Montagnino’s Proposal to Turn Caroline Street into an Entertainment District with Private Security Collapses

Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino has been hit with a one-two punch that appears to have crushed his proposal to establish a security cordon around the Caroline Street bar district.

In mid-March Montagnino went to the media to tout what he called an “out-of-the-box idea to keep the city’s entertainment district safer.” His idea was to block off Caroline Street and institute security checks similar to those used at SPAC. This would involve using metal detectors and having private security guards waning and checking IDs of anyone wishing to enter the street. He told WRGB “This could turn the entire area into a major event every week end” and make Caroline Street a “mini-SPAC”. He was not specific as to where exactly these checkpoints would be set up given the many access points to Caroline Street.

Montagnino credited Mayor Ron Kim with originating the idea. Kim told Gazette reporter Brian Lee (3/20/22) that he was aware that some thought the security checks on a public street would be a violation of the Constitution’s 4th amendment which protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. “It’s not because, basically, if you don’t want to be searched, you don’t want to be ID’d, you just don’t come to that area of the town during a certain time period,” he said. Not great advice to give to those who live in apartments on this part of Caroline Street. Needless to say, not everyone agrees with Mayor Kim’s legal theory either. According to the Gazette editorial cited below, the American Civil Liberties Union, for instance, has successfully gone to court to protect access to public streets.

1.The Daily Gazette Editorial

In a scathing editorial, the Daily Gazette sliced and diced Montagnino and Mayor Ron Kim for the security proposal.

If treating customers and residents like potential airline hijackers, terrorists and bank robbers is the best plan Saratoga Springs officials can come up with for dealing with Caroline Street’s party scene, then the city either needs a better plan or it needs public officials with better ideas.

Gazette March 27, 2022

2.Commissioner Montagnino’s Head-on Collision with Caroline Street Bar Owners

Promoting his proposal, Montagnino told Channel 6 News on March 14 that his idea had the support of the Caroline Street bar owners. 

At a meeting on March 22, 2022, Montagnino got a different message from the bar owners, however. They told him they unanimously opposed his plan.

The meeting, requested by the owners of nine of the twelve Caroline Street bars, was attended by Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino, his deputy Jason Tetu, Accounts Department Deputy Stacey Collins, and Deputy Mayor Angela Rella. Conspicuously absent from the meeting was the city’s Chief of Police.  This is unfortunately consistent with Commissioner Montagnino’s pattern of marginalizing not only the head of the Police Department but pretty much all his “sworn” officers.

I spoke at length with one of the bar owners who attended the meeting about what had transpired. According to my source, Montagnino had little to say at the meeting.  Responding to questions from the bar owners, he said he was there to listen.

In the face of the bar owners’ opposition to his Caroline Street proposal, Montagnino, in an embarrassing moment playing the victim, backed off from his proposal and blamed the media for hyping the idea as if he had had no role in promoting the publicity.

Is Gaffney’s the Main Problem on Caroline Street?

The person I spoke with said that he had operated his bar on Caroline Street for some ten years.  He told me that the culture had changed and that there had been more violence on the street during the last three years than in all the previous seven.

According to my source, while there are from time to time incidents in other establishments, the bar owners unanimously saw Gaffney’s as the major and most frequent source of violence.

He told me about a meeting held in August of last year that brought together a representative from the New York State Liquor Authority with the bar owners, the Sheriff’s Department, the Saratoga Springs Police Department, and the State Police along with representatives from the City Council.  Conspicuously absent from the meeting were any representatives from Gaffney’s.

Gaffney’s is owned by Justin Manfro whose primary residence is in Westchester.

Manfro is not only one of the owners of Gaffneys but of Max London’s Restaurant, and Mrs. London’s Bakery.

Interestingly, WRGB (Channel 6) news in a story on the meeting, reported that for three weeks they have been trying to reach Manfro including visiting his attorney’s office without success.

The bar owner with whom I spoke argued that Gaffney’s fails to act pro-actively to minimize the potential for conflict.  He listed for me a variety of techniques that bars use to control the “temperature” in their venues.  He asserted that Gaffney’s does none of this.

According to him, Gaffney’s has been the subject of an investigation by the New York State Liquor Authority regarding nine violations during the last year.  I have been told that six confirmed violations in a year can result in a revoked liquor license.

My source said that none of the participants wants to see the shutdown of any business.

It would be very helpful to have a conversation with Commissioner Montagnino about all of this but as he does not respond to my emails seeking the most basic information, it seems out of the question that he would be willing to meet with me.

10 thoughts on “Montagnino’s Proposal to Turn Caroline Street into an Entertainment District with Private Security Collapses”

  1. I think this is out-dated. The building was sold and purchased by people from Druthers and/or Seneca. Manfro is not only one of the owners of Gaffneys but of Max London’s Restaurant, Mrs. London’s Bakery, and the Stadium Bar.

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    1. The issues on Caroline Street are hardly new or unique to Gaffney’s. They have been there for decades, resulting in both serious injury and even deaths. Yes, deaths as in plural. Sad as it may be, this has been the case really since the street revitalized during the 1970s. Some of us still remember the halcyon days of the Caroline Street Block Party, which was described in many of the same ways as folks are describing Gaffney’s today. The one crucial difference I can see that seems to have some Saratogians riled is the color of the combatants. It didn’t matter when it was drunken white folk beating on one another. Fact of the matter is, get a bunch of boozed-up testosterone-pumped men penned up on one city block and the fur is going to fly. Sad reality and it does, unfortunately, end badly. Caroline Street is a victim of its own success. And if you think things are different now than they were 10, 20, or even 30 years ago? Then you weren’t paying attention back then. Only difference now is that our street brawls now have a bunch of deputized combatants that also take perverse pleasure in thumping drunks.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This issue is related to the expansion of outdoor dining to a degree. From experience, the use of private security or bar bouncers has its own set of liabilities and dangers, and there is no reason to cede an entire city block to private control and access. The tax revenue from drinking on Caroline more than pays for its share of policing service.

    A better idea might be to shut down Caroline during the summer from Broadway to Henry Street to cars and allow the street to be an open air, public drinking area. The bars could put kiosks in front of their establishments and public tables could be set up in the street.

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    1. The real issue, I think, is how much Saratoga really wants to encourage more activity on Caroline Street than already exists. Do city residents really want a Beale Street or Bourbon Street in downtown? How much of a party town do we want to be? It might be financially good for some of the bars/restaurants in town but what about other less alcohol fueled businesses, retail businesses, and quality of life for the rest of us who live here?
      In addition, these plans by both Moran and Montagnino, and your suggestion, Cato, to allow some restaurants and bars in some areas of town to have special privileges in the public rights of way puts the city in the position of doing favors for some businesses and not others which seems very unfair to me.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. This is a textbook economics issue. The range of relevant activities along with activity prices is very narrow right now for people. Providing public seating and more consumption options (and price points) will encourage more social and economic activity than the current model. More people will come to town or decide to go out. More people means more foot traffic and revenue for all businesses in proximity. Some people will want to come out and have a $3 beer outside and go for a walk. Others will have drinks outside and then decide to ‘get something to eat’ and go in a restaurant. Wives will leave their husbands to drink and go buy clothes and shoes downtown (not to stereotype)…it is a win for everyone. More choices in a walk-able area means more economic activity.

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  3. Yet another example of how the city could really use a full time attorney who knows what they’re doing to help shoot down some of the terrible ideas coming from Kim, Mantagino, and Moran.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Treating the Saratoga Springs Police Department with such callous disregard is a disgrace. Chief Crooks and the men and woman who serve with him deserve so much better. At a time when almost every department in the nation is desperate for new recruits this is not only short-sighted but dangerous and expensive.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Part of the problem about Caroline Street has nothing to do with the street or the bars. The behavior of the general public has been on a downward trajectory for many years. It is a symptom of the breakdown of American Culture in general. Less manners and common decency. Younger generations have less social and coping skills.
    The overall sense of entitlement is intolerable. It used to be fun going downtown for a few drinks and conversation with friends but it isn’t anymore. Too many people just go downtown to get blotto drunk and start fights. My view is that the public needs to change their mentality and behavior. Our police are not the problem, the public (usually out-of-towners) is.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Ah yes, the good old days where racism, sexism, and homophobia were the norm, where you could smoke cigarettes just about anywhere, and when child abuse was “just part of growing up”. If you don’t think some people were getting drunk and starting fights in the 80s, or 60s, or whenever you’re talking about, you might just not have been paying attention.

      Maybe “younger generations” wouldn’t be so desperate for an outlet if older generations had not be so selfish, but instead they’ve left younger people swimming in debt, destroyed most unions, left us unable to buy homes, and helped destroy the Earth in the process.

      Maybe next time let’s not generalize people?

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    2. “The behavior of the general public has been on a downward trajectory for many years”

      I am not sure if I agree with this statement. Who is the “general public”? Desirable behavior has subjective components to it and is culturally relative. I do not think there is an ‘American Culture’. Most people behave in accordance with their proto-cultures having to do with where they came from, what religion they practice, etc. It may be the erasure of these cultures that results in a valueless morass. Taverns in antiquity are very much similar to what they are now, and, Nancy, it may be that you have just outgrown that activity 🙂

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