The students of Skidmore College in the late 1990s certainly weren’t thinking about it when they went out for drinks at One Caroline Bistro or watched Belizbeha perform on the campus green, but their presence in Saratoga was, essentially, the city’s sole year-round economic driver. Other than the college, which had been bringing students and their parents to spend money in Saratoga for nearly 100 years, the city’s economy mostly depended on the profits made during the summer months, when tourists came to town for SPAC and the track. That, of course, is no longer the case.
“The challenge was attracting businesses outside the summer season to Saratoga,” says Adirondack Trust Company Chair Charles V. Wait, who served as the chairman of the Plan of Action, a downtown Saratoga revitalization effort that began in the early 1970s. Through that effort, trees were planted on Broadway, a law was passed allowing sidewalk cafes, and eventually, in 1984, the Saratoga Springs City Center, a community effort Wait considers among his proudest achievements, opened.
But in 1998—the year Saratoga Living was born—Saratoga still wasn’t the year-round destination it is today. “I remember the town as being more local most of the year,” says Sarah Craig, who’s served as executive director of Caffè Lena since 1995. “Tourists were here in the summer, but in the off-season we tended to see a crowd of local regulars with deep ties to the venue. Now, we get a steady stream of out-of-town visitors year round.”
The fundamental shift came about in 2009, but the city had been laying the groundwork for it to happen since decades prior. “All of those years of trying to develop first SPAC, and then renovate downtown, get the City Center—all of those things were incremental improvements that led to the ability to attract a major industry like Global Foundries,” Wait says. “They’ve been here maybe 15 years, but it took 10 years of effort to get them. You should never say a community or economy is on automatic pilot, but now the development has just mushroomed because of all that effort.”
The result? Students who attend Skidmore College today no longer graduate and have to look for work elsewhere—there are jobs here. They can stay in Saratoga, go to the races in the summer, galas in the spring, festivals in the fall and museums in the winter. A year-round community, indeed.