For sale: Old prisons and warden's homes

Odd but compelling, these now-vacant properties are on the real-estate market in a cost-cutting move by the state of New York.

By MSN Money Partner Jun 7, 2012 11:52AM

This post comes from Marilyn Lewis of MSN Money.

Image: For sale © Phillip Spears/Digital Vision/Getty ImagesIf you liked "50 Shades of Grey," the wildly popular novel featuring S&M and bondage now dominating The New York Times bestseller list, you might be just the perfect buyer for one of this week's most eccentric real-estate offerings: surplus prisons and warden's homes being unloaded by the state of New York.


The real-estate bust has produced plenty of interesting housing bargains, but few are as oddball as some of the properties listed here.


Built in a different era

As the state cuts back, it's disposing of closed prisons with plenty of acreage and interesting outbuildings. Also included in the sell-off are 23 state-owned residences that once were the homes of prison superintendents.


Says The New York Times: "Some are quite lavish: One in Auburn, to be auctioned this summer, is an 8,850-square-foot brick mansion with eight bedrooms, six bathrooms, an attached gazebo and a barn-size garage." The mansions aren't yet included on the state's website of surplus properties.


"The state has a glut of vacant correctional facilities because of lower crime rates, new programs that allow early release for nonviolent offenders and the dismantling of its strict drug laws," The Times says.


In 1973, New York had 13,437 state prisoners. A mandatory drug sentencing law went into effect that year. It helped push prison populations to 71,472 by 1999. Then-Gov. Mario Cuomo, father of current Gov. Andrew Cuomo, presided over a prison-building boom. Now, the state has 55,000 prisoners behind bars and thousands of empty beds.


Last year, New York consolidated prison populations and shut down seven prisons to save the state an estimated $184 million. Other states are closing prisons, too. This slide show by The Huffington Post describes efforts in 15 states to reduce prison populations. (Post continues below.)

Imagination required

The possibilities for New York's relics are endless for buyers with a little imagination. Here's a sampling of the properties. No prices are listed but contact information for the state's agents is included:

  • The former Mid-Orange Correctional Facility, 55 miles from New York City, includes 40 acres of land inside a "secure boundary" and an additional 686 acres outside. The 100-year-old facility includes water and sewer systems, a farm and 81 buildings, including a 12-bed medical unit. Located in the scenic Hudson Valley, this property has promise. The Times says that local officials:
. . . want to split the 736-bed prison property into smaller parcels, and several manufacturers have expressed interest in moving to the site. Other ideas for reuse included a wildlife sanctuary, a solar power facility and a Greek-style yogurt plant.
  • The former Buffalo Correctional Facility outside Buffalo has nine buildings on 20 acres, surrounded by a 4-foot-tall control fence. But the neighbor -- a functioning state prison -- is fussy. You'll need permission from the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision before opening your charm school here or relocating your tunnel-boring business to this site.
  • The old Hoosick Falls Armory. Think of all the fun you could have with this old armory in Rensselaer County, N.Y. It's not exactly a prison, true. But it could be. Or anything else your heart desires (although local zoning enforcers can occasionally be wet blankets). Since the "historic Romanesque-style red brick" pile is a look-alike castle, we had to include it in this list. Says the state: "The armory's massive size opens its future to myriad possibilities, indoor sports or recreational facilities, business offices, or cultural venue." Aching to open your own roller rink? Or to start up a paint ball wonderland?
  • The former Arthur Kill New York State Correctional Facility offers 69 acres of waterfront on Staten Island's west shore. Included: a two-story gymnasium, a baseball diamond, an open-air pavilion, a power station, petroleum bulk storage and a decommissioned firing range. Just the ticket for an oddball tycoon who craves plenty of space yet demands proximity to the city. But you'd better move quickly. State officials reportedly are considering plans to site a new retail development here.

Rehabilitating old lockups

Prison conversions are not unheard of. The 100-year-old Lorton Workhouse in Fairfax County, Va., outside Washington, D.C. (later the District of Columbia’s Correctional Complex), was closed in 1968. Now it is the Workhouse Arts Center, with seven artist studios, a main gallery and a youth arts center.


The Boston Globe, in an April article, tells of a couple successful Boston-area jail conversions. Boston's Charles Street Jail is now the Liberty Hotel, and the Old Salem Jail has been remade into 23 luxury condos and a Great Escape restaurant.


Prison and jail conversions are difficult, however. The Litchfield Jail in Litchfield, Conn., built in 1814, "went out to bid in 2010 and remains without a tenant," the Globe said.

Likewise, the 22-story former Middlesex County Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse in Cambridge, Mass., is for sale. Located on the Charles River, it would seem to be a prized property. But the top four floors house the Middlesex County Jail, and it's still full of prisoners.


The New York Times says of New York's prison properties:

The prisons are by far the largest, and most challenging to sell, of the (state surplus) properties on the market. Some of them would be quite expensive to maintain or demolish, and many are in rural areas where real estate is inexpensive and undeveloped land is plentiful.
"It's a building that's just sitting there," said Harold Vroman, chairman of the board of supervisors in Schoharie County, where Mr. Cuomo shut down a 100-bed minimum-security prison last year. "Who wants to buy a jail, you know?"

More from MSN Money and Real Estate:


Jun 7, 2012 7:16PM
I'd buy one if someone would help me round up all these crook politicians to throw in it!
Jun 7, 2012 3:38PM

Non-profit entities, even those of religious affilliation, could utilize these existing facilities to house homeless and those needing assistance in recovery. Many of these people need only a temporary hand to get back on their feet.  Government agencies, utility companies, fortune 500 companies could easily make donations to assist. Doctors without borders,medical college para-professional work, college credit for time spent assisting, etc. the list goes on and on.  It will take a philanthropist like a Bill Gates to get it all started.  To me it makes sense, rather than let them continue to go to waste and fade away.



Jun 7, 2012 8:11PM
I think I like the one here about tossing all the crooked politicians in one, That works for me. Come to think of it, we might need several of them.
Jun 7, 2012 3:03PM
Id love to have the money to turn one of those prisons to a homeless shelter or something like that ,were they work in the fields or farm for their food or to sell to local markets but I know half or more would not work and just be kicked out to the street once again . better yet a pre made zombie appacolapse shelter like in the walking dead lol rofl ...BrAiNs
Jun 7, 2012 3:25PM
 A zombie shelter was the first thing that I thought of!!!!

Jun 7, 2012 6:41PM
I think Alcatraz would be the only one that I would want to own.
Jun 7, 2012 5:53PM
Nothing says "Home Sweet Home" like walking into an old prison.
Jun 8, 2012 3:02AM
Housing and rehab facilities for wounded warriors...
Jun 7, 2012 5:30PM
I would start my own private workhouse/prison.
Jun 8, 2012 11:12AM
With my five kids, sending a kid to their room would now be a lockdown.  Hey, I'm starting to like this idea.
Jun 8, 2012 7:25AM

Noticed no mention anywhere of the small fortune NYS is going to want for these largely undesirable properties.


"The possibilities for New York's relics are endless for buyers with a little imagination"


They should have said, for buyers with millions of dollars to throw around at toys.

Jun 8, 2012 1:50PM

I think I will buy one of the prisons and shoot my own YouTube video of The Walking Dead.


On second thought I've changed my mind. I am going to build a rollercoaster instead.

Jun 8, 2012 11:19AM
All seem perfect for either terrorists in training or the die hard doomsday preppers.It would be kind of cool to have your own prison though,ah the possibilities for various interest groups for weekly rental.
Jun 8, 2012 12:40PM
The list includes the Hoosick Falls Armory - San Francisco turned their abandoned armory into a porn studio. now operates out of the building and their security lighting has actually made the neighborhood a safer place. 
Jun 8, 2012 9:19AM
That NC Preacher may be interested in these "HOME SITES"! Better check with him!
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