Saratoga County

Funds freeze halts SPAC work

A $2.5 million renovation of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center amphitheater is in question because

A $2.5 million renovation of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center amphitheater is in question because state funds to complete the project have been frozen, SPAC officials said Friday.

The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation was going to use some of its capital funds to complete the last two phases in an ongoing SPAC renovation. The amphitheater’s exterior was to be updated and new lighting, a new sound system and bathrooms were slated to be added.

The first chunk of work was bid out for $250,000 and was supposed to be completed this fall, but it wasn’t because those funds were frozen as well, said John Nigro, a SPAC board member.

“While we were told that the money is still there somewhere … the funds were frozen along with anything that is nonessential to the state,” Nigro said at SPAC’s quarterly board meeting Friday.

Nigro said he didn’t know whether the funds will be released by the state soon.

“It’s anybody’s guess. It’s a bloodbath down there,” he said.

Eleanor Mullaney, a board member for both SPAC and the Saratoga-Capital District region of the state Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commission, said the parks are strapped for cash.

“Parks is in desperate shape, along with every other state organization,” she said.

The state parks office is likely to ask for concert promoter Live Nation’s help with cleanup costs for rock concerts, during which patrons leave plastic cups, beer cans and other trash in the park, Mullaney said.

“The cost to the park itself is quite substantial,” she said.

On the plus side, ticket and membership prices for SPAC’s 2009 season will remain the same as this year, officials announced.

“We will also be offering ticket packages, specially priced performances and promotions like free children on the lawn to further add to the value of the SPAC experience,” said Marcia White, president and executive director.

SPAC expects to end this year in the black for the fourth year in a row.

The organization is financially solvent even though tough economic times and a rainy summer cut attendance at its shows this year, White said.

But financial struggles are nothing new for SPAC, which operated in the red until new leadership took over the organization several years ago.

“We’ve always been ahead of the curve, and we’ve always seen what’s coming long before it hits us,” White said.

Staff salaries and operational costs are being kept at 2008 levels for next year, she said.

And board chairman William Dake said the lagging economy is forcing artists to reconsider the fees they charge performance venues, which means SPAC won’t have to pay as much for performers.

“They are recognizing a more flexible schedule and more flexible prices,” Dake said.

“If I were to describe us, I would say we may be the last man standing in a very difficult time,” he said.

Significant dates for SPAC’s season are:

June 27 and 28: Freihofer’s Jazz Festival, featuring Dave Brubeck and George Benson.

July 7 to 18: New York City Ballet, whose two-week season includes the full-length ballet “Coppelia.”

Aug. 5 to 22: The Philadelphia Orchestra, which this year features soloist Yo-Yo Ma and a tribute to artist Edgar Degas.

Aug. 4 to 23: Saratoga Chamber Music Festival, highlighting Igudesman & Joo’s comedy and music show, “A Little Nightmare Music.”

May 23 to June 11: Extended season, with Arturo O’Farrill, Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra and the Paul Taylor Dance Company.

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