SPAC prepared for grand reopening
$2.1 million interior renovation includes new seats, painting, aisle lighting
BY TATIANA ZARNOWSKI Gazette Reporter At 89, Gerald Strait has seen a lot of big buildings go up, brick by brick and board by board. But what catches his attention when he visits the Saratoga Performing Arts Center now are the two trees that were supposed to be chopped down more than 40 years ago. Two huge pines south of the amphitheater’s south ramp were slated for removal when Strait, who lives in Poestenkill, supervised SPAC’s original construction in the 1960s. “Since they were so large, I didn’t see need for their removal,” he said. The trees are still growing near the amphitheater, “and I was the one that saved them,” he said. “They’re about the biggest pine trees in the whole park.” When SPAC was dedicated in 1966, Strait met then-Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller and his wife, Happy, and presented the state’s first lady with a dozen roses from the construction workers. As construction superintendent for the L.A. Swyer company, “I was the first construction worker on the job,” Strait said. He then had to hire foremen in carpentry, masonry and labor, while the electrical and plumbing work was done by subcontractors. Strait will join with others who had a role in getting SPAC off the ground at a reopening ceremony on Saturday that celebrates the completion of the center’s $2.1 million interior renovation. Founding SPAC members Marylou Whitney and Duane La Fleche, the Albany newspaper editor who inspired the project, both plan to attend the event. La Fleche had spotted a story on the wire that said Stowe, Vt., officials were trying to entice the New York Philharmonic to locate their summer home there. He wrote a column in the now defunct Knickerbocker News wondering why a New York orchestra had to look outside the state for a summer residence and suggested the state should locate a venue in Saratoga Springs, according to the SPAC Web site. The idea struck a chord with Saratoga and state officials, who began the effort to build what eventually came to be known as SPAC. The free Grand Re-Opening Celebration will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. and will feature backstage tours of the refurbished dressing and rehearsal rooms, strolling magicians and children’s entertainment, refreshments sold at 1960s prices and demonstrations by members of the New York City Ballet, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Lake George Opera. Renovations that have been under way since last fall and are now complete include 5,350 new padded seats throughout the theater, new canvas rain screens, acoustical sound panels, interior painting, drainage and walkway improvements and new aisle lighting. A couple rows of “premium” seats with extra padding will command higher prices — about $8 more than the other new seats, depending on the performance — although all of the chairs will be more comfortable than the metal ones they replaced, said SPAC spokeswoman Vesna Gjaja. Those improvements represent the second phase of a $10 million, multi-year rehabilitation plan. The first phase was completed in 2005. State Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, R-Brunswick, whose district includes Saratoga Springs, secured the funding for the fi rst phase and will attend Saturday’s event, along with Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco, RSchenectady, who also represents Saratoga Springs, and Carol Ash, commissioner of the state Offi ce of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. SPAC President and Executive Director Marcia White said she hopes the recent improvements will pave the way for another $2.1 million in funds to refurbish the amphitheater’s exterior, which is the project’s next phase.