga Spa State Park is framed by one of the hundreds of trees that fell in the February windstorm.

BRUCE SQUIERS/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER Stumps and tree debris from clearing operations in the State Park.

COURTESY OF SPA STATE PARK DIRECTOR WARREN HOLLIDAY The windstorm took a toll on this car parked in Saratoga Spa State Park in the vicinity of the Gideon Putnam Hotel.

3:31 PM

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SPAC forgives dance museum debt
MAE G. BANNER, For The Saratogian03/29/2006
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SARATOGA SPRINGS -- The Saratoga Performing Arts Center will forgive $1.2 million in debt owed to the organization by the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame, effective Dec. 31, 2005, according to William Dake, president of the SPAC Board of Directors.

Marcia White, president and executive director of SPAC, announced the decision to forgive the debt in a press release issued Tuesday afternoon. According to the release, the $1.2 million figure represents approximately 15 years of accumulated losses incurred by the museum and absorbed by SPAC.

White said that writing off the museum's debt will not affect SPAC's current operating budget or its projected surplus for 2006. According to Dake, 'When the two financial statements (that of SPAC and the dance museum) are combined, there is no change. It cleans up the dance museum's books and decreases the level of liability SPAC has for its operations. It's a win-win for both organizations.'

At an open meeting in November 2005, Dake spoke to the museum board and volunteers, calling the $1.2 million a 'paper debt.' He and White said at that time that SPAC would forgive the debt eventually based on the museum's performance as it works toward complete independence from SPAC.

The museum, supported by memberships, admissions, fundraising events and rental fees for private parties, has been losing about $120,000 to $150,000 each year. However, according to museum board president Nancy DiCresce, the museum has raised more than $20,000 in membership fees in the past four months and currently has $60,000 in the bank. 'We're way ahead of schedule (compared to projected assets) and money is already coming in for the fundraising gala, planned for Aug. 5,' DiCresce said.

The museum and SPAC are not yet formally separated, DiCresce said. 'They want to make sure we can stand on our own and have a strong financial basis.'

'These things never happen abruptly,' Dake said. 'There is always a transition period. We will always be working in conjunction with (the museum), providing help in accounting, maintenance and other services. We'll provide modest financial support.'

He added that he's impressed with the commitment of the museum's many volunteers, who have stepped forward to fill the gap after the museum board dismissed three of five staff members last fall in a cost-cutting measure.

Beth Hartle, acting director of the dance museum and the seventh person to head the museum since it opened in 1986, said she hoped the debt forgiveness would open the way for the museum to replenish its staff. Now, Hartle and administrative assistant Donna Galeoto are relying on volunteers to help manage a constantly expanding program of community events, such as dance demonstrations, workshops and the recent inauguration of famed Lindy Hopper Frankie Manning into the museum's new Dancers Hall of Fame, an adjunct to the original Hall of Fame that honors American dance pioneers from Isadora Duncan to Busby Berkeley.

Hartle is curating a new exhibition, 'Social Dances of the Iroquois,' that will open to the public on May 20, when the museum resumes full-time hours. 'This is a collaboration with the Iroquois Museum. It includes special outfits, instruments, videos and music and will tie in with the public schools' fourth-grade curriculum on Native American life,' Hartle said.

Hartle also plans to import an exhibit from the Lake George Historical Society on the career of a 1930s showboat dancer who lived in upstate New York and whose memorabilia include costumes, masks, posters and reviews.

The museum's current exhibition, on view through summer 2006, is 'Dancing Rebels: The New Dance Group, 1930s to 1950s,' which documents the lives and dances of this socially conscious collective of New York City dancers, who insisted that their dances should speak to ordinary people about issues that mattered to them.

This summer, for the first time since 2002, the museum will inaugurate new members into the Whitney Hall of Fame. In late July or early August, the public is invited to celebrate the inauguration of Arthur and Kathryn Murray, who popularized ballroom dancing in America with their footstep diagrams of the fox-trot and rumba and their nation-spanning franchised studios. 'We want to hold the inauguration around the time of our gala on Aug. 5 because we're planning some interesting tie-ins,' Hartle said.

In mid-August, the New Dance Group, whose living founders are now in their 80s or 90s and are still active teachers, coaches and choreographers, will be inaugurated into the Hall of Fame. Hartle expects some of these influential dancemakers to be in Saratoga Springs as guest faculty of the New York State Summer School of the Arts, School of Modern Dance, whose students will perform at the inauguration.

Volunteers are thrilled that SPAC has forgiven the museum's debt. Judy Fiore, a former student at the New Dance Group studios in Manhattan and a volunteer docent, said, 'Anything that will help the museum is very welcome. The less we have to worry about financial issues, the more we can concentrate on promoting the wonderful art of dance.'

Pat Peterson, co-founder of the Dance Alliance and a volunteer with the dance museum's bookstore, said, 'We're busy using the space, having lots of activities that bring people in and welcoming more volunteers. I sense that the museum is really coming to life again.'

©The Saratogian 2006

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SPAC forgives $1.2M dance museum debt

By STEVE BARNES, Senior writer
Click byline for more stories by writer.
First published: Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Saratoga Performing Arts Center will forgive more than $1 million in on-paper debt owed to it by the National Museum of Dance, a key step in the ongoing effort to make the subsidiary museum fully independent from the amphitheater.

Although the two organizations have separate staffs, boards of directors and financial books, SPAC has overseen management of the museum since 1991 and covered its annual deficits. By absolving the museum of the responsibility for repayment of its debt, now totaling $1.2 million, SPAC will make the museum more financially stable and better able to fundraise, according to officials from both organizations.

"The Dance Museum will be able to invest its resources toward positive goals and a more successful future for the organization, which is an objective that we all support," said Marcia White, SPAC's executive director and president.

Nancy Di Cresce, chairwoman of the museum's board, said, "It is clear that SPAC's board and president recognize the value of the museum's programming and realize the great potential of its future. They've done a great service to the museum and the community."

The two boards have been working since last year to sever operational ties. The museum's long-term debt to SPAC made the museum, located near SPAC in the Saratoga Spa State Park, an unlikely candidate for corporate and foundation grants, and it may never be in a position to pay off SPAC, officials have said.

White said releasing the museum from its debt will not affect SPAC's budget.

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Posted: 3/28/2006 6:02:00 AM

NYRA authorized by state of New York to offer cash rewards

The New York State Racing and Wagering Board ushered in a new era in pari-mutuel wagering in the state Tuesday when it authorized both the New York Racing Association and Capital District Regional Off-Track Betting to begin separate cash rewards programs for bettors on a one-year trial basis.

"This is a great day, not just for NYRA and its customers, but for purses, breeders, and the state of New York," NYRA Senior Vice President Bill Nader said.

The NYRA Rewards Program will begin May 3, when racing in New York shifts from Aqueduct to Belmont Park. The Capital District OTB Cash Reward Program is tentatively scheduled to begin April 28.

"It's been debated long enough," board member and former Chairman Mike Hoblock said. "I'm kind of anxious to see what the impact on the industry will be. There's no other way than to try it and see what happens."

NYRA Rewards Program players will receive one point for every dollar wagered on a race at one of the three NYRA tracks — Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga Race Course — and a half-point for every dollar wagered on a simulcast race within one calendar month.

No reward points will be given for any pari-mutuel payoff of $2.10.

The minimum number of points needed to earn a cash reward is 2,000, which will return a 1% cash reward for either win, place, and show wagers as well as two-horse multiple wagers or exotic wagers. A bettor earning 500,000 points would get a 3% cash reward for win, place, and show wagers, 4% for two-horse multiple wagers, and 7% for exotic wagers.

The first day of each month triggers a new point count, meaning points are not carried over from one month to the next.

Capital District OTB Cash Reward Program players will receive one point for each dollar wagered on Thoroughbred races in New York State, either at NYRA tracks or at Finger Lakes, and one-half point for every dollar wagered on Thoroughbred races outside of New York State or on harness races in New York State.

Just as with NYRA's program, the minimum number of points is 2,000, and the point count begins at zero on the first day of every new month.

There are minor differences between Capital District OTB and NYRA's rewards payments, but the minimum numbers for 2,000 points and for 500,000 points are exactly the same on win, place, and show bets as well as two-horse multiple and exotic wagers.

"The new cash reward program is a winner for all involved, our loyal patrons, the racetracks and breeders, and the taxpayers we represent," Capital District OTB President Mike Connery said.

The board's action was especially significant for NYRA. By allowing NYRA to offer cash rewards, the board has given NYRA the ability to compete with off-shore betting sites which offer them.

"I commend NYRA for doing something proactive," board Chairwoman Cheryl Buley said.

NYRA cut off its simulcast signal to ten off-shore and other sites 14 months ago and suffered a predictable loss of handle. The rewards program may induce customers that NYRA lost to return.

The board took its action despite a plea before its monthly meeting began from New York City Off-Track Vice President Ira Block, who questioned the board's authority to authorize cash rewards.

In concert with the NYRA Rewards Program, and as stipulated in the recent $25-million loan from the state to NYRA, the percentage of takeout on win/place/show bets will be increased from 14% to 15% beginning April 1.— Bill Heller