Developer Bruce Levinsky expects to break ground this summer on a $45 million project that will transform the historic Rip Van Dam into a modern 176-room hotel and 200-seat banquet facility by 2016.
The approval granted by members of the city Planning Board last month is one Levinsky has waited for since first proposing a massive overhaul of the 174-year-old structure nearly two decades ago. The new addition will rise six stories from the rear of the what was once the American Hotel and cover the footprint of a 19th century wing Levinsky demolished 2007.
Overlooking the old section of the building will be a large glassed-in banquet and meeting area on the sixth floor of the new addition. The facility will also include outdoor rooftop seating overlooking the city.
“We are really enthusiastic about this project because this particular part of downtown Saratoga is really going to become the brand new hospitality center of the city,” Levinsky said.
As part of the project, the developer will also build a massive five-story, 350-spot parking deck on Hamilton Street over a small lot that now fits about 86 cars. The new lot will be used primarily for guests, the hotel’s valet parking service and Maestro’s Restaurant — an eatery in the Rip Van Dam — but some spaces will be rented to the public throughout the year.
Levinsky still needs some approvals for the parking deck. The size of the structure was recently increased, meaning he needs to go back before the city’s Design Review Commission for it to OK the change.
Construction on the hotel, however, is expected to get under way this summer. Levinsky expects the project will take about 16 months.
After decades of seasonal operation, the Rip Van Dam was sold to Levinsky in 1996. He proposed an ambitious $10.4 million project to transform the building into 90-suite, year-round hotel with 350-seat banquet facility.
But the plans turned controversial when Levinsky proposed demolishing an L-shaped wing extending from the rear of the building. Preservationists were able to prevent the oldest part of the wing — a segment built during the 1870s — from being demolished because of a deed covenant the previous owners of the Rip Van Dam entered into with the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation to qualify for a facade improvement grant.
Levinsky shelved plans for the hotel after a lengthy battle with the foundation, instead converting the Broadway facade into office space. The foundation’s covenant expired in 2005, clearing the way for Levinsky to revive plans to demolish the wing.
Preservationists continued to object to the demolition, but by 2006, a segment of the wing was in desperate need of stabilization. In 2007, the demolition of the wing was approved, leaving only an 8-foot-tall brick wall to separate the resulting parking lot from the Adelphi Hotel next door.
Levinsky returned with plans to add a 160-room wing onto the building in February 2013. Levinsky’s partners in the project are Presidian, a hotel management and development company headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, and Provident Development Group.
City planners were initially skeptical about the project, due to its lack of parking and the impact it could have on traffic. Those concerns were partially alleviated by Levinsky’s proposal to build the parking garage on Hamilton Street.
Construction will temporarily displace the Saratoga Candy Shop on Washington Street, but Levinsky said the business will have space once the new wing is complete. He said his plans for the property are “surprisingly very similar” to ones he pitched 17 years ago, though they have adapted to the growing need for hotel space downtown.
“We have quite a few hotels in the city, but they’re not really in the bull’s-eye of downtown like this one is,” he said.