SARATOGA SPRINGS -- The city finally may have found a site for the long-discussed East Side fire and emergency medical station.
New York State's Franchise Oversight Board, meeting Tuesday in New York City, authorized the New York Racing Association to negotiate an agreement with the city to lease 2.36 acres of NYRA-owned land on Henning Avenue, at the eastern end of the Oklahoma Training Track property.
Oversight Board Chairman Robert Williams said allowing the city to build a fire station there would address long-standing concerns about response should there ever be a fire at Saratoga Race Course, where NYRA holds its summer meet.
"This proposal has long been advocated by Saratoga Springs Mayor Meg Kelly as a resolution to issues within the city itself, but it does interlock nicely to address some concerns of the state racing franchise," Williams said.
The location would be on vacant land facing Henning Road, just south of Fifth Avenue and facing a parking lot of the Donald F. Myers BOCES Center. Preliminary plans call for a 10,000- to 15,000-square-foot, three-bay station.
NYRA officials strongly advocate for the idea of a fire station adjoining their property. For city officials, it would achieve a goal they have been working toward for 30 years, to the frustration of many.
To explain their slow progress, city officials have repeatedly cited difficulty finding affordable land on the east site of the city, where some of the community's most expensive homes have been built in recent decades in former woodlands north of Saratoga Lake. Previous public safety commissioner Chris Mathiesen negotiated a land swap with a developer who would have traded his land for a city-owned downtown parking lot, but that deal ultimately foundered amid legal challenges to the arrangement.
While the goal previously was to find a piece of land on the east side of the Northway, Kelly said the NYRA site is actually better because it lies between Saratoga Lake and development that has been occurring farther north off state Route 29 in the city's outer district.
"There's been a lot of growth on the East Side, not just around Saratoga Lake but off of Route 29, and this is about a perfect location because they can either go south or go north to Route 29," Kelly said.
The city would enter a long-term lease with NYRA. Kelly said detailed plans for a station still must be developed, but it would cost anywhere between $3 million and $6 million, and the financing is in place.
City Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan said she's been planning at least informally for financing a fire station for at least the last five years, and it will probably be paid for by a combination of fund balance and borrowing. "The money is there. This is not an unexpected development," Madigan said. "I've always been planning for it."
The city has been talking with NYRA about a fire station site since April, Kelly said, after new NYRA President and CEO David O'Rourke proved to be more receptive to the concept than previous NYRA leadership.
Franchise Oversight Board chairman Williams said he's had long-standing concerns about fire protection at the Saratoga track because so many of the buildings on the track grounds are built of wood, though they have fire suppression systems.
Williams said a fire station adjoining the track could also serve as a command center for local law enforcement during the track season, which runs from mid-July to Labor Day each summer and draws tens of thousands of people every day. The city Police Department has generally had a makeshift command center at the track, but no permanent facility.
"NYRA is an enthusiastic advocate for this project," NYRA spokesman Patrick McKenna said in a news release. "NYRA brought this matter to the [Franchise Oversight Board] after being approached by city leaders earlier this year who had expressed concern about the need to improve emergency response times for our neighbors on the east side of Saratoga Springs.
"We look forward to the addition of this fire and EMS station which will enhance the health, safety and welfare of the residents of the city of Saratoga Springs, the backstretch community and our fans," McKenna said.
While many steps lie ahead, Kelly said she hopes to see the new station open within about two years.