Monday, March 23, 2009

City Center Cubed

Spending eight years with your head immersed in calculations and equations is a good way to lose touch with the environment around you. At the very least, such arduous studies are going to warp your sensibilities. Just ask the architects that designed the recently pitched city center expansion.

After nearly a decade of planning, the Saratoga Springs City Center Authority unveiled plans for the $16 million expansion project during their 25th anniversary gala. The architects’ neatly polished rendition shows a structure encapsulated in dark glass and shimmering in the afternoon sun. It shows people placidly walking by the new structure, not even taking notice of the giant erection looming over the Spa City’s main drag. Perhaps this is because the only remarkable feature of the exterior design is that it took nearly two years to produce.

Simply put, this building is an eyesore that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the hotel complex, much less the buildings along Broadway. The design doesn’t even fit in with the standards set by the modern high-rises that have popped up in every corner of the city. Even the not-so-appealing city center design today seems like more of a fit than the design the authority returned, which might have been loosely based on the movie “Cube.”

Instead of using brick –the material used in just about every other Broadway construction –the authority’s architect decided to rely on concrete and what appears to be stucco. Despite its prominent location and equally discernable faux-promenade on the recently renamed “Ellsworth Jones Place,” the building lacks a single identifiable entrance. No visible doors, just windows. After all, it’s good to keep convention goers guessing how to get into the place

But don’t worry. There’s a “grand staircase” inside –right next to the escalator. And the new building will have 22,000 square feet of space to “boost business by 40 percent over the next three years,” officials from the authority claim.

“The expansion on the corner of Broadway and Ellsworth Jones Place will bring renewed energy and appeal to the northern entrance of our primary business district by creating a dynamic and iconic corner,” authority President Michael Toohey said in a prepared statement published in the Daily Gazette last week.

Bring renewed energy? Is that by overshadowing all the other buildings on the street fitting with the architectural precepts of the late 19th and early 20th century? The sole exception to this statement is the city center and adjoining hotel, which are at least built with characteristic red brick.

The architect –or architects –producing the expansion design decided to toss existing design to the wind. Clearly, the idea was to create a design that stands out from everything in the city. Fortunately for the authority, they didn’t need to go through the normal planning process. Due to timing constraints associated with the roughly $12 million worth of state funding, the authority was allowed to forgo the normal planning process and is instead reporting directly to the City Council. And it’s evident too, given the design they unveiled.

True, the authority has a lot to contend with in the project. They’re basically land-locked, meaning they’re bound to build the new structure within the existing footprint. They also can’t build much further upward, given that the city center is already one of the tallest structures in the city.

Yet even given these constraints, the new design basically flouts any concept of local architecture, leaving some observers to wonder whether the authority a relied on the same uber-designers that officials from the state Office of Parks and Recreation and Historical Preservation hired to design the ‘IHOP in park’ last year. Oddly enough, the design for the Saratoga Performing Arts Center renovation –also dubbed the “SPAC Stack” –was created by Saratoga Associates, the architecture firm headed by former planning board chairman Bob Bristol. Public outcry sent that visual disaster back to the drawing board last fall.

But in the authority’s case, the nationally renowned HNTB Corp. was secured. The company has designed convention centers for Boston, Providence, Kansas City and San Diego. Among the designs, only the center in Providence seems to fit in character of the city. All the others appear to be plucked from Sci-Fi horror movie story boards.

Hopefully, the city’s four commissioners and mayor won’t decide to stand behind this design. Or at least they’ll offer some suggestions. If not, the burgeoning public outcry should be enough to convince them it needs some tweaking. This is a building that should be a centerpiece for design in the city, not a knock-off attempt at emulating big-city architecture that stands out like a sore thumb. True, the convention center is in dire need of an update. However, it shouldn’t come at the expense of landing a hideous black cube in the center of the city.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always thought that the white-streaked brick columns in front of the existing City Center were ugly and a waste of money and a waste of space.
The new design's only redeeming quality is making use of all that dead space.
Go back to the drawing board on this fiasco.
Maybe Sonny can get in on the bidding?.......of course he can. What company would be foolish enough to bid against him.

12:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great post.

1- Nothing to add on the subjects you entertained, for the record i vote for "butt-ugly white elephant" in the design category.

2- Yet kudos to those who rightly IMHO pointed out that the comment by Mark Baker that this won't cost citizens of 12866 a dime since it was funded by a state grant was rediculous in that most of us pay NY State taxes. meet the food chain.

3- Perhaps the no-cost card was played because of the paternalistic autocratic nature of the City Ctr Authority peeps; to wit: "We are giving this to you so shut up, lie back and enjoy it"

4- The thing is, it will probably serve its desired purpose at the end of the day, which is measured by the bigger 'convention fishes' that the CC reels in. This is simply because
very few attendees acually look at the venue itself before they arrive in a town, and fewer care about Saratoga's architectural heritage.

1:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't tell you how relieved I am to read your opinion of the design. As bad as the SPAC design was, this has topped it. It's becoming tiring to constantly feel like a made-for-tv movie where the local folk must rise up against the big corporate entity to preserve the town character.

1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kudos horatio

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is another "I am the Architect (I am the Promoter)" proposal.
1. Bob Bristol is a landscape architect and does not figure into this mess unless it has something to do with Yankee tickets and flowers.
2. Pat Kane is not an architect nor are all of the members of the DRC except one and his education is being scrutinized.
3. Kyle York is neither an architect nor a landscape architect but he will chime in soon as one or the other or both.
4. Architects don't always agree, but this City has guidelines that this design clearly does not recognize.
5. Contemporary design is actually OK but it must respect its location.
6. And yes, finding the entrance to a building should not be by way of a sign.
7. Mad Men and a Mercury Marauder

6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So which bunch is dumber, the architects, developers, civic boosters or politicians, who thought this dreck was just the ticket? I could see it boosting bar business, as giving it any consideration at all is enough to drive one to drink. But mainly I'm just awestruck at the stupidity of the ruling class.

6:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I keep reading that there will be a ground breaking on this mess soon. Is this a done deal? Does it has to be reviewed? Can is be stopped at this point?

Thinking of this thing on Broadway for the rest of our lives is a little depressing.

3:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You're right. It stinks.

4:39 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...


Can it be stopped at this point? Yes, indeed. The City Council will need to approve this, as they are the lead agency(I believe) in the project.

Ordinarily, I'd characterize this approval as the ink on the bottom of a rubber stamp. And it may just be, seeing as though there are definitive funding issues(i.e. they might need to get a shovel in the ground by spring).

However, it is an election year. The best thing about them rolling a vastly unpopular design out right now is that all the politicians will need to curry favor with voters. If they see an outrage over this design, which there appears to be, they might have the chutzpa to send this disaster back to the design phase.

The the key is public input. If only the usual suspect turn out to the public hearing and they get the idea that this isn't that big of a deal, this thing will be approved faster than I can down a tumbler of bourbon on a hot summer day. Frankly, I don't think the City Center Authority wants a foul-looking design. They just want the expansion and that's all their looking at. If a dedicated group reasons with them, points out the flaws and disparities many of us find evident, maybe they'll come back with something more fitting.

The only other reason I can come up with for such a hideous design is that they're out of money and this is the cheapest thing they can build with $16 million. Hopefully, that's not the case. As it is now, they're paying about $727 per square foot of new space, which doesn't strike me as cheap.


I don't think anyone thought this was a ticket per se. Although I did notice Mayor Scott Johnson was at this event, which may have been a formality. Or perhaps he's thinking people will actually like this damn thing. Believe it or not, there are a few boosters out there. But I think most of them are either serving in the authority or on its board. Those buggers really want this thing done. There is some validity to the claim the aged city center and lack of space is hindering the city's ability to draw conventions.

7:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All things considered, it's probably the best we can do at this point. Everyone hated the original, as many of us still do. We can't tear it down and start over. So, how to improve it? I don't know, but improvement should include a lot more greenery and a pedestrian-friendly exterior, which this design seems to lack. Otherwise, it's better than the original, and okay with me.

7:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually - if you look at the new design and replace that flat, beige area with the old red brick it would match the area around it. Then it would blend and compliment the existing area. It would also lend a touch of old with the new and the back end of the center would seem less detached. Why not reuse the existing brick?

I also hope that the owner of the Algonquin building will start to fix up that sore thumb. Putting a new building next to the Algonquin is like planting a flower next to a pile of dog crap.

8:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems that the most egregious error in the proposed design is the loss of the public space that now defines the entrance or threshold of this building – an area for its occupants, the conventioneers and, the public sidewalk. One must wonder if the programmers considered preserving this delta where the public and the private activities interact? If the upper stories of this atrium were too valuable for maintaining, couldn’t the plaza or portion thereof have been salvaged, to better define an arrival?

In attempting to introduce a modern styling to the City Center, this proposal loses sight of the relevancy and conventional wisdom of contextual design. The scale of this entry could have been more respectful of the original building (which Alan, was influenced by the Algoquin) and have provided the definition that was desired through a desired contemporary addition. The defensive enclosure of the public square and the lack of a clear inviting and obvious entrance fail this submission.

3:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Sifting through your adjectives, and trying to figure out what the hell you are sound a lot like Lew B.

7:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gee, big fucking surprise that this town would find a way to completely ruin a golden opportunity to improve downtown.

What I can't believe is that anyone would expect anything other than this complete architectural clusterfuck of a city center from the corrupt local philistines who run this town.

I say we hire a design firm and a construction company from A DIFFERENT STATE so that we can avoid the kind of idiocy and provincial payola and graft that leads to piece of shit buildings and more money into the Bonacio mafia's pockets.

Frank Lloyd Wrong

7:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frank Lloyd D-bag
Bonacio had nothing to do with this at all! If he did it would probably look a whole lot better

5:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you want to do more than complain anomalously on the internet, get in touch with Mark Baker at the city center. Google the "Saratoga City Center" for contact information. They are looking for feedback from the community. Be prepared to say what you don't like about the project and how to improve it. Not just "It sucks".

8:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This project is begging for an Article 78 (?) lawsuit, if adopted by the city. I believe there are design standards in place to enhance the streetscape. In the context of our Mainstreet, this design is horrid.

10:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Baker: One criticism of the existing building has always been that it did not consider the street level along route 50 as public architecture. And now, the entrance and the place is taken away. It can be better.

6:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My deepest apologies to Don Bonacio. I was reacting to an erroneous comment below the story in the Shamatogian. Please forgive my ignorant jump to an incorrect conclusion. I can't tell you how sorry I am.

BTW, do you have any connections to the Bonacio organization? I am out of work and really struggling financially, but I don't really have many local family connections. I am sure if Bonacio made me an offer (even a lowball one) I would not be able to refuse it.

So, if Bonacio gets a subcontract or some kind of piece-a-dee-agction, keep me in mind because I could use the money!!

George Costanza

8:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The new Mayor Ron Kim will be the one to cut the ribbon at the aptly named Valerie Keehn City Center~!

7:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who says, "you can't argue taste"?

1:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear George Costanza:
It still boggles my mind, that the simple meeting in front of Roohan's office, back in the 90s, in Sonny's pickup truck..........could result in the dynasty that exists today.

It was JTR and Sonny, making plans to re-do Molly's house on No.Bdwy, that set all the wheels in motion.

If Sonny could please Molly....well, then the sky was the limit (literally) and now he has the penthouse, the Lake George Villa, the socialite goddess, the big bucks.......and what is next?

Looks like the Ghetto Chopper lot is next, get in line all you connecticut yuppies, and Manhattan millionaires, sonny is ready to break ground again.

News at 11

Jerry Seinfeld

4:14 PM  
Anonymous Kyle York said...

Fusilli Jerry-

You POSITIVELY ROCK! SEE how EASY it is to make money off the ORIGINAL YOKELS here in Green Acres!!! Now go get YOUR share of the REALLY easy YUPPIE money!!! C'mon Duude, show us how much moolah a Bright Boy like YOU can make. Why heck, you probably won't even break a sweat...

-Kyle York
In Your Shadow

7:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First you make the condos, then you get the money, then you get the local political clout, then you get the women... Contracts? We dont need no stinking sub-contracts.

"Didn't matter. It didn't mean anything. When I was broke, I'd go out and build more condos. We ran everything. We paid off city inspectors. We paid off lawyers. We paid off judges. Everybody had their hands out. Everything was for the taking. And now it's all over due to the real estate crash...."

Now Sonny gotta live the rest of his life like a schnook. He goes to Chianti and gets lousy knock off Tuscan fare.

8:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That previous off kilter complaint was anomalous - I will try to keep the rest up to snuff.

Bonacio/Roohan uber alles

8:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Make sure there is a fucking Whole Paycheck on the ground floor of the Ghetto Chopper Yuppie Freedom Tower. I want my fucking grass fed beef and gruyere and I want it now!! God damn philistines...

Beware the ghosts of the Price Chopper factory chickens!! They will haunt that block forever.

Totally Gonz

8:33 PM  
Anonymous Life During War Time in Saratoga said...

I finally figured it out....

The new city center design looks this way becasue it is REALLY the new world HQ for NXIVM!

Think about it:

- Vanguard has been trying to get his showcase building placed in various towns and been kicked out of a couple; now he tries Saratoga

- He's infiltrated both the local GOP and the kook-wing of the Dem party here in town.

- We've been reading the past few days about how one of his disciples will broadcast a 24-hour AM radio station from a 'glass enclosed studio on Broadway.'

- Nxivm is suing Metroland for $65 million and intimidating other critics in advance of the Dalai Lama charade (and his rumored marriage ceremony to Val Keehn)in April. Can his purchase of the bankrupt Saratogian be far off in the future as part of his plan to control all local media outlets?

- He needs convention space for future NXIVM conferences, A Cappela festivals and his satellite TV center.

See? It all makes sense now, doesn't it?

10:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HNTB is creating quite a name for themselves. They were recently fired from the convention center project in Lake Placid and now they have been chosen to bungle our community too. This design must me mitigated. It creates no strong sense of community or presence on the corner. This is an important visual intersection with that should have a strong public presence. This building fails to provide that.

As for SPAC I personally liked the design proposed last summer. I thought it was playful and required a lack of visual creativity to see it as a stack of pancakes.

10:18 AM  

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