SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce has decided to cancel annual events that mark the beginning and end of track season.
President Todd Shimkus said the chamber will host an alternative event to Hats Off, a nearly 30-year-old, two-day music festival that featured performances on stages set up throughout the downtown area and signified the opening of Saratoga Race Course for the summer meet.
"We have new restaurants and bars that have opened over the last 30 years and most — if not all — have their own entertainment on those same nights," he said. "What we'll do is, instead of hosting our own event, we'll collaborate to market those events to welcome back racing fans."
Shimkus said that while the event is coming to an end, another will replace it.
"It felt like, in many respects, that outdoor entertainment was being duplicated and competing with others, which didn't make sense anymore," he said. "It makes sense for restaurants and bars to have bands; it doesn't make sense for the chamber to pay for bands to be there."
The Final Stretch Music Festival, traditionally staged on Labor Day weekend to mark the end of the meet, is also getting canned.
Shimkus said that, while the event wasn't as popular as the Hats Off Music Festival, the Final Stretch Music Festival will also morph into something new, though details for that won't be worked on until the chamber's January meeting, Shimkus said.
"We'll probably do the same type of thing [as with Hats Off], but we haven't come up with anything yet," he said. "It's up in the air. Our marketing efforts for the events kick off on March 1, so we have a couple of months to put something together."
By shifting the focus to events held by local businesses, Shimkus said the chamber would save money.
He said the cost for both events can range up to $35,000.
"The money can be spent promoting the bands instead of on promotional pieces for the festival, such as stages and security," Shimkus said. "We'll save money, and so will our members, because they won't have to sponsor a festival."
Shimkus added that hosting the music events inside local businesses would also prevent the chamber from being at the mercy of the weather.
"We've had years where we had to cancel one of the nights because it was rained out," he said. "It creates more assurance that the bands will be able to perform."
Maddy Zanetti, president of the Saratoga Springs Downtown Business Association, said revamping Hats Off and Final Stretch is necessary, as both events have gotten smaller over the years.
"Every so often, events need to be re-created to be fresh and new," she said. "They wanted to re-create them in a way that would be more user-friendly for businesses and the chamber."
Zanetti said that, while summer events are welcomed in the city, she'd like the association, chamber and Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau to focus on hosting more events from January to May.
"It's great to have events, but we already have people downtown then," she said of the summer months. "We're always trying to get people to come downtown when it's quieter."
When the chamber determines its plans for the Hats Off and Final Stretch events, Zanetti said she hopes they get needed support.
"Hopefully people will like the new set-up," she said. "Hopefully, it'll also be something the businesses can get behind, because without that it won't go anywhere."
City Historian Mary Ann Fitzgerald said she has confidence that new events will be good for the track season.
"We'll miss them, but Saratoga Springs always comes back and brings us something new and exciting," she said. "It marks a new season and a new time, so people need not worry about when they see something coming to an end."
Fitzgerald added that she'll be anxiously awaiting the chamber's final plans for the music festivals.
"As wonderful as these events have been, something new will probably be better," she said.