For Sale: New York Lakefront Property with Garage, Pig Farm and 736 Prison Cells
What New York State is doing with some of its closed prisons is like dragging an old, unwanted couch out to the dumpster and then slapping a price tag on it.
In an effort to address state budget gaps, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration closed seven of New York’s 67 correctional facilities and put them on the real estate market in 2012. [See: PLN, June 2013, p.1].
“Instead of spending millions maintaining facilities we don’t need, the governor’s approach saves taxpayers millions and opens up transformative economic development and investment opportunities in communities across the state,” said Howard B. Glaser, Cuomo’s director of state operations.
Nearly a dozen prisons have been closed in New York in recent years thanks to lower crime rates, early release programs for nonviolent offenders and reforms in the state’s strict Rockefeller drug laws. In fact, since 1999, when New York incarcerated an all-time high of almost 71,500 prisoners, the Empire State’s prison population has fallen nearly 25%, leaving thousands of empty beds when Governor Cuomo announced the sale of the idle correctional facilities. New York’s prison population is currently around 54,000 prisoners.
One of the vacant facilities, tucked away in the Hudson Valley, has a 16-car garage, a pig farm, hundreds of yards of lakefront property and 736 “bedrooms” with bathrooms. Another prison, off the western shore of Staten Island, offers a two-story gymnasium, a baseball field, an open-air pavilion and almost 70 acres on the waterfront. And in rural Schoharie County, a prison is for sale that includes a chapel, a carpentry shop, 20 acres of state forest land that’s ideal for hunting and fishing, and a wastewater treatment plant.
“It’s a building that’s just sitting there,” said Harold Vroman, chairman of the board of supervisors for Schoharie County, where the state closed a 100-bed minimum-security facility. “Who wants to buy a jail, you know?” he asked.
Apparently, someone does. Governor Cuomo’s administration said it was reviewing a proposal for a new retail development on Staten Island to replace the Arthur Kill Correctional Facility, one of the closed prisons. Further, Camp Georgetown, a former 262-bed prison that sits on 31 acres in central New York, sold for $241,000 in May 2013. The new owners plan to convert it into a youth science camp. In the Hudson Valley, the former Mid-Orange Correctional Facility is slated to become an industrial and business park after selling for $3.1 million.
In January 2014, state officials re-issued a request for proposals for the purchase and reuse of the former Bayview Correctional Facility, a medium-security women’s prison that sits on prime real estate on Manhattan’s West Side. The prison closed in October 2012 after being damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
An eight-story brick building at Bayview, which was originally designed as a YMCA center, includes a large gymnasium, an art deco pool that was used for storage and a small chapel with stained-glass windows. The prison also includes a six-story annex. Cell windows on the waterfront side of the property gaze out over the Hudson River Park.
Some real estate experts said Bayview could be worth significantly more if the state would allow it to be sold for residential use or as a hotel. The site would be perfect for condos, according to developers, but the Cuomo administration has refused to accept bids for residential uses in an effort to promote job growth and ensure the desires of neighborhood residents are respected when the facility is sold.
“The state’s going to leave a significant amount of money on the table by dictating the use” of the former prison, said Dan Fasulo, a managing director at Real Capital Analytics. “I think they’re going to be surprised at how low the bids are.”
Other states that have closed correctional facilities have converted them into properties with alternative uses. For example, the old Charles Street Jail in Boston was transformed into the Liberty Hotel in 2007; one of the hotel’s bars, named Alibi, serves a $12 blueberry mojito called the “Jailbait.” In Newark, New Jersey, the cells were removed from a former county jail so the building could be turned into government office space. A number of states have converted closed prisons into museums or tourist attractions. [See: PLN, Aug. 1998, p.24].
Jails are easier to convert to other uses than prisons because they’re usually smaller and more centrally located. For those reasons, real estate experts say, New York might be better off just giving away its unneeded prisons.
“The only possible thing that you could use this for would be for government or military,” said Fred Macchia, a commercial real estate broker in Rome, New York, where the 998-bed Oneida Correctional Facility was closed several years ago. “You couldn’t make it into a hotel. You couldn’t make it into an apartment complex. You’re talking millions of dollars to renovate.”
More New York prisons may be on the market soon, as the state announced the closure of four additional correctional facilities in July 2013.
“In response to a reduced crime rate that has shrunk our inmate population, we are continuing to right size the state’s costly prison system and saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars annually,” said New York state prison Commissioner Anthony J. Annucci.
Local residents and unionized prison workers have rallied against closing the facilities, however, citing job losses and the economic impact the closures would have on the communities where they are located. The four state prisons scheduled to close by mid-2014 include Monterey Shock, Butler, Chateaugay and Mt. McGregor.
New York lawmakers have halted any further prison closures until July 2016 – after all, they wouldn’t want to glut the prison real estate market.
Sources: The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, www.correctionalassociation.org, www.wptz.com, www.scoc.ny.gov
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