Thomas Dimopoulos

Thomas Dimopoulos

City, County, Crime, & Pulse Editor
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SARATOGA SPRINGS – Mike Finocchi cast his eyes across the big room which stands on the corner where Henry and Caroline streets meet.

The executive director at Shelters of Saratoga took stock of the kitchen, where wood cabinets bookend a stove and microwave, a refrigerator and a freezer. He noted the spacious women’s and men’s restrooms, strolled through the large adjacent room where supplies and clothing will be stored, and imagined the dozens of cots that will be placed in the main room and made available to the city’s homeless population as a place to shelter during the harshest days of the impending winter.

After setting up shop at the Salvation Army building during the past two years, Code Blue Saratoga – which is under the guidance of S.O.S. – was in need of a new temporary center to house its emergency shelter.  A lease agreement with Soul Saving Station, in effect from Nov. 1, 2016 to April 1, 2017, was announced this week. S.O.S. will pay the organization monthly rent. Finocchi declined to specify the amount, but called the cost “fair.” 

“Thank God they stepped up,” said Finocchi. “It got to the point in the summer when you’re thinking: gosh, what are we going to do? We were running out of options.”

The need for a city emergency shelter during the winter months is great. In its first abbreviated winter season in 2013-2014, the emergency shelter was open 58 nights and housed 928 overnight stays. In each of the past two years, the shelter was open more than 80 nights providing more than 3,054 and 3,344 overnight stays, respectively, in addition to more than 1,700 others who were provided dinner during the winter seasons of 2014-15 and 2015-16.    

Between 2007 and 2015, although homelessness nationwide decreased by 11 percent, it increased in New York, rising by 41 percent, according to the 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Between 2014 and 2015 alone, New York State’s homeless population jumped by 7,660 - the largest increase in the nation for the one-year period.

“You never know what leads one to being homeless,” Finocchi said. “It could be a bitter divorce, or someone who may have lost everything. You just never know.” 

The Code Blue Saratoga program was born from the tragic death of Nancy Pitts. The 54-year-old mother of two sought shelter on a Williams Street porch during a frigid December night in 2013.  She was discovered by police the next morning. Within days of the homeless woman’s death, a cooperative partnership between then mayor-elect Joanne Yepsen, non-profit organizations, and members of the community was initiated and a plan set in motion to site an emergency shelter in the city.

The shelter initially opened when temperature dipped below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Earlier this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order which directed emergency shelters to operate when temperatures dropped below 32 degrees. The new threshold – likely to mark an increase in the number of days the shelter would operate - complicated the process for the largely volunteer staff in Saratoga.  Code Blue’s previous hosts - the Salvation Army Worship and Community Center on Woodlawn Avenue – could no longer house the shelter on site because the increased days would interfere with their own programming.

“It’s easier for places in Albany, Schenectady and Troy who have mission type places to run that kind of program, but we don’t have that here,” said Finocchi, who added he was thankful Soul Saving Station stepped forward to make their Fellowship Hall available.

“As soon as they reached out to us, we said, ‘we have available space,’” said Arnold Byrd II, church pastor at Soul Saving Station. “It made sense to us. It’s something we should be doing. You have to be supportive of those who need help.”

Whereas the Salvation Army housed up to 100 cots, the new venue is slightly smaller. “It’s going to be a little tighter here, but the bottom line is no one needs to be sleeping on the street,” Finocchi said. “If it’s a little more snug than the Salvation Army, so be it, but at least people have an option other than the parking garage, or the woods and a tent.”   

Given the geographic proximity to the plethora of bars and taverns along Caroline Street, Finocchi said the organization will be diligent in monitoring the shelter and will institute a midnight curfew, after which people may come in, but not go out.

Code Blue Saratoga will host a meeting and offer training for volunteers in October. Those interested in volunteering their time can sign up at:


For those interested in donating items, Code Blue Saratoga Director Cheryl Ann Murphy-Parant said the emergency shelter’s largest needs are men’s socks and underwear, canned food, and individually-wrapped snacks. 

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Adam Frelin studied the glow of a firefly. He watched it take in oxygen and the pattern of internment flashes it produced. Then he started thinking about what he saw and how to adapt it to the human world.    

“It’s one of those things we’re compelled to look at. You look at a lightning bug and think: where else can that be applied?” explained Frelin, an artist, associate professor of art at the University at Albany, and a decade-long resident of Troy.

Two years ago, Frelin and local architect Barbara Nelson, began collaborating on a plan to create an unprecedented, multi-city public art installation. They called it “Breathing Lights.”  The proposal won the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge, and was awarded a $1 million prize.

“We looked at the region we live in, and tried to recognize both the assets and the detriments we could work with,” Frelin said. “The assets had to do with the history of lighting technology – what took place at GE over the years and what’s now taking place at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The detriment would have to be vacancies.

“We have 2,500 vacant buildings in the Capital Region and most of those buildings exist in neighborhoods that have been historically disinvested in one way or another,” he said. “The idea is to create a light effect that would be in these buildings. In this case, that effect creates the appearance of the light breathing.”

In October and November, Breathing Lights will result in the illumination of windows in hundreds of vacant homes in Albany, Schenectady and Troy.

Friday night, Saratoga Springs was granted a sneak peek of the installation that will be attracting national attention to the Capital Region. The area’s first glimpse was staged at Spring Street Gallery, where the building’s window glowed in a gentle rhythm to simulate human breath. Outside the gallery, where ArtsFestFridays staged a celebration in conjunction with the event, the tree branches bowing over Spring Street sprouted leaves bathed in lavender hues. Glow-in-the-dark street performers danced on the pavement accompanied by a throbbing beat produced by a DJ with an affection for the disco era.

Concentrated in neighborhoods with high levels of vacancy, Breathing Lights will transform abandoned structures from pockets of shadows into places of warmth.

“We’re lighting hundreds of them throughout the Capital Region,” Frelin said. His art – which depicts the intersection of the natural and the constructed world - are on exhibit inside the gallery: a gigantic four-way mirror is dropped into a busy vehicular intersection in Las Vegas resulting in auto-vertigo;  massive harmonicas are planted atop natural green mountains that seem to inspire a cacophony of sharps and flats blown by the random wind. There are images of hot embers spraying a scarred ridge, and city fountains cast in bronze modeled after the individual faces of its citizenry.

A public art dialogue featuring Frelin will be staged 6:30 p.m. Friday at Spring Street Gallery, on 110 Spring St. The exhibition will be on display weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Oct. 29.  

“Breathing Lights takes place in neighborhoods that don’t usually have these type of projects happening, or this kind of attention,” Fredlin said. The ‘breathing lights” in a vacant building can reference different things - a life that once lived there, a life that might return should the building was to be re-occupied, the artist noted. “We hope, beyond creating something beautiful, to be able to draw some attention to an issue that a lot of work needs to be done.”


At the end of the installation, the windows – one by one – will fall dark, their shared sense of loss stirring a call to action.

SARATOGA SPRINGS – THERE COMES A MOMENT when the band is on stage and when that moment comes everyone knows it.

The Moment generally occurs late in the musical set - strategically placed to accelerate momentum toward a grand finale - and when it happens, it transcends space and time. The moment is introduced with a series of notes plucked on guitar, or the beat of a drum, or a voice that taps a foggy, yet familiar memory. It happens with a song you heard more than million times during this summer or that, but have not heard in a long time since. And when you hear it once again all the feelings of the original moment come rushing back to remind of a time when the world was new and anything possible.

Those moments came often last week at Saratoga Performing Arts Center on a night that featured a trio of bands, each capable of producing shared memories.

 For Cheap Trick, it came during “Dream Police,” posted at the tail-end of a 60-minute set and featuring longtime Tricksters Zander, Nielsen and Petersson on a checkerboard stage. Nearly half the songs of the band’s set appeared on the “Live at Budokan” sessions a generation ago. The set included fan favorites “Surrender,” and “I Want You to Want Me,” as well as a weird mash-up of the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting For The Man” and “Heroin,” with guitarist Rick Nielsen channeling his inner Robert Quine, shredding and slashing his six-string noisemaker in a discordant symphony.

For Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, the moment came during her rendition of the early-80’s hit “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Jett’s Blackhearts hit the ground running, providing a solid sonic foundation to support her performance of “Bad Reputation,” “Fake Friends,” and “Love is Pain.” There were sturdy covers of Tommy James’ “Crimson and Clover,” Sly Stone’s “Everyday People,” Gary Glitter’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me,” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Light of Day” – the latter accompanied by a video reel showcasing Jett’s duo with actor Michael J. Fox in the 1987 film of the same name, on a backdrop.  

Jett revisited her days with The Runaways in a staged reproduction of “You Drive Me Wild,” and “Cherry Bomb” – the latter being a timeless ode to troublemaking teen-hood that somehow did not seem out-of-place in the hands of the 57-year-old performer.

Heart, headliners of the night, reached back to the 1970s to perform “Magic Man,” “Barracuda,” “Kick it Out,” and “Straight On,” and came full circle on a 40-year timeline when they delivered “Beautiful Broken,” from their just-released album of the same name.  Truth-be-told, Heart sounds better today than they ever did.

Guitarist Nancy Wilson’s extended two-minute acoustic guitar introduction that morphed into “Crazy On You” brought the crowd to its collective feet, and sister Ann Wilson’s amazingly still-vibrant-after-all-these-years vocals kept the crowd standing, showcasing her talents most notably on the power ballad “What About Love?”  and the double-barreled dose of the band’s Led Zeppelin-inspired encore, featuring “The Immigrant Song,” and “Stairway To Heaven,” and including Wilson’s invocation of Robert Plant’s now-legendary ad-lib: “Does anyone remember laughter?”

You couldn’t have imagined a triple-bill featuring Heart, Joan Jett, and Cheap Trick taking place in the 1970s, but touring 2016 style makes for strange stage-fellows. On a late summer day marked by a passive-aggressive weather front that was both slogged by rain and filled with sunshine, no one in the crowd was complaining, with nearly four hours of music supplying endless options for each to find their own special moment.  

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The seeds of a new café, set to open on Weibel Avenue next month, were planted more than 20 years ago in Saratoga Springs and has given rise to a longtime tradition. Now, Bread Basket Bakery Operations Manager Matthew Tallman hopes a new business he is preparing that will launch next month continues the tradition of success. Tallman and business partner George Kotsakis - whose expertise is in restaurant management and consulting - will open the Bread Basket Cafe at The Springs in early October. The 1,800-square-foot eatery will seat 48 people inside, feature a mini-conference area where a party of six to eight may gather together for meals, and include an additional 1,200-square-foot patio outdoors. They owners say the location - far enough from the bustle of downtown and featuring plenty of parking - is ideal, and just the site for which they have waited. “George and I have been talking about this for years. We made the decision to run with it,” said Tallman, whose mother, Joan Tallman, founded the Bread Basket Bakery out of a home kitchen in the 1980s. She moved the bakery into a storefront on Ludlow Street a quarter century ago, then relocated to an English cottage on Spring Street where fresh breads, pies, and an assortment of pastries have been served since. “My mom started the bakery in 1990. Twelve years ago my brother and I moved home to join the business with her,” Tallman said. “My brother does the baking and I do the rest.” The Bread Basket name will be carried forward with the new café, although it is a separate entity. The café menu will list omelets and pancakes among the breakfast items, salads, wraps and sandwiches for the lunch and dinner crowd, as well as a full array of muffins, scones, breads, desserts and a variety of coffees. “You’ll be able to get good food here, and your bill won’t be more than $10 to $15,” Tallman said. “He has the baking background, I have the European style coffee business experience and we put it all together,” said Kotsakis, whose Mediterranean background played a role in inserting menu items such as falafel, and spanakopita. In the main entry room currently under construction, Kotsakis envisions a barrista stationed at the forefront, serving espresso and cappuccino, Turkish coffees, Greek coffees, frappe, protein shakes, and other drinks. “Coffee brings people together” explained Kotsakis, standing in the room framed by a chocolate ceiling, green tea walls, and orange-tinged fans. A vacant spot on a nearby wall is reserved for a classic image depicting Sophia Loren and Cary Grant drinking coffee in a cafe. The owners plan on hiring up to six employees and will be open seven days per week. They are still finalizing the hours, but anticipate being open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Friday, 09 September 2016 13:54

Lose 200 Jobs or Gain 1k?

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Faced with the possibility of losing a downtown business and the 200 people it employs, the City Council proactively adopted a resolution that aims to preserve those existing jobs as well as add approximately 800 more, and may result in the development of a multi-level parking structure that could house up to 1,250 vehicles. Ayco, a financial services company, whose local offices are housed in approximately 90,000 square feet of space at the Congress Park Centre, is seeking to consolidate operations. The move could result in the company leaving Saratoga Springs and setting up shop elsewhere. Conversely, the location selected for consolidation will see an influx of new employees. “The stakes are this: we can lose 200 jobs, or gain 1,000,” said Carrie Woerner, who represents the 113th Assembly District. “This is a transformational opportunity for the city.” City Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan this week introduced a non-binding resolution offering the the City Council’s assistance to investigate the options of constructing and maintaining a shared parking structure at Congress Park Centre. The City Council unanimously approved the resolution. “It’s a significant economic development,” Madigan said. “Saratoga Springs, I believe, is one of the areas they are considering. We want to help put forward the best possible proposal to have them consolidate their offices in Saratoga Springs.” While the specific details regarding the city’s financial investment in such a public-private partnership will need to be explored further, the location has already been approved to site a parking garage that holds up to 1,250 vehicles, as well as new construction that could significantly increase available office space. The plan was approved more than a decade ago as part of a Planned Unit Development, and doesn’t expire until 2020. “This is probably the next quadrant of the city that could benefit from a good public parking model,” Madigan said. Ayco currently operates in 90,000 square feet of space in Congress Park Centre, said the building’s owner, David Brause, and the PUD comfortably allows an increase to 250,000 square feet to accommodate new Ayco employees, should the company seek to consolidate its offices in Saratoga Springs. While any relocation is expected to take several years to reach fruition, Brause said he anticipates the company may make its decision about where to relocate by the end of 2016. “Losing those 200 jobs would be a blow, because we would end up with a building that would basically be empty. Would we be able to get other employers to relocate here? Possibly, but that’s a lot of work and it’s hard to do,” said city Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen. “Can we accommodate more people downtown? It’s a lot of people, but I think we can. I do think it’s the kind of investment that makes sense, but it would have to be paid parking.” Saratoga County IDA Chairman Rod Sutton and Saratoga County Chamber President Todd Shimkus are in favor of the increased job base and positive economic potential an Ayco consolidation would have in Saratoga Springs, and Teddy Foster, president of the nearby Universal Preservation Hall, is in favor of much-needed parking solutions for the immediate area. “It’s a win-win-win,” said city Mayor Joanne Yepsen. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because Ayco is going to make a decision about where to consolidate and they want one campus. We want to be sure we're doing everything to make this as attractive as possible. I think parking is a big piece of that. The property is there and the design has already been approved, essentially. We’re already one step ahead and the timing and process will be abbreviated here versus any other location.” As a non-binding resolution, Commissioners Anthony “Skip” Scirocco and John Franck also voted to approve the resolution in the hope of exploring the details more fully, but each expressed reservations about what the financial costs would be for the city and the risk involved in building a structure for a company with no guarantee they would maintain their local footprint. Ayco issued a statement on the matter, which reads: “Ayco continues to grow, we are constantly exploring ways to improve our client service, realize greater operational and cost efficiencies and allow our employees to better collaborate and connect. Any decision will be considered carefully in consultation with numerous stakeholders, including our employees and local government officials.” In other news, the City Council by a 3-2 vote approved the Capital Budget for 2017. The budget consists of 25 projects at a total cost of $9.017 million, of which $7.34 million will be bonded. The balance will be funded by other sources, such as grants and reserves. The top Public Safety department project for 2017 is a $1.56 million upgrade of outdated communications infrastructure, including the correction of existing communication “dead zones” in the downtown area and at City Hall. Other high-ticket items include the $2.27 million Saratoga Greenbelt Trial Downtown Connector - incorporating bicyclist, pedestrian and transit improvements within the primary corridor and connecting the downtown area with residential neighborhoods; a complete renovation of the Finance Office at a cost of about $750,000, and plaster repair and painting of the historic Canfield Casino at a cost of $600,000. The council is hopeful the Greenbelt Trial Downtown Connector project will be awarded a $1.5 million grant. The awarding process is anticipated to take place in November. The City Council voted unanimously to accept a Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan. The previous plan, which Assistant City Police Chief John Catone in January said was grossly outdated, has been largely re-written during the past year. The 220-page plan includes an additional 300 pages of accompanying documents and lists potential hazards and vulnerable areas, methods to mitigate risk and the process for dealing with a variety of situations, catastrophic and otherwise. Catone recommended future plans be reviewed annually instead of every three years, as is presently done, and that all city departments play a larger role in developing the document, which currently is solely tasked to the Public Safety Department to construct. A summary of the major issues to be addressed in the future drafting of the city’s new Unified Development Ordinance has been publicly released. The UDO, once drafted, will replace the existing city zoning code, subdivision regulations and related development standards. The zoning diagnostic report was delivered to the City Council on Tuesday. A public meeting to discuss the recommendations will be staged 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 27 at the Saratoga Music Hall. The report may be viewed at:
Thursday, 08 September 2016 18:59

blink-182 at SPAC: Party Like Its 2002

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Introduced to the stage by an eruption of pyrotechnics and the pulsating throb of a tom-tom drum, blink-182 showcased a 24-song set at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center Sunday night, delighting the crowd of more than 12,000 in attendance, many of whom stood for the duration of the band’s 80-minute show. 


The boys of blink drew top billing among a quartet of power pop bands paying tribute to a sound-and-vision aura initiated by Cartoon Punk grand-daddies Green Day, from which each of the bands were spawned.  Fittingly, perhaps, the concert marked a return to SPAC by blink-182, who first appeared at the venue sharing the stage with Green Day in 2002.  


The band opened their set with “Feeling This,” siphoned off a half-dozen songs from their new album, ‘California,’ and concluded the show with a four-song encore – the inclusion of “Carousel,” released in 1995, and “Brohemian Rhapsody,” released this year - effectively tracing a 21-year timeline across the band’s songbook.


“Go back to 2002, put your bangs back down and tell your mom: it’s not a phase, mom, this is me!” founding band member Mark Hoppus announced to the crowd.


Following a series of solo projects and internal band conflict, the trio these days consists of longtime drummer Travis Barker, Matt Skiba –  who took over co-vocal and guitar duties after Tom DeLonge left the band last year -  and Hoppus, who attacked his bass as if he were strumming guitar while pogo dancing across the stage, a flop of Ed Grimley hair (Google it) dancing atop his head.  


A good number of songs performed were culled from the band’s songbook dating back 15 years, the popular radio-friendly hits "The Rock Show,"   "All the Small Things," and "What's My Age Again?"  among them.  The members of the band are all in their forties, but gauging the presence of the large number of young people in attendance – say, under the age of 22 or so - many seemed to mark a new generation of blink-182 fans.


Inside the amphitheater, the vocals were flat at times, but the staging colorful and poignant, with an ever-changing screen of images alternately depicting rock ‘n’ roll posters, exploding bombs, eerie skulls and pleasant Frida Kahlo-like flowers.      



blink-182 is currently headlining a cross-country tour with All American Rejects, All Time Low, and A Day To Remember, which began in San Diego in July and concludes in Los Angeles in October.  


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