Saratoga in the summer is an adult playground. From its family-friendly days in the sun to the bump-and-grind nights in the clubs, the heart of the Spa City thumps loudest when the temperature is warmest.
Since the novel coronavirus pandemic placed a stranglehold upon the Empire State, Saratoga has kept optimistic that the shutdown would not leach into the summer. Two of the largest barometers measuring this approach has been the Saratoga Race Course and Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
Overall, SPAC’s summertime schedule has remained intact. A few dates have cleaved off as musicals acts have outright canceled their respective tours. Gov. Andrew Cuomo had provided a glimmer of hope when first discussing the possibility of opening the state after May 15. The chance of that happening, however, is steeped in a thick soup of conditions in the form of a 12-step plan based on suggestions from the Centers for Disease Control.
Under that climate, The Lumineers canceled its June show last week. The band’s decision came a day prior to the governor’s announcement that state schools would remain closed for the remainder of the academic year. The governor’s cautionary decision regarding the state’s children extends shutdown measures to some degree until the end of June.
Editor’s note: Since our May 6 edition was sent to print on Monday, SPAC and Live Nation have announced the cancelation of both Friehofer’s Jazz Festival and Dave Matthews Band.
“We have to be smart about this – emotions can’t drive our re-opening process – and we’ve come up with factual data points that each region must monitor as they begin to re-open,” Cuomo said. The governor said businesses will reopen in phases; depending on the industry, its priority and perceived risk for spread. The state’s tourist attractions factor into the latter, as the guideline specifically states “regions must not open attractions or businesses that would draw a large number of visitors from outside the local area.”
This all leaves the possibility for a quiet summer in Saratoga quite plausible.
The New York Racing Association is already looking at how it will salvage its racing season. Cuomo suggested that sport entities continue their respective schedules in empty stadiums. NYRA later responded, and the racing authority appears to be considering it.
“Horse racing is in a unique position as a sport that can be safely staged without attendees,” NYRA announced in a statement, adding that Aqueduct Racetrack had temporarily operated under the same conditions before closing altogether on March 15. “By closing to spectators and reducing employees and support staff to only those who are required under the rules of racing, the running of races would support the small businesses and hourly workers who form the backbone of the sport.”
NYRA stated that the effort to keep races running in Saratoga and beyond will help preserve an industry that generates $3 billion in annual economic impact and more than 19,000 jobs across the state.
The goal behind Cuomo’s 12-step program is to manage the rate of virus-related infections. As the shutdown was to prevent overwhelming emergency resources at local hospitals, a staggered effort to reopen the state is meant to keep hospitalization rates below 70 percent. Based on the guidelines, which includes a two-week period of continuous decline in infection rates, some regions of the state could start to reopen by May 15. But, New York City won’t likely be one of them, said the governor.
New York City continues to rank among entire countries in terms of the number of virus infections and deaths. John Hopkins University & Medicine lists New York City, with a reported 18,069 deaths, as more than Belgium (7,703) and Germany (6,623) combined. With the city continuing to combat against those numbers, Cuomo said it would take “a miracle” to reopen Gotham and downstate by May 15.
Elizabeth Sobol expressed both optimism and caution in a recent statement posted on the center’s website.
“The health and safety of everyone in our SPAC family and the community are of critical importance to us,” stated SPAC’s president and CEO, “and we are adhering to guidelines set by the CDC, as well as consulting continuously with local and state health authorities about the safest path forward for the coming months.”
Sobol added that shows canceled due to an emergency or in relation to COVID-19 will be refunded or credited.
“Alas, we find ourselves mourning the necessary closing of many of our most important and beloved arts organizations – both in the Capital Region – and around the world – with futures uncertain, to put it mildly,” Sobol said.
Each summer, for at least a week, both the New York City Ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra call Saratoga home. The dance company’s shows are still scheduled to go, starting with an opening night performance of “Swan Lake” on Tuesday, July 14. The orchestra, too, has yet to break off its plans to visit the Spa City this August. Its residency is to include a simultaneous showing of “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” in its final night on Saturday, Aug. 8. It continues to show an entertainment industry stuck in a holding pattern, full of optimism, despite what’s being said out of Albany. As the summer approaches, it’s possible more shows will be canceled from SPAC’s schedule, if not completely scrapped.
“I’m not going to trade off economics for life and death,” Cuomo said. “Public health comes first. Life comes first.”
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.
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