The great fictional race car driver Ricky Bobby lived by the creed, “If you’re not first, you’re last.”
That same vision is what’s driving improvements to the Saratoga Race Course, and it's what should be encouraging the public to get aboard.
If the New York Racing Association doesn’t invest in the 152-year-old facility by offering new modern amenities that today’s consumers demand, it will soon find itself at the back of the pack.
And that not only will directly affect the future of the race track, but the economy of Saratoga Springs and the surrounding areas that benefit so hugely from hosting this tourism gem.
According to an economic study of the track released in March, the Capital Region — including Saratoga Springs and eight counties including Saratoga, Schenectady, Albany and Montgomery —receive $237 million in economic benefits from the track. With its 2,600 jobs and more than $14 million in local and state tax revenue generated, NYRA can ill afford to let the facility go to seed.
A key component of the $100 million, 15-year capital improvement plan for the track is the construction of a permanent “At the Rail” building. The new building — which would replace the old tent/trailer/metal awning structure located adjacent to the grandstand just past the finish line — would include such amenities as banquet areas, a kitchen, luxury suites with balconies overlooking the track, a children's area, a restaurant and outdoor dining terraces.
The building — at least from the drawings we’ve seen (we’ve been fooled by architectural renderings before, haven’t we, Schenectady) — would fit very nicely into the historic-looking buildings that already grace the site. There's no reason to believe designers would want to depart from the existing architectural style, which gives the track its charm and which keeps people coming back year after year.
People shouldn't balk at making alterations. Changes aren’t new to the track, which first opened in 1863, with the first grandstand built a year later. Buildings constructed in the early 20th century were torn down or converted to other uses. In the 1920s and 30s, the park was expanded with better parking and a circular flow, and a clubhouse was added to the grandstand in 1928. The existing grandstand and clubhouse were built in 1892 and upgraded and expanded in 1965. Even the turf track has only been around for about 54 of the track’s 152 years.
In addition to the new At the Rail facility, the changes include improvements to the paddock area, which has been roundly criticized over the years as inadequate.
Despite all the changes, the track has managed to retain its historic ambience.
But that doesn’t mean officials can just turn their backs on what’s happening there. Someone might get a wild hair and think the place needs a modern twist. It doesn’t. It needs modern amenities like luxury boxes built to conform with the existing look.
Also, as the track becomes more attractive, it will become more popular. And that could place a strain on existing local infrastructure, including parking, roads, water and sewer. City officials will have to be on top of those issues, and NYRA officials will have to be prepared to address them with tangible answers and the money to back them up.
The public has until tomorrow (Monday, June 29) to comment on the environmental impact review. The draft plan is available for viewing online at www.nyra.com. Go over to the right of the screen and scroll down to a red box entitled: “Saratoga Race Course Redevelopment Plan.” Comments can be sent electronically to Carolyn Dunderdale at the state Office of General Services: [email protected]
Given the impact of Saratoga on the community and the need to constantly improve to stay ahead of the competition, it appears these improvements are on the right track.