Thursday, August 27, 2009

Master Plan update for Saratoga Spa State Park, funding uncertain is the key question??

A new vision for Spa State Park
Dog park, trail upgrades among renovations in plan; funding uncertain

By DENNIS YUSKO, Staff writer
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First published: Thursday, August 27, 2009

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Saratoga Spa State Park would get a visitors center near its entrance, a "Frisbee golf" course and new trail loops under a master plan released Wednesday by state leaders. A second traditional golf course and botanical garden didn't make the cut.
The 144-page vision for the 2,500-acre park also calls for improvements to the park's bath houses, mineral springs, pools, dog park and more that would cost tens of millions of dollars over the next 10 to 15 years.

The work is necessary because the park's infrastructure is "showing the effects of an extended period of deferred maintenance resulting from insufficient financial resources." But a lot of Wednesday's recommendations still face uncertainty due to costs.

"Some actions will be undertaken in the next one to three years; many others will be implemented further in the future if and when funding becomes available," the plan from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation states. Some projects depend on private support.

Dubbed the "jewel of the state system," the Saratoga park is a year-round recreational and cultural tourist attraction that is filled with theaters, museums and several aging, historic buildings. But there presently is no way for visitors to orient themselves within the park, said Alane Ball Chinian, regional director of state parks in the Saratoga-Capital District Region.

With minor renovations, the lobby of the park's Lincoln Bathhouse on Route 9 would be turned into a mineral waters museum and visitor center under the master plan. Also, the park's administrative offices would be moved into the property's Roosevelt bath house, which requires rehabilitation.

The plan also calls for repairing other structures in the park. Last year, the state held public meetings to solicit ideas on improving the park. While the plan omits a new 18-hole golf course, it includes a 9-hole disc course around the Peerless Pool, which some residents had requested.

The game involves throwing a flying disc, such as a Frisbee, at a target. Improvements also would be made to the Peerless and Victoria pools, but a botanical garden would not be built because it is "not in keeping with the goals of the park."

A new comprehensive trail system with signs is suggested, along with a fenced-in area for dogs in the east part of the park.

Renovations to Saratoga Performing Arts Center would include replacing tent concessions with permanent structures, increasing parking in SPAC lots by removing vegetation and creating a substantial non-smoking area for patrons.

The park also would get new pavilions, softball fields, asphalt tennis courts and more.

Dennis Yusko can be reached at 454-5353 or by e-mail at

Hearing scheduled

The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation prepared a draft environmental review of the Saratoga Spa State Park master plan. A public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. Sept. 17 in the park's Gideon Putnam Hotel. Members of the public have until Oct. 9 to submit comments.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

posted at times, saratoga seen blog, 8/26/09-peerless pool should not be closed on 'DARK"tuesdays as we predicted.

The crowd at Victoria Pool, Saratoga Spa State Park, Tuesday afternoon.
I finally made it to Victoria Pool yesterday on a rare day off during the week. I should have planned better. My husband and I arrived around 1 p.m. On our way in, an angry woman was on her way out, disappointed the place was packed and even though she said there was no where to sit, the staff didn’t refund the $8 per person admission charge. There were dozens of children there because the Peerless Pool is closed on Tuesday, but nonetheless there was a sign at the entrance advertising Peerless as “a pool more oriented toward children.” The truth is, the state closed Peerless one day a week for budget reasons and chose Tuesday because it was the day of the week with the lightest crowd. I haven’t seen numbers on that, but it defies common sense in August when the track is closed on Tuesdays.

Inside, the pool deck looked like the SPAC lawn at a popular rock concert. We squeezed our towels onto a step of the concrete stairs and went swimming. Two lifeguards, both stationed on the same side of the pool, made half-hearted attempts to keep children off the mid-pool rope and off each other’s shoulders, but nothing to stop kids from doing cannonballs into the water.

After a brief swim, we ate at the restaurant/bar. The food was mediocre and the waitress was harried but sweet. Two sandwiches, two beers and an ice tea: $33. We did not have to wait for a table and it was nice to sit and watch the people. I cannot begin to imagine what the place is like during the week, even with Peerless open. I wouldn’t go near it.

Let this be a cautionary tale to you. Victoria Pool is beautiful, but if you’re going to go, plan to get in line when it opens at 10 a.m. , or not at all during Travers Week when our tourist load is at its height. The pool is open 7 days a week, 10-6.

Or, get in your car and leave the crowds behind. A friend of mine with two small children swears by the Wayside Beach on Lake Luzerne, where admission is free.

Posted in Around town |
1 Comment »
1. Closing Peerless on Tuesdays is very stupid indeed. Many people who would go to the track bring their kids to Peerless instead!
2. Children under (pick an age, 12? 13?) should not be allowed into Victoria at all. In the old days (for me, 70s, 80s) children at Victoria were a rarity. Everyone seemed to intuit that the place was mostly concrete, and had an adult atmosphere.
3. All Saratogians know that if you want to grab a coveted “chaise,” you had to get there by 10! (do they still have the rattan chaises there?)

Comment by Mr. Sunshine — August 26th, 2009 @ 4:52 pm

Why isn't Live Nation providing more security for SPAC concerts instead of taxpayers footing so much of the bill with Park Police?

Park police patrols pinched
Union says budget cuts to academy classes will hurt state parks security

By DENNIS YUSKO, Staff writer
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First published: Wednesday, August 26, 2009

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Security at state parks will suffer if state leaders again cut an academy class that trains state park police recruits, officials and union members say.
The number of officers patrolling the state's 178 parks and 35 historic sites declined to 268 from 305 last year after the state canceled the fall 2008 training course during budget talks. While the number of cops for the Capital Region's six state parks remained at 18, the state force is at its lowest since going to all full-time officers in 2003, meaning the region has a smaller pool of officers to draw from for its big park concerts and attractions.

The governor's office says no determination has been made on funding this year's academy class.

Tuesday was a particularly busy day for park police, which drew from its ranks across the state to staff the Bruce Springsteen concert at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and the Blink-182 concert in Jones Beach State Park on Long Island. The only way to police big shows is by moving officers from the western part of the state, State Park Police Chief Richard O'Donnell said before Tuesday's shows. There are 65 officers assigned to Long Island, down from 77 last year.

Union officials have protested low staffing and more this summer. But even park police brass say providing security is becoming "challenging," and will get a lot harder without a 2009 academy.

"It's a critical item for us because we have a significant rate of attrition, and it's important to get the numbers back up to where they were," O'Donnell said. "We need the staff to provide the service requested."

Cutting the recruit course saved the state about $500,000, parks officials said. It was the first time the class was canceled since 2000.

Park police respond to emergencies, make arrests and investigate incidents at venues as varied as Grafton Lakes State Park and Niagara Falls. Officers earn about $46,000 after a year on the job.

Park police staffing has declined from about 500 officers in 2003, creating a "crisis" and threatening "the safety of our officers and the general public," Don Levarge, vice president of the park police officers union, said Monday.

He recently picketed work conditions in front of SPAC. He and other union members have protested what they say is dangerously low staffing for rowdy rock concerts in state park venues, and have called for Tasers, the closing of the SPAC beer garden and smaller audiences.

A five-day work schedule instituted by the state last year caused many officers to leave because their former four-day, 10-hour week allowed them time with their families, he said.

State Sen. Roy McDonald, R-Saratoga, said in an interview that he would fight to maintain this year's academy.

Dennis Yusko can be reached at 454-5353 or by e-mail at

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"Ah, Saratoga", Times Union, 8/17/09

Ah, Saratoga…
August 17, 2009 at 5:32 pm by Robert Bullock
For us Saratoga residents, there is not just one phase to our summer season, there are many.

As the summer begins, there is the early season. Kids have just finished school. People are still in their respective homes. Ballet is about to begin and we are looking forward to evenings on the SPAC lawn. Folks have arrived from central and South America for polo. Overall, the energy is still manageable. We residents still own the town.

As the ballet concludes and the race meet gets ready to begin, the energy changes. The mood is now frenetic. Many neighbors head for vacation homes and give their houses up to renters. Traffic on Broadway gets more than a little crazy and the parking lots fill with downstate and out of state plates.

Unquestionably, the first day of racing signals the time when the town is no longer our own. Summer residents demand what they believe to be their rights. Yet, despite this tug of war that exists between the summer people and us year-rounders, we Saratoga residents take a certain pride in the fact that our city is a destination for the world’s elite.

For the first two weeks of the meet the energy builds, then pauses as we prepare for the Travers. Travers weekend is like opening day all over again. And despite the fact that we locals have been known to negatively reflect upon our inconvenience, secretly Saratogians take pride in complaining about the days when SPAC and the Race Course bring 80,000 plus to town. We give a knowing wink to restauranteurs as we walk by crowded entrances, knowing that just two weeks hence we will have them all to ourselves again.

Ironically, during the last week after the Travers, while we are delighted that the crush is almost over, we are also sad. Indeed, on Labor Day, as we watch the desperate race to load up the moving vans at the track and head for Belmont, we lament the fact that the circus is over again for another year.

As we point toward our last three weeks of summer, let’s enjoy the insane traffic, the crowded restaurants, the too hot days at the Race Course, the endless afternoons at the Victoria Pool, beautiful mornings on the golf course, the wondrous nights at polo, and the last evenings of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Isn’t this all -the good and the bad- what make Saratoga, Saratoga?

Posted in General |

Monday, August 17, 2009

Saratoga is Exciting from

Pool Sitting, Spinning and Hunch Playing
16 Aug 2009 11:26 PM0 CommentsOn hot, sunny Saratoga Sundays, it's easier to get a seat in the Clubhouse than a lounge chair at the Victoria Pool. Saratoga Spa State Park is one of the treasures of the region and the pool, Olympic in size and grand in providing visitors the feelings of luxury and history, gets jam-packed before 9 am. They say Bing Crosby and Sophie Tucker used to sunbathe there and, in more recent years, Cyndi Lauper and Liza Minnelli. But today the person that causes the most curiosity is a man in a two-piece bikini.

In addition to the Victoria Pool, the park hosts the Peerless Pool, the Roosevelt Baths, the Gideon Putnam hotel, a small opera house, 27 holes of golf, the Hall of Springs restaurant, an automobile museum (which this weekend featured Airstreams) and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, or SPAC as everyone seems to call it. Parking lots opened at 4:30 am to accommodate early arrivers for the Phish concert at SPAC. There's no truth to the rumor that Catherine's on the Park, the restaurant and bar that adjoins the pool and the golf course, will be serving mushroom specials.

Despite the competition from these diversions, the racetrack was packed again.

It was free tee-shirt day and the lines of spinners began forming well before the racetrack opened officially. Giveaways boost attendance about 30,000 people - at least that's the count which results from the turnstiles. This year's shirt, a dandy gray one that featured the trademark Saratoga logo in black type with red accents, is more than useful. It's fly.

Good weather continues to bless NYRA. But anyone who believes Mother Nature has provided the sole reason for attendance increases is short-changing the job track officials have done. In particular, the promotions department continues to crank out promotions that are imaginative and broadly-appealing. The communications staff is turning out news releases faster than they can be read, causing an army of visiting press to report on even the most inane developments. Above all, however, the racing has been exceptional.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Danny is our hero and the Sheikh rocks at the horse sales.

He keeps Spa park in bloom
Gardener at Saratoga Spa State Park has been putting his touch on park's entrance

By LEIGH HORNBECK, Staff writer
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First published: Thursday, August 13, 2009

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Dan Urkevich, the gardener at the Saratoga Spa State Park, first turned a barren entrance to the park into a bountiful garden in 2000.
Under Urkevich's fastidious care, the beds to the left and right of the Route 9 entrance to the Avenue of the Pines have tripled in size since then.

"I look for tall, eye-catching plants you can see from the road," said the 50-year-old Mechanicville native who works for the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Urkevich says he chooses low-maintenance, invasive plants that will spread on their own for the garden, which contains about 70 percent perennials and 30 percent annuals.

You won't see Geraniums or many Petunias in Urkevich's beds because the old blooms on those plants must be pinched off in order for new flowers to bloom. Instead, the flower beds next to the avenue are filled with such specimens as bright yellow Heliopsis, lavender joe pye weed, tall purple Cleome and Veronica flowers, and the huge green leaves of elephant ear plants.

Urkevich works with Sunnyside Gardens in Saratoga Springs to try new things and grow bigger-than-average annuals, like the Salvia and Impatiens that line the road-side border of the beds. He also brings plants from home, including barrel-sized thickets of iris. Although the state park employs seasonal workers who cut the grass, Urkevich mows the grass around the beds himself.

Over years of gardening both at work and at home, he's learned what plants work best -- the ornamental grasses are pretty even in the fall as they change colors; the red bee balm has a stronger stem than the pink variation, so it will stand up to wind and rain; sedum, which looks like broccoli now, will turn pink in the fall -- hence the name of the variation Urkevich chose, "autumn joy."

Although Urkevich maintains a garden at home, much of his energy is channeled into the upkeep of the beds at the state park. He also plants beds in the medians on Route 9 near the park entrances, around toll booths in the park and at the Victoria Pool. In the winter he plows and does other maintenance work around the park.

The gardens draw visitors other than human admirers: honey bees, butterflies and finches. Urkevich also fights four-legged intruders such as woodchucks, chipmunks and voles that feast in the gardens. Voles destroyed the sunflowers this year, Urkevich said. However, he's humane toward the critters: the woodchucks he traps in cages and relocates to other parts of the state park.

The heavy rains this summer took a toll on the gardens, pushing apart flower stalks and driving holes in hosta leaves. But only the gardener's careful eye picks out the damage. For the passerby, the view is a bright welcome to the southern end of Saratoga Springs.

Leigh Hornbeck can be reached at 454-5352 or by e-mail at

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Royalty reigns at sales
Sheik leads buyers at Fasig-Tipton with $11.9M

By DENNIS YUSKO, Staff writer
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First published: Wednesday, August 12, 2009

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Chuck Simon found himself shopping yearlings Tuesday next to one of the wealthiest men in the world, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
The horse trainer from Saratoga Springs and his wife, Paula, stood in a freshly framed, new outdoor pavilion about five feet from the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates/ruler of Dubai during the final night of the Fasig-Tipton Selected Yearlings auction.

Both men admired the animals on their way to the auction block. Both were looking for strong bloodlines. Only one was definitely buying. Only Sheikh Mohammed spent $2.8 million, the auction's highest price, on a single horse Tuesday, bringing his total for the two-day event to nearly $12 million spent.

"We don't usually play at this level," Simon acknowledged.

No buyers this year were on the level of Sheikh Mohammed, who made his first visit to the city in more than decade to shop horses and inspect his 106-acre Greentree Training Center horse farm at 36 Nelson Ave.

The "CEO of Dubai Inc." is a big horse buyer and breeder with an estimated worth of more than $12 billion, according to He bought Greentree two years ago for $17.5 million, and many believe he's the force behind a Dubai company's purchase of Fasig-Tipton, a Kentucky-based horse auction company, last year.

Millions in renovations were made to the East Avenue facility, with more to come. The work seemed to please His Highness. After scoping the main pavilion's art offerings, he walked through hundreds of people in the property's backyard with several bodyguards and his bloodstock agent, John Ferguson, stopping to sign autographs. Asked by a reporter how he liked Saratoga, the sheik said, "very much" and gave a thumbs-up sign. He later returned and said, "I love it here."

Ferguson on Tuesday purchased six yearlings for nearly $6.4 million, including $2.8 million for a colt sired by Storm Cat named On A Storm. Those purchases came after Ferguson bought six horses for $5.5 million on Monday, including all three yearlings that sold for more than $1 million that night.

Fasig-Tipton employees said Sheikh Mohammed's purchases helped boost this year's auction totals well above last year's. Figures were up in all categories.

The average price paid for a yearling at this year's sale was $328,434, compared with $295,738 last year. The sale generated more than $52 million in total sales vs. $36 million in 2008. A total of 160 horses sold and 45 did not, compared with 122 and 42 last year.

Dennis Yusko can be reached at 454-5353 or

2009 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Selected Yearlings Sale

Number of horses that went on the block: 160

Total amount sold: $52,549,500

Number that didn't sell: 45

Average sale: $328,434

Top dollar horse: $2.8 million

Horses sold for more than $1 million: 4

Source: Fasig-Tipton

Sunday, August 09, 2009

lovely saratoga article in, escape section, on fri,8/7/09

Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

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The Waters of Saratoga Springs
Saratoga Springs, N.Y. WE came for the waters because, after all, that’s what made the town famous.

Discovering, and then splashing in, mineral baths had been a favorite sport of our family during years spent living in Europe. So we came to Saratoga Springs, not three hours away from New York City, with the distinct purpose of investigating the ways we could sample the waters.

We ended up splashing, soaking and sipping — but we also absorbed the intriguingly melancholy air of a health-giving resort for the masses that had been rendered obsolete.

A minor setback came when we learned that the only operating mineral spa on the grounds of Saratoga Spa State Park, home of a once-mighty baths complex dating back to the New Deal era, did not accept children under 16, thus leaving out half the clan.

So we made our first approach at the park’s Victoria Pool, reachable through entrances off of Route 50 and Route 9 just on the edge of town. The park itself, with a main drive lined by towering pines, is a complex of graceful, low-slung brick architecture, sweeps of manicured lawns, woods with walking trails and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

The Victoria Pool, the nation’s first heated pool (but no longer heated), is surrounded by arcaded brick galleries, landscaped flowerbeds and hedges. A bar and restaurant occupy one part of the slate deck, where there were plenty of lounge chairs. Opened in 1935 and renovated about five years ago, the pool costs $8 for an adult and $4 for a child.

The park’s other pool, the Peerless, costs $6 a car load and $2 for an adult and $1 for a child. Larger and shallower, it is a no-frills pool but has a terrific water slide. After the pool visits we stopped by the Roosevelt Baths. Appointments were necessary. The only ones available were late the next day or 9:15 a.m., which we took. My wife and I drove back for a soak, taking part in a ritual with long-ago origins.

Saratoga’s springs had been known to the area’s Indians for centuries when the first Europeans sampled the waters in the late 18th century. Within several decades the earliest resorts appeared, and in the years just after the Civil War, Saratoga Springs became one of the most favored tourist destinations in the country.

In the 1930s federal relief money helped build the complex of bathhouses named Roosevelt and Lincoln. (Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had polio, had a special interest in the springs.) Two symmetrical arcade buildings face each other in the heart of the park, with a reflecting pool in the middle surrounded by a lawn. One used to be the Hall of Springs, where people would flock to take curative sips of mineral water. The other housed a laboratory. Modern medicine, of course, killed the spa regime as a treatment for illness, and the lawn was empty the day we were there except for joggers and dog walkers. Science had silenced this place.

Now most of the buildings have been turned into something else: offices, a banquet hall, a dance museum. Many are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. One wing of the Roosevelt bathhouse still functions, operated by the Gideon Putnam Resort.

It was at the bathhouse that we signed up for a 40-minute soak, at a cost of $25. (The spa also offers a long list of therapies, massages and treatments.) The attendant, Jess, collected us and brought us along corridors with the original tiles to our rooms — each with a massage table and the original built-in tub. The water was a murky rust color, the room the size of a small bedroom in a Manhattan apartment. Jess assured me that she scrubbed the tub and refilled it for every customer.

Since Saratoga’s mineral water is cold, about half of the tub was filled with hot tap water (two tubs of heated pure mineral water were available but booked). A dim light filtered through the window. The reflection of water rippled on the tile wall as I slid in. Bubbles from the slightly carbonated water detonated daintily on the surface.

I couldn’t resist sipping the liquid. It was surprisingly sweet but also tangy. A fact sheet listed 16 substances in the water. The largest concentrations were of bicarbonate, chloride, sodium, calcium, potassium and magnesium. Soon Jess had knocked on the door and left a towel and bathrobe outside. I don’t know if I was cured of anything, but a sense of calm filled my bones.

Later that day we met with Rebecca Mullins, a park naturalist, for a tour of some of the park’s 10 springs. (Tour schedules are available on the park’s Web site, Some spouted upward, others poured out from fixtures. Each had its own taste, ranging from the State Seal spring, which was sweet like “melted snow,” in Ms. Mullins’s words, to the pungent Hayes Spring, a salty carbonated water.

At the State Seal people filled up gallon jugs to bring home. (There is no fee.) Ms. Mullins said some of the springs, particularly the Orenda, with its high iron content, attracted people who drank from it for health reasons. At the Hayes Spring four slightly guilty looking teenagers lingered around a carbon-dioxide exhaust valve near the spigot. Local lore has it that sucking in the vapor produces a buzz. The result, instead, is nothing more than a headache.

Along with the springs, pools and baths, one of our best water experiences came in the hotel, the otherwise mediocre Inn at Saratoga, which calls itself the oldest operating hotel in town (from 1843). I chose it because it had suites available for $200 a night, saving us the cost of booking two rooms.

Our suite had not only a whirlpool bath but also a steam shower. For our children they were worthy substitutes for the hot baths.



Rates are significantly higher during racing season in late summer.

The Adelphi Hotel (365 Broadway; 518-587-4688, is the grande dame of Saratoga Springs.

The Saratoga Arms (497 Broadway; 518-584-1775, has a terrific front porch.


Hattie’s Restaurant (45 Phila Street; 518-584-4790, serves dinner nightly, 5 to 10 p.m. Southern and Louisiana cooking since 1938. About $50 for two.

Ravenous (21 Phila Street; 518-581-0560, serves brunch and dinner; crepes are around $11; closed Mondays.


Other than taking the waters or going to the races, there is:

The Saratoga Automobile Museum (110 Avenue of the Pines; 518-587-1935,, which has a fine permanent collection and periodic exhibits of vintage cars.

The Saratoga Performing Arts Center (108 Avenue of the Pines; box office, 518 587-3330; is a summer home of New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra and also hosts jazz, pop and chamber music concerts and the Lake George Opera.

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Monday, August 03, 2009

Modern Dance bombs at SPAC amphitheater, bring back 3rd week of NYC Ballet!

SPAC officials look hopefully to future

By STEVE BARNES, Senior writer
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First published: Sunday, August 2, 2009

Although the Saratoga Performing Arts Center is one of the Capital Region's largest arts institutions, its relative smallness, in terms of staff and budget, has helped it better survive and more quickly adapt to an economy that has done grievous damage to cultural behemoths, according to company leaders.
Now, as the opening of another Philadelphia Orchestra residency this week signals that the end of the fifth season under the current leaders is just a month away, SPAC officials are cautiously optimistic. They also are contemplating several major decisions, including whether the New York City Ballet's season should be restored to three weeks and if the orchestra's might need to be cut to two. And they're mindful of hard facts and harder choices faced by major institutions:

The City Ballet, SPAC's producing partner in the dance troupe's annual July residency, now has an endowment of approximately $138 million, down from a recent high of $187 million, and its annual deficit for the 2008-09 season was estimated at $5.5 million, according to company management and financial filings. The straits resulted in 11 dancers being let go this year and were the prime reason City Ballet officials asked SPAC in late 2008 to reduce the upstate season from three weeks to two; both SPAC and City Ballet had been losing about $1 million apiece on the residency each summer.

The New York City Opera, which performed at SPAC each June from 1986 to 1997, over six years has seen its endowment plummet by more than 70 percent, to $16 million, as a result of market losses and withdrawals to offset deficits. Some experts predict it could fold entirely.

The Philadelphia Orchestra, starting its 44th summer at SPAC on Wednesday with Alec Baldwin narrating Aaron Copland's "Lincoln Portrait," announced plans to battle multimillion-dollar current and predicted budget deficits with $4 million in cuts over the next two years, including a 5 percent salary reduction for musicians.

"We've joked that SPAC's actually in a good situation -- when you're poor, it's hard to get poorer," said Bill Dake, the humorously blunt chairman of SPAC's board of directors since 2005 and chairman of his family's Stewart's Shops chain.

SPAC's endowment stands at about $3.5 million, less than half what it was in 2004. But since Dake, a fresh board and a new executive director, Marcia White, took over in 2005 after a scandal involving the former management, about $3 million in lingering debt has been paid off. Millions have been spent on improving the facility, and SPAC has finished each of the past four seasons with a budget surplus, in contrast to 15 prior years of significant annual deficits.

"Although it was a trauma to go through, the reduction from three weeks to two (of the ballet season) has worked out better than we'd thought," said Dake. "It was the right thing to do."

The numbers seem to bear out his contention: Although total attendance for City Ballet's 2009 season was less than last year's, as a result of there being 14 performances instead of 21, average attendance per performance was up 24 percent. And although ticket revenue was down by an estimated quarter-million dollars, that will be more than offset by an estimated $335,000 savings in production and support costs for the season, according to White. Finally, the amount SPAC lost per ticket sold for the ballet this summer dropped by 15 percent, to $22, or about $57,000 per performance.

In contrast, the orchestra is notably more expensive to produce: SPAC lost $39 per ticket sold in 2008, or about $96,000 for each of the 12 performances of its three-week residency last August.

"We have not talked with (orchestra officials)" about shortening the residency, Dake said. But, he said, alluding to the orchestra's financial problems and a shake-up in its senior management and board staffing, "Sometimes when there is a dramatic change because of a tough situation, it gets even tougher in the short run. But any decision about (shortening the residency) would have to come from them."

White said it is too early to begin considering whether City Ballet could return to a three-week season in 2010. (Dake believes it will take a few more seasons before that happens.) White said, "We know our economy is still not strong, so we have to be very cautious about every decision, even things we've always done."

It is a central irony of the White-Dake administration that it has been lauded for stabilizing SPAC, but among the main options it pursued in doing so -- shortening the City Ballet season and offering modern dance programs -- were the very alternatives that got former longtime President Herb Chesbrough and his board thrown out. The difference is that the Chesbrough regime voted in secret in 2004 to cancel City Ballet entirely, a quickly reversed decision that created such a firestorm of criticism all were eventually sent packing.

In contrast, White and the Dake-led board have been exceptionally open with the public about SPAC's challenges and their efforts to meet them.

"It's important for people to know what the reality of the situation is," White said during an interview last month, on the closing night of the ballet season. "And that reality is the programs are expensive to produce and audiences are not as large as we would like them to be."

The reality is also starkly visible in the swaths of empty seats on slower nights at the ballet, orchestra and, especially, during performances by the two modern-dance companies that SPAC booked this summer, Paul Taylor and Mark Morris. The Taylor shows, in June, attracted about 1,300 people to each of two performances; Morris's company, about 750 to three -- and that's inside the 5,000-seat theater as well as on the lawn.

White is philosophically opposed to "papering the house," the industry term for giving away free tickets to make a venue look full, or to offering sharp discounts.

"When we first reorganized (in 2005), you could get a 50-percent-off ticket starting at 7 p.m. If that's available, what's the incentive to buy a subscription or even get just a few tickets in advance? There isn't any. It just isn't a good business model," White said.

Referring to programs, underwritten by sponsors, that include free lawn admission for children, $10 student tickets and a variety of other discounts, White said, "There are special promotions and special nights, but to try to pack the house by basically giving tickets away, just for the sake of packing the house -- I don't think it's realistic."

SPAC is looking to the future in other areas as well: It already has announced a five-year extension of its initial, 10-year contract with the promoter Live Nation, which produces rock concerts at SPAC and pays about $1 million per year to do so. And White, Dake and the rest of the board are looking for deep-pocketed donors to replace a $2.5 million gift, paid over five years and ending in 2009, from five donors, Dake included, that was announced in 2005.

White has already gotten a promise of $250,000 from an anonymous arts patron in New York City, and the SPAC development staff continues to create more and varied sponsorship opportunities for underwriters, including promotions like Times Union Date Night, Family Night with free Stewart's ice cream, Girls' Night Out and Emma Willard American Girl Night, all of which brought in extra audiences.

Citing his background in convenience stores, Dake said, "I'm always willing to try (eclectic) marketing ideas, and I think we've learned things from Live Nation, things that maybe in the past someone would have said, 'Oh, we don't do that.' Well, maybe we should."

Steve Barnes can be reached at 454-5489 or by e-mail at Visit his blog at

By the numbers

Decrease in ballet attendance between 2008 and 2009


Decrease in ticket income


Decrease in costs because of shorter season


Average attendance per performance


up 24 percent from 2008

Numbers have been rounded.




2,500, up 24 percent from 2008

15 percent