Upscale retreat to match polo set

Developer hopes to tap potential of sport, Saratoga region with $50M-$60M high-end vacation complex

DENNIS YUSKO Staff Writer
Section: Capital Region,  Page: B1

Date: Friday, June 17, 2005

GREENFIELD - Marketing executive Jim Rossi has launched his first development venture: Sell the image of Saratoga and the sport of polo in a multimillion dollar live-in resort for the rich.


Rossi, whose past sales accounts include NASA, NASCAR and the 1996 Olympics, and partner Michael Bucci submitted drawings last week to build the Saratoga Polo Retreat, a high-end vacation complex with 70 two- and four-bedroom units, a 72,000-square-foot lodge, a banquet hall and more. The year-round, fully-maintained residence and conference center would surround the main polo field at Denton and Bloomfield roads that was founded by William Collins Whitney in 1898. The 43-acre project represents the region's first upscale time share, and would cater to the jet-setting polo crowd, high- end racetrack patrons and tourists who want a second home with no upkeep. Residents would purchase fractional ownership for up to 52 weeks a year.


The proposal is big by any measure, let alone for Rossi, a marketing man who has helped others with large projects, but never developed anything himself.


"We feel like we're fulfilling a marketing need," Rossi said during an interview in the Saratoga Polo Association's air-conditioned clubhouse, days before Sunday's opening day.


The 45-year-old Skidmore graduate is part of a new breed of Saratogians who see opportunity in the area's tourist potential and traditional themes of health, history and horses. Savvy, smart and occasionally brash, he built a career advising companies in Connecticut and Manhattan before returning to Saratoga Springs eight years ago.


"It's one of the few destination markets that doesn't have a vacation-ownership opportunity. There really isn't a high-end hospitality property. There's no Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton or even a Hyatt, you don't have them. The new hotels are more mid-level and we believe there is a market for more upscale hospitality," Rossi said.


Rossi and Bucci, a Rochester businessman and Siena College graduate, purchased the property a year ago for $1.2 million from former polo player Bill Ylvisaker of Florida.


The plan to finance the project, estimated to cost $50-$60 million, with their own money, private investments and regional bank loans. The project centerpiece - the lodge - would feature sky boxes, pools, a spa, meeting rooms and more.


Investors want to build in stages, starting in the fall, and envision the resort serving as an events facility during off-peak times.


The complex would go up in Greenfield - population approximately 7,500 - just outside of Saratoga Springs. It would require a special permit from the town to skirt the site's residential zoning. Neighbors and town officials view the resort with a mix of awe and concern.


"It's larger than any project that we've ever seen," Town Supervisor Robert Stokes said.


Some of the project's proposed six residential structures extend to almost double the town's current height restriction of 35 feet. On the bright side, the resort wouldn't put a lot of demand on town or school services, and would drastically increase the community's tax base, Stokes said.


The site is serviced by water, and developers would install up to a mile of sewer line to the site. That's already been budgeted into the cost, Rossi said.


Some of the residential buildings proposed would intrude on a second historic Whitney polo field.


Rossi, however, contends that the Saratoga Polo Club can't survive on its own, and saving it requires a creative solution. Friday marks his second opening day at the club, and he says the goal is to preserve the main Whitney field, while getting the highest and best use of the property.


"For years, it was an underdeveloped opportunity," Rossi said. "We've given a lot of thought to break the mold here." Will Orthwein, 36, owns 109 acres directly adjacent to the proposal.


"It's a huge project. It's a very ambitious project, and it's going to really change the area," Orthwein said. "As a polo player and a neighbor, I'm saddened by the loss of the number two Whitney field, but I feel it's a necessary sacrifice for the preservation of polo in Saratoga Springs."


Rossi and Bucci expanded the site's 4,000-square-foot clubhouse last year to include Saratoga Polo Catering and Events, which serves food and alcoholic beverages. Town zoning prevents the site from remaining open year-round.


The polo club leases additional fields nearby from Skidmore, but the college will not be part of any development plans in the area.


In anticipation of this year's polo season, Rossi added two stainless concrete sculptures - 65 tons and 50 tons - to the grounds. The "organic forms" were created by his roommate at Skidmore during his senior year, Peter Lundberg of Vermont. Saratoga Polo will host art exhibitions with the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council on site this summer, Rossi said.


General admission costs this season are $8 per person, up from $5 last year; and $20 per carload, up from $15. VIP day passes are $20.


It's all part of the upscale direction the Saratoga Springs area is headed, Greenfield's supervisor noted.


"Sixty million is a lot of change for a gamble like this, but I tend to look on the conservative side of things," Stokes said.








Dennis Yusko can be reached at 581-8438 or by e-mail at dyusko@timesunion.com.





****FACT BOX:****


POLO SEASON What: Opening of the 2005 Saratoga Polo season with The Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce CupWhen: 4 p.m. Sunday Where: Denton and Bloomfield roads, GreenfieldCost: $8 per person or $20 per carload. Children under age 16 are free when accompanied by an adult. Season passes are available.Info: 584-8108 or http://www.saratoga polo.com


Source: Saratoga Polo Association