By MICHAEL CIGNOLI
Originally printed in The Saratogian. Reprinted here with permission.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga Performing Arts Center is getting a facelift.
Renovation work on the amphitheater’s deteriorating, 46-year-old façade began Monday morning and officials say it will be completed before the start of the 2012 season.
The project will replace the structure’s warped, faded and rotten siding with weather-resistant material. SPAC President and Executive Director Marcia White said the upgrades will create a more contemporary version of the structure’s existing exterior, which has gone unchanged since the venue opened in 1966.
“It’s beyond time for the façade to be addressed,” White said. “You can’t just renovate your programs; you have to renovate your facility as well.”
The state, which owns SPAC, has invested more than $4.5 million in the facility since 2005. It has installed new, padded seats in the sheltered portion of the venue while upgrading pedestrian bridges, walkways and sewage and drainage systems.
SPAC unveiled plans for a new façade in May 2008, but critics blasted the design because of its resemblance to a stack of pancakes.
When the recession hit, White said, it put capital plans — including those for a new façade — on hold.
The renovations are being made possible by a gift from Bill Dake, chairman of the Stewart’s Shops and SPAC board of directors, and his wife, Susan.
The Dake family was instrumental in getting SPAC in its initial building, White said, and the venue has now evolved into an “economic engine” that generates “close to $100 million” in economic benefits to the immediate community.
The new panels will resemble the shield-like ones that currently adorn the building, White said, but will include an element of depth. The building itself is structurally sound, she said, but the upgraded material will make the panels more weather-resistant.
Bill Dake said the upgrades are long overdue.
“Susan and I are doing it simply because I think people underestimate the impact SPAC has on this area,” Bill Dake said. “I don’t mean just economically, but sociologically.”
The venue is home to several Live Nation concerts throughout the summer, as well as a jazz festival. It serves as the summer home of the New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra and hosts local high school and college graduations.
“The role that it plays in the area is much broader than people realize,” Bill Dake said. “I think it does a lot for the quality of life in the area.”
Bonacio Construction won the contract for the work and began tearing down the panels Monday morning. The renovations are scheduled to be completed in May at a cost of approximately $500,000.
The venue’s first concerts of 2012 are scheduled for the second week of June.
“An iconic, world-class home for the performing arts should have an outward appearance that projects that image,” White said. “By the time our 2012 season opens, we’ll have one.”
Those who buy lawn seats for future SPAC shows will not only be looking at a more aesthetic building, White said, but they may be able to hear the concerts better as well.
Currently, the venue’s speakers sit too low in their enclosure, creating audio gaps in some areas of the lawn. The renovations will reposition upgraded speakers within the façade, which should provide better sound coverage and quality.
“Every time we have an opportunity for new technology,” White said, “we’re grateful for that.”
The public can track the renovation process through SPAC’s website, SPAC.org, as photos and videos of the renovation will be uploaded to the site.
Saratogian photographer Erica Miller contributed to this report.