Blog Master G

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Saratoga High Rock Redevelopment

Thursday, February 9th, 2006 · 7 Comments

How to turn the City of Saratoga Springs-owned parking lot behind City Hall and the police station — bordered by Lake Avenue on the south, Maple Avenue on the west, High Rock Avenue on the east, and the City Center on the north — was open for discussion last night in the music hall on the third floor of City Hall. I attended the public hearing, hosted by the special committee formed and appointed by Public Works Commissioner Tom McTygue to develop an RFP and solicit and review proposals for how to develop the lot. The RFP was drafted in July 2005 and three developers had submitted plans by September 2005. The hearing last night was the second public hearing of its kind. The first was held sometime last month.

The meeting was attended by what looked like close to 100 people, including most members of City Council — Mayor Valerie Keehn, Finance Commissioner Matt McCabe, McTygue, and Public Safety Commissioner Ron Kim. Although City Council will ultimately decide the fate of the lot, based on a recommendation from the redevelopment committee, the council members sat quietly in the audience and around the table just like the rest of us, speaking only at the end of the two-hour meeting when invited to do so by the committee.

The project is a huge undertaking with widespread impact. All three proposals are massive in scale and more than $100 million investments — likely the largest single project ever for Saratoga Springs. The resounding feedback from business owners and community members at the meeting last night was clear: Whatever happens (nothing is set in stone yet), the development must meet the following goals:

  • Support the City Center, which is the economic engine of the city for 12 months a year
  • Complement and do not compete with Broadway businesses
  • Provide plenty of parking for downtown and City Center (also close to undertaking its own $17 million expansion in its existing footprint)
  • Keep it unique and keep chain stores out

Along with parking, complementing City Center, and providing a walkway to Broadway, another primary goal set forth by the committee in the RFP is to offer housing, including affordable, below market-rate housing. My take is that whatever happens in the lot, only two things are for sure at this point: Condos and parking. It’s also likely that there will be ground-floor retail space, or possibly office space for high-tech businesses (someone pointed out last night that Wurld Media, thriving here in Saratoga Springs with its legal file-sharing service, Peer Impact, is resisting urges from investors to move to California, proving that a company can succeed here in Tech Valley at a much lower operating cost).

I’m in full support of condos and parking, especially if some of those condos are offered below market rate. As someone pointed out last night, a downtown needs people living in it in order to thrive. The people who live in a downtown are those who are most often shopping there and supporting the local businesses. And although I wish we didn’t depend so much on cars in this country, the reality is that we do, so we need a place to put them if we want people to come to Saratoga to conventions and downtown businesses. We need a place for people to park in order to compete with the mall and box stores at Exit 15.

I’m very excited about this project and believe that now is the time that we, the citizens of Saratoga Springs, can have an impact on the direction of the project. The lot is still owned by the city, which means we taxpayers still have a say in how it’s developed. If we don’t want another Starbucks or a TGIF’s, then now is the time to make that clear. I think we did a very good of that last night. But let’s continue to voice our opinions to the committee and to City Council.

My idea, which I think would meet all the goals and would even provide a destination where people would come from far and wide, is to have a high-end grocery store and independent movie theater on the ground floor. There’s only one grocery store in downtown Saratoga, fondly known as the Ghetto (Price) Chopper because, let’s face it, it sucks. When Jen and I go there, it’s more out of convenience than to do our actual shopping. To do our grocery shopping now, we turn our backs to downtown and head to Hannaford, which is right by the mall at Exit 15.

And to see independent or alternative films, we only have the Spectrum in Albany, 45 minutes away. Yes, we have Reel Meals, the movie and dinner place, but the films that show there are delayed releases, not necessarily independent movies.

Both these ideas would complement, not compete with, downtown businesses. These are services not currently available downtown and would be added benefits for convention-goers who are in town for the weekend — after the convention, have dinner at a downtown restaurant like Brindisi’s, pick up some snacks for the next day at the grocery store, then see a movie before heading back to your hotel (the sentiment last night was also clear that we do not need yet another hotel, especially in light of the Hampton Inn soon to be built right across High Rock from the parking lot). So not only would a grocery store and movie theater benefit convention-goers, but we residents would benefit regularly.

Although most chains would be a detriment to downtown businesses and go against the philosophy of a unique downtown, there are three specialty grocery chains that I would love to see in Saratoga (or something like them), and think the High Rock Redevelopment would be an ideal place to put one: Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s (coming soon to NYC), or Mollie Stones (sadly, only in SF). All those stores are different kind of chains that treat their employees well, offer unique, high-end food, and would only help downtown thrive. If not one of these specific stores, then something like it.

It was incredibly interesting to see business and government in action last night, and I look forward to watching the High Rock Redevelopment project come to fruition, and maybe, just maybe, having some influence on what’s built in my little town.

Tell City Council what you think, or send a letter to the Saratogian. This is our city; let’s help decide its future.

Tags: saratoga springs

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 suzanne // Feb 9, 2006 at 10:08 am

    Gabe, you should run for office. Your ideals, your open mindedness, your eloquence and your interest in your community make you a prime candidate.

  • 2 shane // Feb 9, 2006 at 12:07 pm

    Fabulous commentary, Gabe. The community is lucky to have you. We all need to get involved and can make a difference to contribute to the beauty and vitality of our town. Here here!

  • 3 Ben Arnold // Feb 9, 2006 at 1:25 pm

    I’m glad to see many people are interested in the direction of the High Rock Lot. Unfortunately, visions (of which there are plenty in Saratoga Springs) typically are not based in reality. Everyone should be reminded that the idea to develop the lot came from Tom McTygue, and his impetus for doing so was to address affordable housing and parking. Other uses, although anticipated, would be secondary in nature. No one seems to grasp the inherent fiscal contradictions of providing free structured parking and affordable housing. Structured parking costs at least $15,000 per space; affordable housing (if built) will provide little or no revenue for the developer. So what you have is a developer that must subsidize structured parking and affordable housing with whatever is left over on the site (2.6 acres). The City requires 500 to 600 free parking spots in the development ($7.5 – $9 million dollars). One proposal has 915 parking spaces ($13.75 million), another 1200 ($18 million). This is just for parking! The presence of Archaeological artifacts and bedrock (conveniently absent from the conversation thus far) will add further costs. All of these issues will be used to establish “unanticipated” economic hardship when the time comes to produce affordable housing. There also should not be too much focus on the exclusion of chain stores and Exit 15 type rhetoric. Wilton has added millions of square feet of big-box retail over the past two decades. The same type of development that many emphatically claimed would destroy downtown. And guess what…Saratoga has never been better (although we know no self-respecting progressive Saratogian would ever venture into the suburban nightmare of Wilton in pursuit of cheap 2×4’s at Home Depot.) Despite these issues, it’s a good plan for the block. The grocery store and movie house are solid ideas. However, rumor has it that the “ghetto chopper” may be re-tooled into a higher-end “yuppie chopper”. Price Chopper has a history of protecting its turf “Schenectady Style”.

  • 4 M // Feb 10, 2006 at 12:55 am

    I’d love to see a Whole Foods and a movie theater. For some reason, though, I’ve never understood the mindset of people dictating what’s allowed to move in to a spot. It seems like market forces should dictate, not the neighbors, ’cause otherwise, you can get stuff like not allowing a tattoo parlor ’cause you don’t believe in tattooing.

  • 5 Tom // Feb 10, 2006 at 2:01 am


    I stumbled across your site looking for information on upstate NY. I’m considering moving to Niskayuna (or somewhere near by) and was looking for people’s opinions of the area. You obviously like Saratoga Springs, but do you have any opinion on Niskayuna, Schenectady, etc.?

    Thanks, and nice site by the way!

  • 6 Gabe A_nderson // Feb 10, 2006 at 8:51 am

    M- Glad to hear you’re in support of a movie theater and grocery store! However, I think your comments may be a bit contradictory: “It seems like market forces should dictate, not the neighbors.”

    Well, I’m a neighbor and a consumer (and assume you are, too), and I’ve also talked to or emailed with at least another dozen fellow citizen-consumers. If we’re not market forces, then what are we? I can tell you that if a Home Depot or a Starbucks or a Ruby Tuesdays were to open there, I would NEVER go.

  • 7 M // Feb 10, 2006 at 12:08 pm

    True, but other people who live slightly farther away, a few blocks away or in the next town, or people who work there but don’t live there, they might go to such a business (though obviously the three you mentioned would be stupid, as they’re already not far from there).