State grants boost SPAC

People sit on blankets on the lawn for a summer movie night at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs. (Photo provided — Gary Gold, SPAC)

SARATOGA SPRINGS — With the help of two recently announced state grants, totaling nearly $1.7 million, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center will enhance its facilities and let tourists know about its world-class entertainment offerings.

The grants — designated for a multimedia marketing campaign, improvements to concession areas and additional education space — fall under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Council Initiative for economic and community development.

“SPAC’s vision for the future includes a much larger footprint in the region, including expanding the wide array of arts, culture and education programs,” said Elizabeth Sobol, the center’s president and CEO.

The projects, partially funded by the state awards, sprang from Sobol’s first visit to the area from New York City a little over two years ago when she interviewed for her current position.

Seeing the potential at SPAC and the surrounding area drew her here, and once she became aware of what she called its “cultural vibrancy,” her vision took hold.

Concert-goers enjoy an evening on the lawn at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs. (Photo provided — Chris Lee, SPAC)

“I had no idea. People often think of the race track and maybe wouldn’t think to come here for the arts,” she said. “What struck me was how much I discovered here. … I thought, ‘How can we spread the word and bring cultural tourists here?'”

At the same time, Sobol saw the need for upgrades.

“I was looking at SPAC through the eyes of a newcomer,” she said. “I saw crumbling limestone, broken windows, and the concessions were a problem. Of the 100 bathrooms, because they are so old, we can only keep about 40 to 50 percent operating at any time.”

The REDC award of $1.5 million will help move a $5.5 million improvement project forward.

“We will demolish part of what is there and rebuild beautiful park-like structures,” she said.

The rebuild will make the area more functional and safe and add educational space, she added.

In the past two years, SPAC has increased educational programs to children, boosting attendance from 5,000 to 38,000, and has plans to continue increasing those numbers, Sobol said. As part of the project, the center will add 6,000 square feet of space for workshops and a pavilion for pre-show talks.

The project will replace aging infrastructure and provide new facilities, including classroom and gathering spaces. Additionally, SPAC will replace aging and inadequate restroom and concession facilities.

She said a previous $1.75 million grant will pay for ramp renovations and lighting this spring, and the concessions area redo will begin in 2020.

As part of the multimedia marketing campaign, funded by a $195,000 I Love NY award, SPAC has partnered with Caffe Lena, Opera Saratoga, Skidmore College and National Museum of Dance to spur economic development and draw cultural tourists.

“The marketing will focus on promoting Saratoga Springs as a thriving destination for cultural arts,” said Darryl Leggieri, president of Discover Saratoga.

Sobol said the level of cultural arts locally is world-class, and the campaign will reach beyond the area to draw new people here.

This year, advertising campaigns will be created, and in 2020 they will make the big media buys and roll out the campaigns, Sobol said.

“These projects solve a lot of challenges,” she said.