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Saratoga Springs officials meet with bar owners to discuss downtown security

Saratoga Springs City Hall
Lucas Willard
Saratoga Springs City Hall (file photo)

The City of Saratoga Springs is seeking input from bar and restaurant owners as it looks for ways to curb late-night violence downtown.

On Thursday afternoon, Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino and Mayor Ron Kim, both Democrats, met with a coalition of bar and restaurant owners.

“We’re trying to come up with some creative solutions to prevent any future problems similar to the ones we experienced a week-and-a-half ago,” said Montagnino.

The meeting about downtown safety came ahead of a public hearing Tuesday where city residents will be asked to share their thoughts on moving back bar closing times.

The discussion around moving last call from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m. was renewed after a 3 a.m. shootout on Broadway on November 20th.

Montagnino, who has been looking for ways to improve downtown security since a string of violent incidents led to the temporary closure and conditional reopening of one establishment earlier this year, said there is a willingness from downtown bars to embrace new security measures.

“We left the meeting with a universal understanding and eagerness, it seemed, on the part of the bar owners, to wand all patrons coming in after 9 p.m. to check for weapons. That seemed to be something everybody was in agreement with,” said Montagnino.

Brian Miller is the marketing director and former manager of two downtown establishments and attended Thursday’s meeting. WAMC asked Miller about what he thought would be effective in ensuring safety.

“All the businesses that want to stay past 2 o’clock, they’re gonna propose that we all start pat-downs and wanding, which is great. It’s fine. It’s awesome to be able to have that feature to help get any sort of weapons off the street,” said Miller. “The other thing, too, is having the communication, you know? If we’re supposed to meet monthly and we start meeting bimonthly and quarterly, that’s us loosening the reins. We gotta set what we wanna do and we gotta stick to it. More police presence, more sheriffs. Obviously, when you have beat cops out and noticeable, people tend to act a certain way, which is better for everybody.”

But officials are continuing to push for a 2 a.m. last call for the Caroline Street bar scene, including Mayor Kim, a former public safety commissioner.

“I hope that we can work with the Caroline Street residents, business owners to make it safer, make it safe as possible and move forward in a cooperative manner. But I also made sure they were aware that the city is exploring options legislatively,” said Kim.

The city cannot change closing hours on its own.

In 2021, the previous city council passed legislation asking the county board of supervisors to appeal to the State Liquor Authority to consider altering closing times across Saratoga County.

While such an appeal was not made by the county, it did pass a resolution saying it supports a change to state law to allow local communities to make a request directly to the State Liquor Authority — and for the SLA to determine operating hours in a locality without requiring county-wide actions.

But for Miller, putting up the chairs a couple hours earlier isn’t the right move.

“Personally, all the bar owners don’t think the bars closing at 2 is going to solve anything. It’s going to cut jobs, it’s going to cut revenue, it’s going to hurt restaurants, it’s going to hurt hotels, you may lose conventions and stuff like that, too,” said Miller.

In a WAMC interview earlier this week, Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus said he doesn’t think changing last call will affect the city’s tourism economy.

“I think we’re pretty resilient here. It’s a special place that people love to spend time in. So whatever modifications are made, in terms of hours or security measures, I don’t think it will have any lasting detrimental impact,” said Shimkus.

Miller says there’s a larger issue at play, pointing to a shooting in a Warren County Walmart parking lot late last month.

“There’s a cultural thing going on here, and nobody really wants to acknowledge that. And that’s much bigger than the City of Saratoga, that’s much bigger than Caroline Street, that’s much bigger than Albany, that’s much bigger than New York state. This is something that’s going on worldwide. There’s a shooting at the Queensbury Walmart there at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Are they going to start closing down Walmart at 7 because of issues?”

The late-night shootout in Saratoga Springs that inspired the latest round of city discussion remains under investigation.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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