‘Palazzo Riggi’ reality show topic for E! cable channel
SARATOGA SPRINGS Socialites and philanthropists Ron and Michele Riggi and their 35 dogs may star in a reality TV show named after the opulent Saratoga Springs home for which they are locally famous.
The E! cable channel confirmed Tuesday it is developing a new show called “Palazzo Riggi,” the name the couple gave to the multimillion-dollar stone mansion on North Broadway.
“Through the eyes of the outrageous family who lives there and the staff that run it, this new docusoap takes viewers inside a unique, luxurious world filled with eccentric personalities and gives viewers a glimpse into a jaw-dropping, elaborate 24,000-square-foot family estate in upstate New York that boasts an authentic English pub, Balinese wellness spa and perfectly heated lawn that is designed to keep the paws of the family’s 35 dogs warm year-round,” said a statement released by the entertainment network.
County property records show the house as having 19,000 square feet of living space.
No further information about the show was available Tuesday, including when it might air. Michele Riggi did not return calls for comment.
E! has 97 million U.S. subscribers through cable and satellite, according to its website. Its popular shows include “E! News,” “The Soup,” “Chelsea Lately,” “Fashion Police” and “Keeping up with the Kardashians.”
E! has not been in contact with the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce’s film commission, said Annamaria Bellantoni, vice president of tourism for the chamber. The network doesn’t have to do its business through the film commission, she said, noting that most of the requests she gets are from filmmakers who don’t know the area and are looking for specific types of scenes for their movies.
“I think it would be big,” Bellantoni said of having a reality show filmed in Saratoga Springs.
City assessors consider the Palazzo to be the second most expensive house in the city, with an estimated value of $6 million. Marble covers much of the interior, which has six bedrooms, 10 full bathrooms and a gym. The exterior is immaculately landscaped.
Around town, the Riggis can be seen at many galas and fundraisers, especially in the summer.
They have their critics, including neighbors who blasted the couple’s decision to buy and tear down an adjacent house on Greenfield Avenue in 2010 to expand their yard.
But others point out that the Riggis share their wealth with the community, shopping at local businesses, donating to not-for-profit organizations and giving gifts to local people they don’t even know.
“They’ve been big supporters of the Y, and really nice folks,” said Jim Letts, CEO of the Saratoga Regional YMCA. In 2006, when the YMCA was planning to build a new structure on West Avenue in Saratoga Springs, the Riggis pitched in $1 million. They’ve helped in other ways since then, Letts said, including with the ongoing expansion of the Wilton branch.
Ron Riggi serves on the YMCA’s board of trustees and on the board of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, to which the couple pledged in 2005 to donate $500,000 to help keep the New York City Ballet there.
Michele Riggi is president of the board of the National Museum of Dance, where she has been instrumental in organizing fundraisers, freshening up the building and bringing in new exhibits.
“I think the biggest thing is [their contribution] not just to the Y, but throughout the community,” Letts said.
At the Riggis’ annual Halloween shindig, local children line up to get candy bars from Michele Riggi, who every year is decked out in a Cinderella costume. People also make guesses on the weight of a large pumpkin; those who come closest get a free family membership to the YMCA from the Riggis.
Letts remembers a year when one of the winners was a family with five or six children, all of whom were thrilled with the gift.
“It’s like they hit the lottery,” he said.
Michele Riggi has said in the past that Cinderella is more than her annual Halloween costume — her life story echoes the fairy tale. She was raised in Broadalbin, studied dance as a youth and then as a young woman switched to musical theater and worked in some off-Broadway productions in New York City.
Then she met Ron Riggi and the two married and had a family. He is CEO of Turbine Services Ltd.
They have four grown children: Rochele Higgins, Roslyn Zecchini, Vincent Riggi and Christopher Riggi.
Roslyn Zecchini is married to David Zecchini of DZ Restaurants, the owner of three Italian-themed restaurants in Saratoga Springs: Forno Bistro, Chianti Il Ristorante and Boca Bistro, as well as Pasta Pane in Clifton Park.
Christopher Riggi is an actor. He appeared in the 2010 movie “Vampires Suck” and has appeared on the TV shows “Gossip Girl,” “Lipstick Jungle” and “Law and Order.”
After her children grew up, Michele Riggi has devoted herself to her dogs, which now number about three dozen.
The dogs, all toy breeds such as Pomeranians, bichon frises and Chihuahuas, have their own room filled with cushions, as well as a heated yard. Michele Riggi wrote a book, “Posh Palazzo Pups,” about them in 2009, including each dog’s birthday and its photo.
Around the same time that the book was published, the Riggis came under fire for buying a two-story brick house at 23 Greenfield Ave. with the intent of demolishing it. A limited liability company formed by Ron Riggi bought it for $1.2 million in 2009.
History-minded residents protested the proposed demolition, saying the 1858 house was in good shape and had a rich past, including being home to, at different times, a prominent physician; one of the original incorporators of Skidmore School of Arts, now Skidmore College; and the wife of the man who designed the city of Saratoga Springs’ seal.
The city passed a demolition moratorium and the Riggis sued, saying the moratorium was enacted to target them. In 2010, 10 days after the city’s temporary ban on demolition expired, the house met the wrecking ball.