If you’re like me and keep the programs and ticket stubs from every show you’ve ever attended, you’re no doubt doing a double take at the ones you collected last year in Saratoga Springs. You’re probably thinking, “Did I really see all of those acts here?” An unbelievable array of entertainers visited the Spa City, from hip-hop artist Cardi B and pop-jazz songstress Norah Jones at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) to folk music legend Judy Collins and jazz master Fred Hersch at Caffè Lena. Sadly, I didn’t get to catch all of those shows—but it did make me wonder: How has Saratoga fostered (and sustained) such a thriving cultural tourism scene?
A key player in that equation is Discover Saratoga’s (a.k.a. the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau’s) president for the last two years, Darryl Leggieri. “Cultural tourism shouldn’t be at the corners of the conversation in Saratoga,” Leggieri says. “This topic needs to be front and center.” Just how does the magic happen? Think of Saratoga’s culture and arts scene as a massive rock concert, and Leggieri and his staff as the managers, roadies and stagehands working tirelessly on the well-oiled machine behind the scenes. They do everything from coordinating and hosting popular city-wide events such as the recent Chowderfest and this November’s Restaurant Week to working with community leaders to match funds for marketing grants secured by SPAC.
Speaking of SPAC, as frenetic as 2019 might’ve seemed, Leggieri says that 2020 is going to make an even bigger splash. To start with, later this month, Universal Preservation Hall (UPH), Saratoga’s new year-round arts venue, opens on Washington Street, after two decades of dormancy; and this spring, nonprofit wellness center COESA (pronounced coh-EE-suh) will be opening at the historic Roosevelt II Bathhouse in the Saratoga Spa State Park. COESA—which is collaborating with SPAC to transform the bathhouse into a year-round cultural arts center—will be offering Saratogians unique retreat experiences and classes on promoting personal wellness, handling work-life balance and practicing meditation/mindfulness.
Another big reason why the city has such off-the-charts cultural tourism options is the presence of Saratoga Race Course. And Leggieri and company have more than a few new tricks up their sleeve for the upcoming summer meet. “We want to kick off the racing season by bringing back the Hats Off To Saratoga Music Festival on opening weekend,” he says. For nearly three decades, the racing season sprang to life with a citywide festival, anchored by live music in Downtown Saratoga—but the fun ended after the 2017 season. “We need to garner excitement about this, and I hope to play a part in making that happen,” says Leggieri. Additionally, Leggieri says that Discover Saratoga has fully embraced the new eight-week track schedule, with dark days now on Mondays and Tuesdays, and will be incorporating tailored marketing initiatives—group incentive offers, digital marketing videos and online advertising—to keep foot traffic in Downtown Saratoga strong all summer long. “Discover Saratoga will be messaging to Capital Region residents that you can get a restaurant reservation, find parking and reserve a hotel in Saratoga Springs during the summer months,” says Leggieri. “The goal is to create and communicate a compelling story that will promote the unique aspects of Saratoga Springs that make it a world-class cultural tourism destination.”
Leggieri and Discover Saratoga must be doing something right: This is my fourth year in the Spa City, and my only complaint is that I don’t have nearly enough time for all of this fun!