Saratoga County

Better planning sought at fairgrounds

Village leaders are looking for better event planning from the Saratoga County fairgrounds.
The 16th annual Irish 2000 Festival was held at the Saratoga County Fairgrounds in Ballston Spa in September.
The 16th annual Irish 2000 Festival was held at the Saratoga County Fairgrounds in Ballston Spa in September.

Village leaders are looking for better event planning from the Saratoga County Fair after traffic and public safety coverage issues arose this summer from several large events at the fairgrounds.

Village officials said there needs to be better planning for police, ambulance and fire coverage for those events, but fair officials said the costs passed on to promoters can’t be too high or the village approval process too long.

Both sides think the issues can be resolved by next summer’s fair season.

The issues are arising as the fair management works to expand the number of events in an effort to improve the fair’s finances.

“We are looking to maximize use of the fairgrounds,” said Jeff Townsend, the fair’s general manager, who came to Monday’s Village Board meeting with a busload of fair supporters.

The fair needs revenue from events beyond the six-day July county fair to be financially viable, he said.

For a number of years, the fairgrounds on Prospect Street have been rented for additional summer events like the GE company picnic, Irish Fest, the GottaGetGone Folk Festival and a dog show.

But this summer, the fairgrounds for the first time hosted some large-crowd events promoted by country music radio stations.

WGNA sponsored a “world’s largest yard sale” in early August that drew thousands and backed up traffic in the village. There were similar issues when WGNA held a “summer picnic” concert in late August.

Village officials said problems were brought to a head with a planned Montgomery Gentry country concert that was going to be sponsored by Albany Broadcasting Co. on Sept. 29.

Mayor John Romano said the village was told in February to plan for a concert crowd of 10,000 to 12,000 people, but the promoter didn’t follow through with insurance coverage required by the village or with contracts to pay for additional police, fire and emergency medical protection. The village estimated police costs for the all-day event for a crowd that size could be $28,000.

The concert was moved elsewhere when the crowd estimate was reduced and the differences with the promoter couldn’t be resolved.

Now the village is talking about developing a more extensive review process for future fairground events.

“There’s no reason why we can’t sit down and work out any issues with the fair,” Romano said. “We need to pre-plan, sit down and work out a plan.”

Townsend cautioned that concert promoters generally need prompt answers on whether a venue is available. “The thing I would caution about is making it an extended process,” he said.

Other fair supporters who spoke at the meeting said the village needs to support the fair organization because it brings people into the village.

“We have in the fair essentially a convention center, an outdoor convention center,” said village resident John Cromie. “Many of these events are radio sponsored, and they’re on the radio talking Ballston Spa, Ballston Spa.”

Representatives of the Ballston Spa Fire Department and Community Emergency Corps said they need to be able to plan ahead for large events.

“We can’t just jump. We can’t gamble with public safety. There has to be a plan to protect public safety,” said village Fire Chief Kevin Therrault.

Bill Smith, chief of operations for the emergency corps, said emergency medical staff at a large Saratoga Performing Arts Center concert see as many as 200 people seeking help, and Ballston Spa needs to be prepared if the fairground is going to host large concerts.

“Going forward, we need to plan better, and plan further ahead,” he said.

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