Thursday, January 24, 2008

budget earmarks money for Saratoga Spa State Park

Budget earmarks money to fix parks
Spitzer's 2008-09 plan sets aside $110 million for Capital Region sites

By BRIAN NEARING, Staff writer
Click byline for more stories by writer.
First published: Thursday, January 24, 2008

ALBANY -- Chances are a Capital Region park near you will be repaired under a $110 million plan in Gov. Eliot Spitzer's 2008-09 budget.
Saratoga Spa, Moreau Lake, John Boyd Thacher, Grafton Lakes and Thompson's Lake state parks would be spruced up with everything from rebuilt swimming pools to new bathrooms.

At Saratoga Performing Arts Center about $2.5 million would be spent to renovate the amphitheater's exterior and access ramps, with another $1.1 million earmarked at the park for pool renovations, bike and pedestrian improvements along the Avenue of the Pines and Route 50, and repairs to roads and parking lots.

About $1.8 million is proposed at Moreau Lake park in northern Saratoga County to replace bathrooms, replace water and electrical lines, resurface roads, fix the bathhouse roof and improve the camper registration area.

In Albany County, Thacher Park would benefit from a $3 million pool rebuilding project, as well as another $500,000 set aside for water storage and supply improvements. At Thompson's Lake, $250,000 would be spent for a new septic system and water supply lines.

In Rensselaer County, about $700,000 would be set aside at Grafton Lakes for resurfacing the parking lot and building a new park police substation. At Cherry Plain, $250,000 would be set aside for new bathrooms.

At Peebles Island park, $2 million would be used to demolish an abandoned building, with another $350,000 proposed for bridge repairs.

In Schoharie County, about $800,000 would be spent toward strengthening the Erie Canal aqueduct at the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site in Fort Hunter.

In Johnstown, Fulton County, pathways, benches and landscaping would be improved at a cost of $170,000.

All Times Union materials copyright 1996-2008, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Botanical Garden for Spa?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Posted on Wed, Jan 16, 2008 Zoom + | Zoom -
Botanical garden proposed
Glass conservatory could grace Saratoga Spa State Park grounds

The Palm House, one of several greenhouses at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, is similar to the glass conservatory which would be part of a plan to bring a botanical garden to Saratoga Spa State Park. (Photo provided)
SARATOGA SPRINGS — From a world-class concert venue to the racetrack and natural springs, the Spa City has a lot to offer visitors. But what about a botanical garden?

That, too, could be added to the list of local attractions if a proposal made to Saratoga Spa State Park officials and other community leaders comes to fruition.

Brett Van Zandt, a Greenwich resident and administrator for not-for-profit organizations, is proposing a 40-acre garden that would include a glass-enclosed conservatory within walking distance of all the amenities of the state park. Van Zandt presented his idea to Saratoga Springs Rotary Club members earlier this month.

The project has been named “The Springs Botanical Garden.”

“The more people I talk to in the public, the more interested people become — on an organizational level, and even on a personal level,” Van Zandt said of the project’s momentum.

Van Zandt touts the value of a botanical garden as a family attraction and said the inspiration for the project came when he and his wife were talking about starting a family. “Being that we’re avid gardeners, we were talking about places we would take the kids, and we said we’d figure out where the botanical garden was, and take them there. Then we realized there wasn’t one in the area,” he said.

According to a Web site for the project, the gardens would incorporate perennial, annual, Japanese, water, European and American-style landscapes.

Van Zandt said he chose Saratoga Springs as the project’s location for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, he said, the city’s history of supporting other cultural institutions drew him here.

“We didn’t first think of the park, but conversations with business owners pointed to Spa State Park. We made phone calls and made it happen,” he said.

With the location chosen, Van Zandt now hopes to incorporate the local landscape, including a wetland in the southern section of the park.


Michael Greenslade, manager of the Spa Sate Park, said Monday he had seen the proposal, and it would be considered as a part of the park’s master plan, which state park authorities will be creating during the next year.

“I looked at it and thought it might be a nice idea, but I don’t know where it would fit,” Greenslade said. “We do have a lot of acreage here in the park.”

Saratoga Spa State Park sits on 2,379 acres between Routes 9 and 50.

Greenslade said the master plan would include a complete overview of the park and its facilities, which will determine in what direction the state wants to take the park.

Seemingly undeterred by the possibility that his proposal might not be welcomed by the state parks department, Van Zandt has used the Web site dedicated to the project to discuss possible benefits to the region.

“It will provide the most beautiful and inspiring public gardens within a 60- to 80-mile radius,” the Web site reads.

For more information on the proposed garden, visit, or call 281-2152.

Reach Andrew Bernstein at or 583-8729, ext. 219.

© 2007 The Saratogian - a Journal Register Property. All Rights reserved.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Dance Fever Continued

Dance fever at museum
Plan to honor John Travolta at site known for tradition raises dispute

By DENNIS YUSKO, Staff writer
Click byline for more stories by writer.
First published: Saturday, January 12, 2008

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Is the traditional -- and some say stodgy -- National Museum of Dance ready to transform into a modern-day Boogie Wonderland?
A recent decision by the museum's board of directors to offer actor John Travolta induction into a new wing, which honors dance and film, is causing a stir at the 22-year-old facility on South Broadway.

The controversial move is the brainchild of the board's chairwoman, Michele Riggi, who wants to modernize the museum's image and increase attendance. Critics say her decision-making ignores traditional protocol.

The clash of old ways and new ideas represents a changing focus and growing organizational problems at the museum, some say.

"The museum is primarily run by one person -- the chairwoman -- and she does things sometimes without board approval. They need to get an idea of where they are going," said Lauren Zoppa, who recently resigned her post as the museum's grant writer.

In the last six weeks, the museum has lost three of its five employees, including Zoppa and arts and programming manager Beth Hartle, who both resigned after parting ways with the board. Donna Galeoto, the museum's volunteer and gift shop manager, was laid off to save on costs.

Earlier this week, a debate broke out among museum officials over Riggi's decision to honor Travolta, whose title role of Tony Manero in the 1977 film "Saturday Night Fever" significantly helped to popularize disco dancing around the world, and made Travolta a household name.

But the decision is a symptom of a larger problem, according to Zoppa, who said she quit last month because "quite frankly, the board is out of touch."

Hartle echoed the differences.

"My vision for the museum and the board's vision didn't seem to be on the same pathway anymore," Hartle said Friday. "I think there's always, at least for me, a disconnect between business and the arts, and it's really hard to tie them together."

Riggi, a former child dancer who promised to "bring life back into the museum" when she became chairwoman in 2006, did not return phone calls requesting comment.

She instead e-mailed a statement, saying she's trying to increase the museum's public exposure by establishing a new wing called the Dancing and Film Hall of Fame, and including more mainstream modern-day celebrity dancers like Travolta.

"The Dancing and Film Hall of Fame is a new concept resulting from the growing need to increase attendance, develop new audiences and enhance membership," Riggi wrote. "The National Museum of Dance is in transition and the board of directors will be conducting a search for the new director of arts and programming."

The National Museum of Dance was established in 1986 at the spacious old 1918 Washington Bath House with a $750,000 cash infusion from Saratoga socialite Marylou Whitney and money from other donors. It contains photographs, videos, artifacts, costumes, biographies and more.

The wife of a wealthy entrepreneur, Riggi received support from John Hendrickson, Whitney's wife, who spoke in an interview from the couple's home in Florida.

"We think Michele is doing an excellent job," Hendrickson said. "She's breathing new life into it."

The museum, which receives about 6,000 visitors a year and started a school for young dancers, needs to evolve by honoring the living and not just the dead, Hendrickson said.

"Quite honestly, no one wants to see the tap shoes of Ginger Rodgers, and most people don't know who Ginger Rodgers is," he said.

Current museum inductees include Fred Astaire, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Martha Graham and Agnes de Mille. More modern-era stars include Bob Fosse and Alvin Ailey.

But Travolta is not the issue, said Judith Fiore, a member of the Hall of Fame's ad-hoc nominating committee.

"The issue is there was a process. And that process has not been adhered to," said Fiore, who said the decision to invite Travolta into its new wing was made without a recommendation from the committee.

She said she believes the board changed a system that worked well since the museum's inception.

In her statement, Riggi indicated that only the existing 38-member Hall of Fame is overseen by the nominating committee.

The museum is closed until Memorial Day. Travolta, who also starred in "Grease" in 1978, has yet to respond to its invitation.

Yusko can be reached at 581-8438 or by e-mail at

Friday, January 11, 2008

Dance Museum descends into chaos over John Travolta!

Controversies trip up Museum of Dance
Travolta induction rankles members of nomination committee

Staff resignations, a layoff and a debate about John Travolta’s induction into the Dance Hall of Fame have thrown the National Museum of Dance, once again, into chaos.
Michele Riggi, chairwoman of the board at the museum, said the museum is running on “a skeleton crew” after losing three of its five employees. This came at the same time that members of the Hall of Fame nominating committee expressed frustration with Riggi and the board for bypassing the process and inviting “Saturday Night Fever” star Travolta as the next Hall of Fame inductee.
Riggi invited Travolta to enter the Hall of Fame, joining dance luminaries like George Balanchine, Martha Graham, Isadora Duncan and Fred Astaire, last fall. Riggi said she would honor Travolta, as well as Ben Vereen and Tommy Tune, in what she calls the Dancers in Film, a new branch of the hall.
Judy Fiore, a member of the hall nominating committee, would not comment on Travolta’s worthiness to enter the hall. However, she was not happy that the committee was not consulted on Travolta.
“I can tell you that we were bypassed. I am definitely upset about that. I have been on the committee a long time,” said Fiore who is on the committee with other area dance advocates such as Pat Peterson and Mary Anne Fantauzzi. “As far as I understand the process, the committee makes the nominations. This goes back to the beginning of the museum. John Travolta is not the issue. The process is.”
Riggi said since the executive board agreed that Travolta should be in the Hall of Fame, she took it upon herself to invite him. Travolta has yet to respond to the invitation. However, Vereen, known for his work on Broadway and in the miniseries “Roots,” has accepted a place in the hall.
“You know they call the museum the ‘Dead Museum.’ I’m trying to make the museum alive. I want to induct people who are living. John Travolta would bring in excitement. He would bring revenue into Saratoga. He is a dancer. The board said ‘yes, let’s do it.’ So I did it,” Riggi said.
Besides, she added, the Dancers in Film Hall, which is to be located opposite the original hall of fame, does not yet have a nominating committee as it is new.
In addition to the Travolta controversy, staff reductions are affecting the museum.
Donna Galeoto, who managed the volunteers and gift shop, was laid off as a cost-cutting measure. The resignations of arts and programming manager Beth Hartle and grant writer Lauren Zoppa followed.
Hartle, who took over at the museum in fall 2005 when Garrett Smith quit, said she resigned in December because “It was time for me to do something new.”
“The fact is the museum is demanding. I learned a lot. I just knew it was time,” she said.
Riggi said that she felt Hartle “didn’t want to be questioned on things she was doing.” Still, she said, “When Beth left, I was blown away. I had no idea. I’m Italian. We can disagree. But then it’s over. I still love you. I just bought Beth a wedding gift. I love Beth. When she left, I was so shocked. She did a wonderful job. I hope the best for her.”
As for Zoppa, Riggi said, “She was there for a year and didn’t bring in one grant. We had to reevaluate what was going on there. That’s my job.”
Zoppa, who worked two days a week for the past year, said that is not true. She said she secured three grants, and two more were pending, when she left.
“The primary reason I left was I had difficulty with the board,” said Zoppa. “I didn’t think they were acting in the best interest of the museum. I would give them monthly reports, they didn’t read them. It was frustrating. And their priorities were changing on a weekly basis. But it was difficult for me to leave because the museum has tremendous potential.”
The museum, which is usually open on weekends in the winter and spring, is now closed until Memorial Day. Two employees remain, administrative assistant Lindsay Kiddle and rentals manager Jo Ambrosio. Raul Martinez took over teaching for Hartle at the museum’s School of Arts. The museum, a program of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, is interviewing candidates to replace Hartle.
Riggi said they are not looking for people with museum experience.
“We don’t have the proper lighting and air to protect things in the museum. I think it would be diffi - cult to get people in here because the museum is not Smithsonian quality,” said Riggi.
The state of flux is nothing new for the museum. Since its opening in 1986, nearly all the directors
have either been fired or resigned because they were at odds with the board or SPAC administration. Just two years ago, most its staff was laid off. Its remaining director and board president resigned in unison just months later.
“This seems to be the pattern for the museum,” said Zoppa. “We were hoping it won’t happen again, but it did.”

$4M in upgrades awaits Legislative approval for Saratoga Spa State Park

Friday, January 11, 2008
Posted on Thu, Jan 10, 2008
Zoom + Zoom -
Local state parks targeted for $4M in upgrades
By PAUL POST, The Saratogian

SARATOGA SPRINGS — More than $4 million worth of local upgrades are planned if the Legislature approves Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposal to revitalize state parks.
Spitzer, in Wednesday’s State of the State Address, proposed spending $100 million to improve aging infrastructure and facilities along with new development projects.
Officials have already prepared a long list of items for Saratoga Spa State Park such as paving, building repairs, restroom upgrades, dam rehabilitation and restoring Avenue of the Pines.
“None of these projects have been approved,” said Robert D. Kuhn, the Saratoga-Capital Region’s assistant director. “This will be a multi-year effort to bring parks up to where they should be. Until the (state) budget gets adopted we don’t know how that will ultimately come out.
“For many years now the parks have been underfunded.”
Parks Commissioner Carol Ash has directed staff statewide to identify needs within the system, which has been going on for several months.
“That $100 million is not a number that was plucked out of thin air,” Kuhn said. “It’s really to address all of the deferred maintenance that’s occurred over the years. A lot of parks are aging out at the same time.
“This whole initiative is about meeting basic infrastructure needs; to fix what’s broken.”
Spa State Park’s “wish list” includes a $1 million golf course irrigation system upgrade and $750,000 to bring dams at Geyser and Coesa ponds up to code. Three separate projects would cost $500,000 each. They are:
ä Restore rest rooms throughout the park.

ä Pave Avenue of the Pines bike path, plant new trees.
ä Pave Roosevelt Drive and various picnic area parking lots.
“There hasn’t been any paving done here in 10 years,” Kuhn said.
Saratoga Springs is in Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno’s district, the state’s highest-ranking Republican.
“While we will have to wait to see the governor's Executive Budget, Senator Bruno has been a strong supporter of investing in our state parks, especially at Saratoga Spa State Park,” spokesman Scott Reif said.
At Moreau Lake State Park, about $1.5 million would be spent for paving campground drives, creating a new entrance and building a right-hand turn lane for people entering the park off Old Saratoga Road. This would hopefully alleviate congestion when cars stack up, waiting to get in. Electric service would also be upgraded and rest rooms improved, making them handicapped-accessible.
If and when funding becomes available, priority will be given health and safety issues first, Kuhn said.
The parks system also maintains a state boat launch at Saratoga Lake where plans call for installing a $100,000 sewage pump-out station.
Peebles Island State Park is in Waterford at the southern tip of Saratoga County. That facility would get $900,000 worth of improvements.
There are 10 state parks and 10 historic sites in the Saratoga-Capital Region that stretches from southern Greene and Schoharie counties to Crown Point in Essex County. The region reaches west to Fulton and Montgomery counties and east to the Vermont border.
Technically, Grant Cottage in Wilton is a state historic site, but it’s primarily maintained by a non-profit group, Friends of Grant Cottage.
Grafton Lakes in Rensselaer County and Thacher Park in the Helderbergs are among the region’s other large parks. With 25 miles of trails, Grafton Lakes gets considerable winter use and has a WinterFest scheduled for Jan. 26. Plans there call for a $1 million upgrade to dams and spillways along with improvements to day-use picnic grounds and a popular beach area.
Thacher Park’s large pool was demolished last fall. Built in the 1950s, it had leaks that couldn’t be repaired. Separate from Spitzer’s new initiative, $3 million has already been approved for a new pool that should open in 2009 or 2010.
The state wants to incorporate some type of environmental stewardship project at each park, Kuhn said. At Spa State Park, land bordering Route 9 would be enhanced to promote habitat for the endangered Karner blue butterfly. At Moreau Lake, a management plan would be developed to deal with invasive species in the lake and Mud Pond, also within the park’s boundaries.
Environmental groups such as Adirondack Council have hailed Spitzer’s plan as a much-needed proposal.
“The Adirondack Park has about a dozen state-run campgrounds,” spokesman John Sheehan said. “Many state campgrounds and park buildings are causing water pollution in nearby lakes and rivers due to aging and inadequate facilities.”

© 2007 The Saratogian - a Journal Register Property. All Rights reserved.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Will Saratoga Spa State Park get help at last?

Governor’s State of the State address holds exciting news for New York’s parks and trails
Governor Spitzer’s State of the State address today included a major initiative for New York’s parks, plus an exciting trail project.
The Governor committed to a $100 million capital program for state parks this year – hopefully the first installment of a larger park reinvestment effort over the next few years.
Parks & Trails New York applauds the Governor for his vision and commitment to restoring New York’s magnificent state park system. We are gratified that our advocacy efforts over the last year, which began with publication of our landmark report, Parks at a Turning Point, have resulted in this great leap towards a brighter future for New York’s parks.
New York’s state park system is near to crisis condition, the result of many years of underfunding and deferred maintenance. Over the past 15 years, 29 new parks were added to the system, for a total of 178 parks and 325,000 acres, yet the park agency’s capital budget today, adjusted for inflation, is half what it was in 1992. The result is 750 urgent capital projects totaling $650 million.
In his address, the Governor also committed to supporting the Walkway over the Hudson – a visionary project to convert the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge over the Hudson River into a pedestrian and bicycle path that will offer breathtaking views. The Governor’s inclusion of the Walkway is a clear recognition of the importance of trails to the state’s economy and quality of life and a welcome validation of our work in helping communities develop these resources.
Parks & Trails New York pledges to work with the Governor and the Legislature to ensure that the funding for these initiatives is included in the final state budget and that this is but the first phase of a multi-year reinvestment plan for our parks.
Read more of Parks & Trails New York’s response to the State of the State.
Let the Governor know that parks and trails are important to you and that you support the initiatives put forth in the State of the State.
Support Parks & Trails New York’s Campaign for Parks.
Please pass this alert on to others who care about parks & trails in New York
Parks & Trails New York29 Elk Street, Albany, N.Y. 12207518-434-1583
Website Email
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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Master Plan for Saratoga Spa State Park to be developed

Officials seek to chart park
Published: Wednesday, January 02, 2008
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To order copies of staff-produced photos from The Post-Star, please visit
dkerr@poststar.comSARATOGA SPRINGS -- Officials are hoping to cast a long-term vision for the 2,800-acre Saratoga Spa State Park, an endeavor they think will embolden efforts to secure funding for one of the region's historic gems.Efforts to create a comprehensive master plan -- the park's first -- will begin this year, charting the park's course for the next 20 years, said Robert Kuhn, assistant director of the Saratoga-Capital District Region of the state park system.The park is one of just 11 -- among 213 parks statewide -- that is taking up the planning effort in the near future, according to the New York State Council of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
The plan will address facility needs and identify aspects of the park that could be enhanced. Exact plans haven't been devised, but ideas include adding more tennis courts,expanding the trail system and allowing camping, Kuhn said.Putting the priorities on paper, and attaching dollar amounts to them, will make selling state leaders on the ideas easier, he added."You can't go ask for money until you know what you want to spend that money on," Kuhn said in an interview this week. "That plan will become the backbone of any budget request you make."A committee will likely be formed to help draft the plan, and input from the public will also be invited, Kuhn said."This isn't just about our ideas, but the public's ideas too," Kuhn said.
Louise Goldstein and Andrew Jennings, co-founders of the Save the Victorian Pool Society, said they hope to be a part of that planning process.The Save the Victorian Pool Society is a local group that advocates on behalf of the pool, which is located in the Spa State Park."People have no idea what great American history is out there," Goldstein said.Jennings also said it would be important for efforts to "not just look at cosmetics but some real historic preservation."The planning is part of a new initiative to plot the course of parks across the Empire State, said Eileen Larrabee, a spokeswoman for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
"It helps us respond to the community's interest and makes sure that we are providing the services New Yorkers want," she said Friday. "For whatever reason, there has been a lack of planning in the past. But, to be efficient and effective, we need to plan."With a $650 million backlog for infrastructure improvements among all of the state's parks, Larrabee also said the plan will be an asset to park advocates in making their pitches for financial support."It does give you that sort of backup as you talk to legislators and the private sector for resources," she said. "We know these parks play a role in economic development, so we're hoping this will help in our efforts."Meanwhile, management of the 72-year-old Gideon Putnam Resort and Spa, a luxury hotel and National Historic Landmark in the park, changed hands as of Tuesday.The formal agreement between the state and Delaware North has yet to be signed off on by the state's comptroller and attorney general as required, but an interim agreement allows the company to take over for the beginning of 2008, regardless.
The company, which also manages hospitality and video lottery terminals at the Saratoga Gaming and Raceway, is planning significant upgrades to the hotel and the Roosevelt Bathhouse.A slight but significant change in the works is the addition of a pair of water heaters at the bathhouse. With the heaters, warm baths of pure mineral water can be offered for the first time in decades.There was something of a controversy in 2007 when the bathhouse admitted to using tap water to help warm the baths.In 2007, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, a park tenant, also underwent its first major restoration since opening in 1966. The venue received new seats, improved lighting and a refurbished back stage.The $2 million restoration project is part of an overall $10 million campaign to renovate the facility, which only a few years ago went through a period of financial uncertainty.
Improvements to the 40-year-old concert venue's facade, however, will not be taken up in the coming construction season as hoped, because funding from the state fell through.Larrabee said she hopes state legislators, when they reconvene later this month, will make the improvements a part of their budget discussion.Officials do intend to pursue renovations at SPAC's bathrooms during the coming construction season, however.