Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County collected record hotel occupancy taxes during this summer’s tourism season, even as attendance at Saratoga Race Course declined from 2012.
The statistics may show the city’s downtown has become a travel destination in its own right, local tourism officials said Tuesday.
“What the community has been working on for 50 years has come true, and downtown Saratoga has become its own destination,” said Charles V. Wait, president of the Adirondack Trust Co. and chairman of this year’s Saratoga 150 Committee.
Broadway and the blocks immediately surrounding it have a collection of independent shops and restaurants that draw people from throughout the Northeast. This fall, the first downtown movie theater since the 1970s opened, along with a major new bookstore.
“Saratoga as a downtown has established itself as a destination,” said Mark Baker, executive director of the Saratoga Springs City Center, which hosts conventions throughout the year and was the site of Tuesday’s news conference.
This past summer was the 150th anniversary of thoroughbred horse racing in Saratoga Springs, with a number of special events held to draw people into the city. At least 30,000 people filled downtown for the Floral Fete and Ice Cream Social on Aug. 2.
But track attendance at the 40-day meet dropped to about 867,000, a nearly 5 percent decrease from the year before. Smaller crowds around backstretch picnic tables or standing rail-side didn’t mean empty hotel rooms in the city — or even in the county — during July and August, officials said Tuesday.
Those are the months when the track is open, and also the height of activity at cultural venues like the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
SPAC’s summer season this year included sold-out shows by Phish and appearances by the Dave Matthews Band and other popular performers. SPAC officials, without releasing specifics, have said its Live Nations shows set an attendance record this year.
“SPAC, the track, we have iconic events here,” Baker said.
According to the figures released Tuesday, the city’s hotel room occupancy tax generated a record $1.15 million in June, July and August. That was up 4.1 percent from the summer of 2012.
That money is divided between the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau and the City Center, each of which received $461,000, and the city itself, which got $230,000 for its general fund.
Saratoga County collected $327,000 from its 1 percent countywide occupancy tax, up 3.5 percent from a year ago. That money goes into tourism promotion advertising.
The county has 41 hotels, with 2,700 rooms, according to officials; of those, 22 facilities with 1,600 rooms are in the city.
Smith Travel Research reported 87.7 percent of hotel rooms countywide were rented during August; the number was 89.2 percent for the city alone. Both figures are up from a year ago, and average room revenue rose, as fewer room rates were discounted. The average nightly room rate in August was $252 in the city and $219 countywide.
“These numbers unequivocally demonstrate that the lure of Saratoga Springs is stronger than ever, with record-breaking figures across the board in conjunction with a milestone anniversary season at Saratoga Race Course,” said county Supervisor Matthew Veitch, R-Saratoga Springs, chairman of the county’s Racing Committee.
The occupancy growth is fresh evidence against a common concern in recent years that Saratoga Springs can’t support the number of hotels being built. Hundreds of rooms have been added in the last three years.
Actually, there’s still room for more hotels, said Todd Garofano, president of the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau.
“There are many weekends when we’re completely sold out,” he said. “We’re giving away rooms to Lake George, to Colonie.”
Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, said some new hotels are for extended-stay visitors — and that’s a new market, driven by the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant. GlobalFoundries brings in workers for temporary assignments, and many of its suppliers and construction contractors also rent rooms.
With the possibility of a Las Vegas-style casino coming to the city in the next few years, Shimkus said he’s comfortable that safeguards written into state legislation authorizing casino gambling will guarantee local input. “There will be conversations … about how to make this a win-win situation,” he said.
State voters last week approved a constitutional amendment to legalize gambling, though voters in most Capital Region counties — including Saratoga — were against it.
“The biggest threat to Saratoga County is complacency,” Shimkus said. “We need to keep looking for the next big thing. … That may be it.”
“Saratoga Springs has a rich history as a tourism destination and resort town, especially in the summer months,” Mayor Scott Johnson, who did not attend the news conference, said in a news release. “The numbers announced today highlight the region’s stature as one of New York’s premier travel locations.”