SARATOGA SPRINGS - Officials are hoping to cast a long-term vision for the 2,800-acre Saratoga Spa State Park, an endeavor they think will embolden efforts to secure funding for one of the region's historic gems.
Efforts to create a comprehensive master plan - the park's first - will begin this year, charting the park's course for the next 20 years, said Robert Kuhn, assistant director of the Saratoga-Capital District Region of the state park system.
The park is one of just 11 - among 213 parks statewide - that is taking up the planning effort in the near future, according to the New York State Council of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
The plan will address facility needs and identify aspects of the park that could be enhanced. Exact plans haven't been devised, but ideas include adding more tennis courts,
expanding the trail system and allowing camping, Kuhn said.
Putting the priorities on paper, and attaching dollar amounts to them, will make selling state leaders on the ideas easier, he added.
"You can't go ask for money until you know what you want to spend that money on," Kuhn said in an interview this week. "That plan will become the backbone of any budget request you make."
A committee will likely be formed to help draft the plan, and input from the public will also be invited, Kuhn said.
"This isn't just about our ideas, but the public's ideas too," Kuhn said.
Louise Goldstein and Andrew Jennings, co-founders of the Save the Victorian Pool Society, said they hope to be a part of that planning process.
The Save the Victorian Pool Society is a local group that advocates on behalf of the pool, which is located in the Spa State Park.
"People have no idea what great American history is out there," Goldstein said.
Jennings also said it would be important for efforts to "not just look at cosmetics but some real historic preservation."
The planning is part of a new initiative to plot the course of parks across the Empire State, said Eileen Larrabee, a spokeswoman for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
"It helps us respond to the community's interest and makes sure that we are providing the services New Yorkers want," she said Friday. "For whatever reason, there has been a lack of planning in the past. But, to be efficient and effective, we need to plan."
With a $650 million backlog for infrastructure improvements among all of the state's parks, Larrabee also said the plan will be an asset to park advocates in making their pitches for financial support.
"It does give you that sort of backup as you talk to legislators and the private sector for resources," she said. "We know these parks play a role in economic development, so we're hoping this will help in our efforts."
Meanwhile, management of the 72-year-old Gideon Putnam Resort and Spa, a luxury hotel and National Historic Landmark in the park, changed hands as of Tuesday.
The formal agreement between the state and Delaware North has yet to be signed off on by the state's comptroller and attorney general as required, but an interim agreement allows the company to take over for the beginning of 2008, regardless.
The company, which also manages hospitality and video lottery terminals at the Saratoga Gaming and Raceway, is planning significant upgrades to the hotel and the Roosevelt Bathhouse.
A slight but significant change in the works is the addition of a pair of water heaters at the bathhouse. With the heaters, warm baths of pure mineral water can be offered for the first time in decades.
There was something of a controversy in 2007 when the bathhouse admitted to using tap water to help warm the baths.
In 2007, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, a park tenant, also underwent its first major restoration since opening in 1966. The venue received new seats, improved lighting and a refurbished back stage.
The $2 million restoration project is part of an overall $10 million campaign to renovate the facility, which only a few years ago went through a period of financial uncertainty.
Improvements to the 40-year-old concert venue's facade, however, will not be taken up in the coming construction season as hoped, because funding from the state fell through.
Larrabee said she hopes state legislators, when they reconvene later this month, will make the improvements a part of their budget discussion.
Officials do intend to pursue renovations at SPAC's bathrooms during the coming construction season, however.