By: Meg Campbell
The chronic shortage of parking spaces in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and an alleged broken promise landed The Saratogian in its own and other newspapers’ pages several times in recent weeks, as the daily’s publisher and city officials argued over whether the paper owes the city access to its downtown parking lot, and whether the city might even consider using eminent domain to get its hand on the daily’s property.
The debate goes back more than a quarter century, when in 1981 the spa city’s Urban Renewal Agency agreed to demolish several downtown blocks and sell the space to the Saratogian for use as a parking lot. In exchange, according to collective memory and meeting minutes, the local paper would make the lot available to downtown visitors. City commissioners have been unable to produce a written agreement to this effect, but contend that the city agency would never have agreed to the terms if the paper had not pledged public access to the lot.
In 1985, after four years of sharing the parking lot with city visitors, the Saratogian’s owners closed the lot to the public, according to an open letter from two city commissioners. Locals confirm that non-permitted cars are towed from the lot.The Gannett Co. owned the newspaper until 1998, when it was acquired by Journal Reigster Co., its current owner.
Fast forward to June 2007, when Commissioner John Franck sent a letter to Saratogian Publisher Frank McGivern, stating that the city was in dire need of administrative and parking space. Franck expressed an interest in discussing the lease or purchase of the Saratogian’s property, and concluded the letter by saying he would be in touch with the publisher to set up a meeting.
McGivern, who has served as the paper’s publisher since March of this year, said in an op-ed piece published in mid-August that he waited to hear from Franck or from Public Works Commissioner Tom McTygue. Instead, McGivern said, the commissioners sent an open letter to the Saratogian accusing the paper’s owners of not keeping an old promise to the community. Complaining at a public hearing that McGivern had not responded to the letter, McTygue proposed that the city consider taking the property through eminent domain — a proposal swiftly criticized by local bloggers and by McTygue’s political opponent in the upcoming elections.
McGivern met with the commissioners and with Mayor Valerie Keehn a week later to discuss the issue. Neither the publisher nor the mayor responded to telephone messages. According to a Saratogian news item, McGivern professed to be “open to dialogue,” but said that neither he nor Journal Register Co., based in Yardley, Pa. are interested in exploring the issue further until after November elections.