Saratoga County

Controversial Saratoga Springs rec center proving good for tourism

The city’s new indoor recreation center is generating more tourism and rental business than expected

The city’s new indoor recreation center is generating more tourism and rental business than expected through regional volleyball and AAU basketball tournaments.

The $6 million facility opened last July at 15 Vanderbilt Ave. after years of planning and some controversy.

More than 10 special sporting events — many of them attracting between 500 and 1,000 people over a weekend — are scheduled in the building through June 11.

For example, a national volleyball tryout session was conducted over three days earlier this month and brought more than 1,200 people to the city, many from other parts of the Northeast and country, according to Linda Terricola, the city’s part-time recreation director. And last weekend, an AAU basketball tournament attracted between 500 and 1,000 to the new building over two days.

The 33,500-square-foot building can be organized into four smaller junior high-sized basketball courts or two full-sized collegiate basketball courts.

“We have been getting so much positive feedback from people from out of town,” Terricola said. Terricola officially retired last year after many years as recreation director but is working temporarily as part-time director until a new director is named.

Todd Garofano, president of the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau, said these visiting youth teams and their parents are good for business.

“They are bringing a lot of folks into the area,” Garofano said on Tuesday. “They are staying at hotels, eating at local restaurants and shopping in our shops.”

The tourism bureau and city officials have recently been discussing ways that they can do more to collaborate in marketing the city and its recreation opportunities.

“They sample many different restaurants, many different shops and hotels,” Garofano said about the athletes and their parents who come for the tournaments and tryouts at the new recreation center. “Everybody gets a piece of this.”

He said traditional conventions are generally anchored to one or two hotels but the sports visitors use hotels and eateries all over the city.

These organizations also pay rent to the city for use of the building. City officials did not have rental income numbers available on Tuesday.

Rental for the gym is $45 per hour for city residents and residents of the city school district, $65 per hour for school-related groups and nonprofit organizations and $75 per hour for non-residents and for-profit organizations with an additional fee of $30 per court if the group rents more than one court at a time.

The city recreation department’s own basketball and volleyball programs have, for the most part, ended their seasons after starting play last November.

Free open gym time is always scheduled for city residents and residents of the city school district throughout the year. Terricola said when special events are scheduled, the large game room, which features a variety of games such as pool, foosball and pingpong, is always open for use by local young people.

Terricola said she has not heard complaints from residents about the gym being occupied by outside organizations on some weekends. She said the free open gym time is offered during the weekdays and evenings when paid events are held on weekends.

The City Council borrowed $6.5 million for the recreation center about six years ago. The actual construction of the center was a controversial issue, especially when the recession hit in 2008. Neighbors of the Vanderbilt Avenue area were also opposed to the construction of the building on what had been a city playground near their homes.

Mayor Scott Johnson said late last year that since the new building opened last summer, he has heard many more positive comments about the facility than negative remarks.

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