As a teenager, Hans Theisen worked four different jobs at Saratoga Race Course and several summers at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. As an adult, with a career that took him to Chicago and Los Angeles, he hasn’t missed a single August in Saratoga for the past 25 years.
He is a guy who knows as well as anyone the chaos and angst, the secrets and tricks to parking in a small upstate city whose summer season draws hundreds of thousands of visitors.
Perhaps it’s no surprise then that Theisen is the brains behind SpaceDerby, a new online and mobile platform where people can find and reserve a parking space for a day at the track or a concert at SPAC.
“I like to say it’s just like booking a hotel on hotels.com,” he said. “You look up the date you want to go and you’ll see the available inventory and pricing, then you go ahead and book that space and it’s guaranteed for you.”
The website (spacederby.com) launched the Monday before opening day at the track. An app available for download on Apple and Android phones will launch any day now. Based on your chosen date and destination, SpaceDerby returns all available parking options by distance, price or vehicle type. You reserve one of them with a credit or debit card payment, and a confirmation email is sent right away to be printed out or shown to a parking attendant the day of the event.
So far, SpaceDerby has contracted with six private lots for track parking and Saratoga Spa State Park for SPAC parking. It’s looking to add more inventory in downtown Saratoga for general event parking. Anyone can list space with the company and set their own price for reservations. SpaceDerby takes a small percentage.
“There are two really cool benefits with this,” Theisen said. “One is that obviously you can use a credit card to pay for parking. Most people have to pay with cash to park and that can be a real hassle for some people. The second thing is that it guarantees your space, no matter what time you show up, and it’s a fixed price.”
Traditionally, visitors who drive to the track compete for spaces provided by the New York Racing Association on the grounds, private lots or driveways and lawns of residents who live close to the track. These spots go for anywhere from $5 to $50, depending on their proximity to the track, the race day and the time of day. Weekends are more expensive, as are opening day, Travers Day and Whitney Day.
Theisen said a lot of people are booking ahead for these days — which are guaranteed to be hectic — so they won’t have the hassle of finding a spot. Currently, SpaceDerby inventory for Travers Day (Aug. 23) is going for anywhere from $15 to $42 a pop.
“The lot owners like it because they have always wanted to take credit cards,” he said. “They get asked all the time about it. They also get free promotion by being listed on our site. A couple owners are even setting aside spaces at the front of their lots for people booking ahead.”
Theisen was heartened to already hear from one user who was able to book a spot for her handicapped colleague at a lot close to the track.
As a thank you to customers, but also as an homage to his favorite downtown, Theisen has launched a partner rewards program that provides automatic discounts and rewards to people who book a space with SpaceDerby.
“You’ll automatically get 15 percent off food at The Horseshoe Inn or a free margarita at Mexican Connection or a little thing of olive oil from Saratoga Olive Oil,” he said.
Eventually, he hopes to expand SpaceDerby beyond Saratoga, perhaps to Albany or Syracuse or Pittsburgh or Montreal. So far, though, he’s happy to keep things small. After all, if he can make parking stress-free in downtown Saratoga in August, what can’t he do?