That Jenny Grey! The Saratogian might be in better shape today if they had hired her ten years ago and given her the freedom to write long and thoughtful stories.
This is a story about a proposal by Commissioner Scirocco to create a theater district between the City Center parking structure and Lake Avenue.
Public Works commissioner proposes a High Rock theater district
By Jennie Grey, The Saratogian
Posted: 04/10/16, 1:00 AM EDT |
The theater district plan would construct another such building on High Rock Avenue. Image provided
SARATOGA SPRINGS >> While the City Center’s parking project advances, the city council continues to think about the rest of the High Rock parcel; and now Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco has presented his dramatic vision for that key part of downtown. He proposes creating a theater district.
“The time is now to give back the city a beautiful part of its history; something for future generations,” he said while presenting to the council April 5. “The creation of a vibrant theater district will spur economic activity downtown, create jobs, raise tax revenues, and be a substantial boost to our arts community and the quality of life for our residents.”
He later explained where the idea had come from.
“I like theater, but I don’t go very often,” he said. “Mostly I’ve seen high school plays. I’ve never actually been to a Broadway show. So this plan is just something I think would be good for the city. It’s not because I have a personal theatrical agenda.”
Scirocco had met with Assistant City Engineer Deborah LaBreche to discuss possibilities for the remainder of the High Rock lot.
“We thought, ‘What don’t we have here in the city?’” he said. “And then the light bulb went on.”
Although a popular destination for the arts both back in Victorian times and now, Saratoga Springs presently lacks a year-’round live theater venue downtown. Scirocco and LaBreche considered the idea of building a city theater, to be run by a professional theater company, on the part of the High Rock parcel nearest Lake Avenue. A small park bordered by mixed-use buildings would take up the central part of the lot.
“We want this to be new, innovative and modern,” Scirocco said. “But we want to keep the historic connection, too. The city is so well-suited to this idea, being a community of the arts.”
Back in the day, entertainment and horse racing made the city a tourist destination. Only a few steps from the train station, visitors could find everything from side shows to serious world-class operas. The Leland Opera House, a grand theater that could seat 1,600, was erected on the parklike grounds behind the Grand Union Hotel. Both buildings are long gone now.
But vibrant cities invest in their theaters, Scirocco said. Nationally, theater is a $135.2 billion industry that supports 4.1 million jobs and generates $22.3 billion in government revenue. Attendees spend $24.60 per person beyond admission during a visit to the theater. And theaters are resilient even in tough economic times.
“So many historic theaters are being brought back, complete with today’s technologies, by enthusiastic developers, supportive communities, skilled architects and craftspeople,” he said.
His presentation showed such renovated theaters returned to their former splendor in Brooklyn, Massachusetts and North Carolina.
Of course Saratoga Springs does have several theatrical venues at present, some of them likewise being renovated, such as Universal Preservation Hall (UPH).
“I think over the years, the UPH has done a great job and should be commended for what’s been done,” Scirocco said.
The Music Hall on the top floor of City Hall may soon be taken for much-needed additional City Hall space, likely for the courts.
The other existing Saratoga theaters are Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the Spa Little Theater, the Museum of Dance Riggi Theater and Café Lena.
Scirocco cited data saying that competing theaters benefit one another. The 40 Broadway theaters in Manhattan’s theater district continue to flourish.
“I think the UPH and a new theater could both be successful and work well together,” he said.
Some benefits of a High Rock theater district would include extending Broadway show business from New York City north to Saratoga Springs; providing a year-’round economic powerhouse; offering high-quality space in which local and out-of-town troupes can perform; generating revenue for the proposed parking on High Rock Avenue via theater patrons; increasing business for hotels, shops, restaurants and the local theater community; and building a classically and elegantly design theater building to showcase the city’s history and create a sense of community pride.
Looking at the mixed-use Winston-Salem theater district in North Carolina, Scirocco summed up the pieces that would already be in place for a similar High Rock theater district: the City Center with its convention-goers, paid parking in the planned facility, and plenty of nearby hotels and restaurants.
“The theater district could be proposed as a mixed-use plan for condominiums, retail and artist rental lofts associated with the new theater,” he said. “Green roofs could be included, and the theater courtyard could include green space for a park.”
Mixed use is a phrase much associated with the designs that came in from the High Rock requests for proposals. Generally, the community-minded design includes retail on the ground floor, with office space above that and housing at the highest level.
Bill Dake, the owner of Stewart’s Shops, commented on the current state of mixed-use development during a public hearing at the latest city council meeting.
“Mixed use doesn’t work,” he said. “Look at all the unleased space in Ellsworth Commons in Malta and here in Saratoga on Weibel Avenue.”
The face of retail is changing, he said. Consumers buy more merchandise online. Retailers therefore need less storefront, so those shop spaces go unleased. Developers then have to raise the rents on the apartments above, putting them out of reach for many people. The developers say they can’t afford to build affordable or low-income housing. So a whole mixed-use building can sit empty.
Scirocco tried, therefore, to think of different angles for mixed use, like the artists’ lofts.
“When we’d laid out the plan, we couldn’t find any negatives, only positives,” he said. “I think the city is hungry for a theater district. I am really excited about this.”
The next step would be to do a request for proposal to find a consultant who would then do a market analysis. Think of this as intermission.