SARATOGA SPRINGS – With the opening of a competitor in Schenectady, revenues were down slightly at Saratoga Casino Hotel. Yet, at least one industry expert thinks that does not indicate a long-term trend.
According to the New York State Gaming Commission, the “net win” at Saratoga Casino Hotel was $3.1 million on February 4.
On February 18, ten days after the grand opening of Rivers Casino and Resort in Schenectady, commission records show that Saratoga Casino Hotel’s net win had dipped by about $700,000 to $2.4 million. The total amount of money spent that same week had surpassed $38 million, while the total paid out to gamers went above $35 million.
The net win figure is considered by gaming industry officials as the most important measure of activity for any facility. It covers each facility’s total weekly earnings through the six days prior to a given date.
The records show that one of the highest net wins for the Saratoga Casino Hotel over the past year, $3.9 million, was reported in August. The casino’s weekly earnings have not dropped below $2 million since 2010.
In its first week of operation, the Schenectady gaming facility reported a net win of more than $3 million, the records show.
Amy Brannigan, director of marketing for Saratoga Casino Hotel, did not respond to a request for comment on those figures.
Lee Park, a spokesman for the state gaming commission, said he would “not recommend taking the first couple of weeks” of operation at the Rivers Casino and Resort as indicative of any type of trend. Park said officials at Saratoga Casino Hotel were well aware of the potential for an economic impact from new gaming opportunities in Schenectady, going so far as to complete “a huge expansion over the past year” in preparation.
Plus, Park said, state officials who selected the Schenectady location had fully considered its potential impact on gaming in Saratoga Springs, and determined that the industry in both areas could flourish.
GLENS FALLS — Local activists elevated their criticism of U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik this week for not holding a town hall meeting in her home district with constituents, making use of a stage without her at the Crandall Public Library.
A crowd estimated at about 200 residents packed a library meeting room that safely seats 175. The topics most frequently raised were health care, education and the environment. Video of the event will be provided to Stefanik (R-Willsboro), according to Martha Devaney, one of the organizers.
Tom Flanagin, communications director for Stefanik, said the congresswoman’s appearance in Glens Falls on February 22 was impossible because she was part of an “official” trip for new members of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee that had been scheduled in early January. Stefanik was recently appointed to that committee.
Nationwide, activists affiliated with groups such as MoveOn and the Working Families Party have made concerted efforts to attend town hall events as the 115th U.S. Congress went into a recess period.
Usually, federal lawmakers themselves try to connect with constituents by organizing such town hall events.
“The big lie that you’re hearing is that we’re all paid protesters,” offered Joe Seeman, a veteran Saratoga Springs activist and MoveOn volunteer. “We simply want our representative to do her job,” he said.
In the time Stefanik has represented New York’s 21st Congressional District, according to Flanagin, she has attended hundreds of personalized events and she plans to maintain that level of constituent outreach. The district covers most of northern upstate New York, and Stefanik has offices in Glens Falls, Plattsburgh and Watertown.
“All groups have been encouraged to reach out to her offices to request in-person, small group meetings to ensure productive issue discussions instead of nationalized political events where the sole purpose is political theater,” Flanagin said on behalf of Stefanik.
He added that constituents are invited to participate in “teletownhalls” with Stefanik by registering through her website: stefanik.house.gov/contact/request-appearance.
STILLWATER — A detailed report, which may affect future development plans on the Hudson River, is drifting closer to the dock.
Stillwater Mayor Rick Nelson explained that several miles of Route 4 have been under the planning microscope, starting north of the Mechanicville border and continuing to the hamlet of Bemis Heights.
“There’s not going to be any radical changes,” Nelson said. He noted how a concerted effort over the last year to modify zoning rules will allow local officials to create a “seamless” process to approve future development projects. “I don’t want people to think that we’re revamping the whole thing,” he said.
Town and village officials in Stillwater have scheduled a public hearing for the Draft Route 4 Corridor Plan on March 23. That event will be followed by the completion of a final draft and separate votes of approval in both municipalities.
“It’s a success story,” offered Stillwater Town Supervisor Edward Kinowski. He added praise for staff members at the Capital District Transportation Committee and Planning4Places, the official consultant hired for the zoning study with a $50,000 grant.
According to Lindsay Zepko, the town of Stillwater’s director of building and planning, the zoning changes translate to “lesser degrees of density” when traveling north and west of the village.
The plan itself contains three separate “transect zones” that specify such project dimensions as building heights, lot sizes and distance from Route 4—a popular state highway that mostly hugs the banks of the Hudson River from Troy to Hudson Falls.
In its “mixed use” section, the plan aims to “promote and retain the existing historic character and traditional village streetscape; enhance the village downtown identity by encouraging mixed-use development, street-level activity, and walkability to surrounding neighborhoods; and encourage additional public access to the Hudson River.”
Design guidelines in the plan for proposed projects consider lighting, rural preservation, protections for waterfront access and views, and the importance of the Saratoga National Historical Park within the town of Stillwater’s borders.
Michael Franchini, executive director of the Capital District Transportation Committee, explained that the Route 4 plan, if approved, will make it “easier for developers” to navigate zoning rules that are currently perceived as tedious and over-complicated. “This really didn’t focus on what the future development is,” Franchini said, but added “you want to have these plans in place before the development.”
Nelson, the Stillwater mayor, said he personally took interest in the zoning study because of its potential benefits for waterfront development and protection of the Saratoga National Historical Park area.
Nelson said he wants the “sight lines of the battlefield to stay clean.”
Boat traffic on the Hudson River is increasing, Nelson continued, which elevates the importance of future development along its banks. He placed an equal emphasis on attracting new residents to Stillwater—in the hopes of motivating entrepreneurs to take full advantage of the streamlined zoning process.
“Let’s bring the people here,” Nelson said.
NATIONWIDE — Melissa Gersin, a Saratoga Springs native and registered nurse who specializes in maternity, recently appeared on a television show that has given new life to her invention for helping parents calm their crying babies.
Gersin is the founder of Tranquilo Mat, a company based near Boston, Massachusetts that was featured in a February episode of “Shark Tank.” The Emmy Award-winning program on the ABC Television Network highlights a wide variety of proposals by aspiring entrepreneurs from around the country.
According to her company’s website (www.tranquilomat.com), the slogan for Gersin’s invention is that it “mimics the sounds and motions of a mother’s womb.” It’s available in two sizes that fit either car seats or cribs, and range in price from $85 to $99.
Reached for comment this week, Gersin said the original production line of 2,000 units has already sold out and that back orders are quickly stacking up. She anticipates more units will be available for distribution from a warehouse in Wisconsin by April.
The products are manufactured in China and adhere to strict regulatory standards set by the federal Food and Drug Administration. From “top to bottom,” Gersin said, parents can be assured of the Tranquilo Mat’s safety for their infants.
Gersin, a 2001 alumnus of Saratoga Springs High School, explained that she started developing her business plan after graduating college in 2010 and working at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. She became familiar with the work of Dr. Harvey Karp, a renowned pediatrician and author of the book “The Happiest Baby on the Block.”
In trying to calm several infants simultaneously at work one night, Gersin had an epiphany and envisioned portable units that could fit into each of the cribs. In her free time, she started developing Tranquilo Mat prototypes and sharing her ideas with colleagues in maternity, all of whom were skeptical of her invention.
Still, Gersin persisted and eventually joined forces with two more upstate New York women in the Boston area: Tranquilo Mat cofounder Ashley Robinson from Rome, and Annie Hall from Glens Falls.
The recent appearance on “Shark Tank,” filmed last September in California, has significantly increased the workload for Gersin and her partners. “We’ve nearly doubled our annual sales from last year…in the last three or four days,” she said.
Though not a mother herself, Gersin is convinced by experience and the testimonials of her customers that many parents will find the Tranquilo Mat helpful—so much that her own full-time work as a maternity nurse is no longer necessary.
“The joke is that this has become my baby,” Gersin said.
MILTON — A dispute has been brewing for months between a group of Milton homeowners and a popular Malta developer, who wants to build nearly 100 apartments for people aged 55 and up in a quiet patch of woods.
In the months ahead, a proposal made last year by Malta Development Company, Inc. for a 91-unit Senior Housing Planned Development District (PDD) could be given final approval by Milton town officials.
The company plans to demolish one house directly across from Greybirch Trail to make way for an access point on Hutchins Road and a second on Margaret Drive. The new roads to the apartment complex would connect, for the first time, two neighborhoods of single-family homes that were built almost 50 years ago.
Tom Samascott, president of Malta Development, explained that he knows the neighborhoods well. For many years, his mother has owned a home on Coachman Drive, which more or less parallels Hutchins Road. Her property is located only a short distance from the project site.
Samascott is confident that the proposed apartment complex, utilizing a 14-acre parcel behind existing houses on the east side of Kristan Drive, will be “perfect for the town.”
“It’s a good situation for everyone. We’re trying to build something that people from Milton can live in,” Samascott said. He plans for construction to start later this year.
However, a longtime resident of Hutchins Road, Dorothy Christiansen, has been leading a petition drive in opposition to the project since last November, when the Town of Milton Planning Board had voted to advance Malta Development’s PDD application.
To date, according to Christiansen, more than 190 residents in the area (representing 135 properties) had signed her petition. “Our petition efforts will continue up until the project proposal has a public hearing or is withdrawn,” she said.
This week, Christiansen delivered the petition signatures on hand to the Milton Town Board at its regularly scheduled meeting.
Malta Development—a close-knit family business, Samascott indicated—currently owns and manages the popular Winner’s Circle apartment complex on Geyser Road, about one mile west of the Town of Milton’s main offices.
“Go by Winner’s Circle and you’ll see what we’ve done,” Samascott said. The Hutchins Road project is smaller in scale and has yet to be formally named but will be under the same management umbrella, he added.
According to minutes from a November 9 Milton Planning Board meeting, there were concerns raised by board members that included “conflicting acreage in the narrative” as well as “conditions of suitable water supply and density.” Still, they voted to refer the proposed PDD back to the full Town Board, which by law cannot give final approvals to the project until after a public hearing has been held.
After that Planning Board meeting, and with assistance from several neighbors, Christiansen targeted 220 properties in the area for distribution of a two-page informational document with a site map. (This writer obtained that document from a family member who owns property on Coachman Drive and signed the petition.)
“We are concerned about decimating our neighborhood,” Christiansen said.
Christiansen claims that current Milton zoning rules do not allow that many apartments on that particular tract of land. She also thinks additional traffic from the apartments “will have a major impact” on the residents of Hutchins Road and Margaret Drive.
Milton Planning Board Chairman Larry Woolbright explained that Malta Development seeks “a new zoning designation” for the land. He said only the Town Board can approve such a designation. “We don’t have the authority to refuse it,” Woolbright said.
Samascott disagreed on the potential traffic increase, noting the age group he plans to accommodate. He said people 55 and older have “a totally different traffic pattern” that “gets absorbed much easier.”
“Retired people have their own schedule,” Samascott said.
Christiansen countered that only people who sign leases with Malta Development would be required to be 55 years old or more. “They can have kids in those apartments. There could be a lot more traffic,” she argued, pointing to a tendency among younger people to drive more often and with less caution.
In the last 20 years, traffic in that part of Milton has increased substantially following construction of several new housing developments and apartment communities on Rowland Street, to which Hutchins Road connects at its western end.
Another large apartment complex, also catering to people aged 55 and up, is currently being built at the nearby intersection of Northline Road and Greenfield Avenue.
MALTA — The 2018 elections are 21 months from now.
Still, when she flies in a plane, takes a train, or hauls her stuff between home in Malta and the nation’s capital in her dad’s Ford pickup truck, Morgan Zegers is busy developing her strategy to win a seat as a Republican in the New York State Assembly.
At present, that seat is occupied by Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, a Democrat who recently won her second two-year term representing the 113th Assembly District by a margin of nearly 8,000 votes, according to state election records. The district straddles portions of Saratoga and Washington counties.
In an email response to questions about the distant 2018 race, Zegers, a 20-year-old junior at American University in the District of Columbia, explains that “a big team of volunteers” is already supporting her efforts. “Considering my age,” she says, “we plan to keep this campaign creative, but also use classic campaign strategy” by organizing fundraisers and buying airtime for commercials. “It’s not about negativity,” she added.
Reached for comment this week, Woerner confirmed that she plans to seek a third term. But in the midst of a productive Assembly session, Woerner was more focused on one of the first bills she co-sponsored: a set of comprehensive ethics reform measures that could deny pensions to state lawmakers convicted of crimes. The pension revocation must be approved by New York voters in a statewide referendum.
“Elected officials are not above the law,” Woerner said in a statement. “These measures are important steps in the process of reigning in the corruption that has plagued the legislature for too long.”
Zegers, who gained much of her political experience as a college intern in the office of Republican U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, claims that social media and modern technology can aid all lawmakers in their maintenance of “full transparency.”
Stefanik “has given me great advice,” Zegers says, “and I’m very thankful to be able to see such a strong woman leading in my own backyard.”
“When you go to my website, you get a clear view of what I’m all about as a community member and as a candidate,” Zegers continued. On the front page of that site (www.morganzegers.com), there’s a colorful picture of her holding a shotgun that she uses for hunting, over the bolded words “Our rights shall not be infringed.”
Her primary focus issues are listed as education, economic freedom, agriculture and defending gun rights.
Zegers says her grandfather, a Vietnam veteran who passed away last year, initially inspired her political ambition. While attending Ballston Spa High School, Zegers formed a bond with him serving as an officer in a VFW post, which led to her involvement in various other clubs.
“This brought me to search for where my values in conservatism and where my passion for my community align with a public office,” Zegers said, adding that the seat she now aims for in the New York State Assembly “matched up” with those values.
To date, more than $6,000 has been raised for her 2018 campaign. Saratoga Springs socialite Michele Riggi, who Zegers says is devoted to “the empowerment of young women,” has made the largest single donation.
“Morgan is a very impressive young woman,” offered Steve Bulger, chairman of the Saratoga County Republican Committee. “She’s smart, she’s focused…and those are exactly the types of people we want involved in the process.” According to Bulger, no other Republicans have announced plans yet to seek the party’s nomination next year.
Woerner’s most recent Republican challenger, Christopher Boyark, had won a party primary last September in which only 1,600 total votes were cast. Zegers said Boyark’s eventual loss to Woerner was the final impetus, causing her to start “thinking I should grab this opportunity.”
“I’m ready to run,” Zegers concluded, even if her graduation from American University in May 2018 must come first.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Augie Vitiello was thrilled to finally hold a large pair of scissors for a ribbon cutting on Wednesday in front of his new take-out restaurant in the city. “I’ve been eyeing this location for a number of years,” Vitiello said, about an hour before the grand opening of Augie’s Family-Style Italian To Go at 223 Lake Avenue in the City of Saratoga Springs. His new business sits directly across from the East Side Recreation Park. For several years, the dishes served in generous portions at Vitiello’s restaurant in the Village of Ballston Spa have attracted a steady flow of customers. A devastating fire in 2013 forced Vitiello to relocate that restaurant to Low Street in the village, where he says it will remain long term. Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, said he’s certain the Augie’s “brand” will prove successful in the city as well. Customers in the Lake Avenue neighborhood and elsewhere will appreciate the convenience of a take-out establishment, according to Shimkus. “They’ve got such a great reputation,” he said of Augie’s. “Locally, they’re going to attract a ton of people.”
BALLSTON SPA — This week, federal environmental officials began the process of installing technical devices at dozens of properties to monitor air quality near the Rickett’s Dry Cleaning and Laundry building. Their goal is to determine the extent of chemical contamination discovered last summer at that shuttered village business.
Don Graham, a scene coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said small teams of federal contractors will install devices inside numerous homes and businesses in the Village of Ballston Spa to obtain air samples, through the month of February. Colder weather is ideal for taking such measurements, he said.
Rickett’s, situated along a busy stretch of Doubleday Avenue, closed for business in 2014, according to the EPA. Today, the building’s dilapidated exterior makes it a plainly visible contrast to other popular businesses in the area.
In July 2016, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation had requested an EPA assessment, which revealed a “historic release” of the chemical PERC that was commonly used in dry cleaning activities. Other chemicals identified in that EPA assessment included chloroform, vinyl chloride and benzene. An EPA fact sheet detailing the Rickett’s site further indicates, “low-level chemical exposures over many years may raise the lifetime risk of cancer or chronic disease.”
Graham explained that some chemicals migrated away from the Rickett’s property and had seeped into ground water. In turn, those chemicals can be released into the environment as vapors through cracks in the foundations of adjacent properties, particularly downhill to the east and south of Doubleday Avenue (Route 50).
Larisa Romanowski, the EPA’s community involvement coordinator, expressed the importance of conveying to village property owners that their “drinking water is not impacted” by any chemical contamination at the Rickett’s site.
The village’s water is supplied by a large aquifer to the north in the Town of Milton, according to Graham.
“That’s where all of our water comes from,” confirmed Ballston Spa Mayor John Romano. For all village residents, he said, contamination of drinking water “should not be one of their concerns.”
Precise measurements from the EPA’s technical monitors will be compiled sometime in March, Graham continued. He will be “surprised,” he said, if chemicals have not migrated from the Rickett’s site. Property owners whose land or structures appear to be contaminated, Graham added, “will get a call from me.”
The next steps by the EPA would involve installation of radon mitigation systems that effectively vent most hazardous vapors before they enter homes or businesses.
In recent weeks, Romano said he personally reached out to property owners living near the Rickett’s site to recommend they consent to the EPA testing. He observed between 75 and 100 local residents in attendance at a public forum in the village on January 23, during which EPA officials had provided more information and residents voiced their concerns.
“I’ll be reaching out to various agencies…asking that they take a look at this,” Romano said.
The mayor was unable to predict when the chemical contamination found at the Rickett’s property would be fully cleaned up. “I would love to see it happen this year,” Romano said.