Fool or Genius

Here’s an interesting tidbit I ran across just now on the Adelphi Hotel in downtown Saratoga Springs (here):

The Adelphi, built in 1877, was designed as an Italian villa with a distinctive second-floor piazza fronting the hotel. It was scheduled to be demolished before Sheila Parkert, the current owner, bought the hotel withher husband in 1979 and restored it room by room.
We were really kids, Parkert said.  Urban renewal was a big thing here, and this town was up for grabs in the 70’s.  My god, they were tearing down everything.  If you could stop the wrecking ball, you could buy something for $10,000.  All the mansions on Union Avenue, you could buy anything you wanted.  It was a big ol’ land grab.
It had gotten to be big news that they were going to tear this place down.  We’d gone to France a lot, and we had seen what people had done with old hotels.  We were just young enough and dumb enough to think, ‘This could work.’ “

Parkert, then 27, and Siefker raised the $100,000 and bought the hotel in 1979.  They would put another $350,000 or so in renovating the building and its interior, room by room as they could afford to do it.  When it reopened in 1980, now painted dark brown with cream-colored trim, the Adelphi was still a work in progress.  But it was already on its way back to prominence as one of Saratoga’s most distinctive inns.

Just to keep my word to Emma, I’m not posting this as sarcasm/satire but as an open thread and question for thought: why do some cities manage to turn themselves around while others do not? Or getting to the title of my post, what drives some speculative plays such as this to create geniuses in the sense of investment and timing versus elsewhere where the play just collapses and the investor/speculator is left a fool?
Again, I’m not posting this to get into an exchange on Chalmers or Esquire now or later; I’m posting it as a strategic and policy question in an earnest effort to raise the level of discourse on policy. I’m going to explore this in a bit more detail but wanted to see if this gets any traction or lands with a thud.

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6 Responses

  1. emma says:

    First, given that it’s based in Saratoga – even though it was the 70’s and the shape it was in – it doesn’t seem to me that would be an incredible risk to invest in that project with the vision that couple had.
    Secondly, that couple had a wealth of patience, willing to take on years of hard labor, personal loans and probably a bit of financial sacrifice, to make this jewel what it is today.
    Thirdly, I quote here from the accompanying article : “…They weren’t developers, hoteliers, or professional renovators. But they loved the town, they loved history and interior design, and they didn’t want to see the Adelphi demolished. That, plus $100,000, was enough to buy the place…” They got in the game for all the right reasons and ultimately, were handsomely rewarded.
    They had enough common sense to realize downtown Saratoga and the surrounding ‘jewels’ that make Saratoga what it is, were never going to cease to exist, therefore their investment was sound. Maybe it would take them years to get there, but of course saving, renovating and reusing this building in the same way it was previously used is logical.
    Why something like this doesn’t work in other cities, would entirely depend on which cities you are speaking of. If it’s ‘ours’….hmmm.
    Let’s put it this way – if you Flipping’ – a local resident who appreciates history, architecture, revitalization – wanted to buy one of those three/four story buildings downtown, put maybe a cigar/martini bar on the bottom floor, maybe a Internet/coffee bar on the second floor, perhaps a spa on the third floor and lease the top floor as a penthouse suite, but needed 500,000k, perhaps a few grants, three or so years to make it all come to fruitiation and a 10 year payback schedule as to not burden yourself with an overwhelming amount of debt I am quite sure that the overwhelming majority of this city would rally behind you. From getting AIDA or whoever administers business loans to give you one, to the city applying for grants on your behalf,to people donating privately to your cause, to people vying for that apartment, to people offering their skills/services relating to the businesses you would like to house.
    I think people have a much easier time dealing with tax breaks, grants, and length of completed project, knowing it’s a local person who – yea alright, he’s going to eventually line his pockets – but he’s also going to give us something that’s sorely needed and his success is going to set it up for the next person and he’s going to bring more taxes into this city and ultimately he’s in it for the success of this city as much as he is in it for himself.
    Of course I’m just using you for an example, since you’re going to such efforts and all.

    • flippinamsterdam says:

      Now I’m a bit surprised at tone. Anyway…
      I’m trying to get to a larger question beyond that of the Adelphi specifically. Clearly the entirety of Saratoga’s dire situation extended beyond just the Adelphi as the paragraph alludes to what are now 1 to 2 million dollar homes selling then in the tens of thousands of dollars. So I disagree with your characterization that this had to be known by the buyers of the Adelphi and this was a safe bet. To me it suggests quite the opposite– this was speculative for investors in Saratoga.
      It’s this larger question that I’m trying to explore. I get the sense from your post, perhaps a mistaken one, that this is somehow about my trying to trick folks into seeing this post as one on Saratoga and then a few posts from now saying “aha, I was talking about Chalmers and Amsterdam!”. Bwahaha…
      But I’m not.
      I’m just trying to understand if we can learn something from maybe other communities that have managed to turn it around or is this city doomed to an unyielding spiral to the bottom.
      I may not own or desire to own a downtown commercial property but I’ve already played speculator by buying my home in Amsterdam and investing much time/effort/dollars in restoring and repairing said home. Ironically, for lack of a better word, we decided on our neighborhood because we thought it would be relatively less speculative as it was in the Bacon district; bwahaha indeed. I can tell you that when folks hear the amount of taxes I pay and that I live in this city, they –and this is where the post title comes to play– aren’t exactly thinking ‘genius’. So the question becomes a little sharper if you decided to purchase not just a commercial property but a residence here– will the future render you a genius, or hopefully smart at least, or something quite the opposite.
      I think the same calculus runs through most minds considering investing here– is this smart speculation or foolish speculation? Am I buying Google or pets.com?
      The play here is clearly a speculative one given the uncertainty of success in the future given the certain failures of the past. I don’t think this only applies to commercial ventures but as I always harp, residential real estate matters too. Maybe even more so.
      But back on point: the uncertainty here is much similar to what other communties faced. What needs to happen to turn it around?

      • emma says:

        My tone on this site should always be interpreted as friendly. Even in disagreement, I would refrain from commenting if I felt I couldn’t keep it in check – or I would respectfully disagree. Maybe it was the way in which I laid it out. My last sentence was meant as complimentary – both in thinking you have some good ideas and visions(previous posts)- and in that you are attempting to post and gather some intellectual dialog.
        I took your post has a comparison of Saratoga/Amsterdam – no specific buildings. I disagree with your thought that it was ‘risky’ to develop there. Given the downturn going on the past year or two, there are probably some houses and business space available in Saratoga right now for much less than the ‘prime’ going price. That’s more representative of a cycle.
        For example, Las Vegas- a city you would not bank on to fold, and it’s not – yet they are experiencing severe economic problems, related to residential foreclosures and stand still developments. But there is also continued success at established properties and even some development among local owners. I think that says something.
        Back to something I previously said – and I mean this respectfully… you have to take a good, hard, honest look at the people who make up this city. I’m not sure of the exact age breakdown, but let’s say out of 18k residents, 14k are adults. Now out of the 14, how many, like you & I, are homeowners? 8k ? So out of the 8, how many care about the city beyond bitching about their taxes? They want lower taxes, better neighborhoods, more offerings – but don’t get involved.
        Right now, your friends think ‘fool’, but you’re hoping for the day where they say, ‘wow, genius’.
        A) Not enough people(owners & renters) who live here take any stake in the success of the city.
        B) For those that do have children, our schools are atrocious. There are great teachers, programs and the like, but the overall picture is not very inviting.
        C) The lower income/broken household/lack of parental guidance citizens(which equal a fair % of our population) are treated just that way.
        D) the local government is very dysfunctional.
        You have to solve all that first, don’t you?
        ****
        Personally, I thought we should have kept our old slogan – ‘One Community – Many Cultures’ , which is a spot on description. Then spend the time, money and effort(marketing, grants, clean-up, etc) on each specific neighborhood, encompassing and building on the ethnic flair evident. Kinda creating miniature replicas of some of the many countries represented here in Amsterdam. I think you would have gained alot of pride in these neighborhoods, increase the tax base by inviting individuals with the talents and ideas to set up shop, and that people in this city would suddenly have different areas of the city to visit for good reasons.
        The waterfront revitalization , encompassing the many cultures as theme, would have made Amsterdam look like a ‘different’ place to stop and look around.
        The schools can only change if Parent(s)/guardians are held responsible. I had to laugh the other day when I received the truancy policy from the GASD. After 10 times, TEN times, the parents will be notified. I remember back in the day, Jake Labate would be on your tail that day, late or absent – you feared him. Your parents were notified immediately. “Twenty!” absences to get letter from DA and ‘possible’ charges?! The magnet schools are the one of the biggest failures this city has seen. We need to go back to the neighborhood schools, including Bacon. And we need to let those kids who can easily or normally excel in school do so, while at the same time, giving as much extra help is needed to assist those who struggle to succeed as well. The key to a successful community, is raising youth who have the skills for success themselves, and wanting to stay here to do it.
        I think the citizens of this city need a much bigger say in the local govt. decisions being made, beyond just voting in the elections.
        If things stay status-quo, I don’t think you’ll ever get to wear that genius hat – and you will have people like me – who care, are responsible , pay taxes and spend money – who will finally give up and move.

  2. Karin says:

    I think this city could turn around for the better if we developed our waterfront. This would be a great way for new small businesses to come in and for our tourism to grow. I also think that they should have put the Walter Elwood Museum in the downtown area somewhere. This along with the Wrestling Hall of Fame in the same area would have benefited our area. Cafes, restaurants, entertainment venu’s, etc. would possibly tag along, maybe even a boat club.
    PS – Why are the taxes in this city so different in each area? I live in the West End and so does my sister. Her taxes are a few thousand dollars less a year than mine and we only live 2 blocks from each other? Our lot sizes are about the same. I don’t get it? I think as far as school taxes go, I feel the more children you have attending school, the more taxes you should have to pay. And the less children (or none, in my case)you have, the less taxes you should have to pay. My school taxes are very high and I never had any children. What gives?

  3. Michael Lazorro says:

    Taxes are the same over the whole city. They are computed based on assessed value as modifird by any exemption that you may be qualified to recieve. Assessed value is supposed to be a uniform percentage of full value. Look at your tax bill. If your property is assessed for too much you may and should file a grievance. If your sister is assessed for too little she is “lucky.” Unfortinately, the assessments in this city are way off in a lot of cases. This shifts the tax burden around and manny pay less than their fair share and many pay more.

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