No buyers for New York's empty jailhouses at rock bottom price

A decline in prisoner numbers has prompted the State to try to sell off correctional facilities

Property values aren't always a matter of location, location, location. Try as it might, and despite rock-bottom prices, the State of New York is unable to find entrepreneurial investors willing to snap up its disused prisons.

Seven former correctional facilities, sitting empty due to a decline in crime rates, are now languishing on the market, after being listed for sale several month ago by Governor Andrew Cuomo as part of a cost-cutting drive aimed at streamlining his real estate portfolio.

What they may lack in ambience the empty properties certainly make up for in size and potential facilities. Some have gyms and baseball diamonds; others boast forests or waterfront views. Carpentry shops and secure fencing come as standard. One even has its own sewage treatment plant.

The properties have become vacant thanks to a steep fall in the State's prison population, which peaked at around 71,000 in 1999, but is now closer to 55,000. Ongoing early release programmes for non-violent offenders are expected to reduce that number further in the coming years.

By putting the buildings up for sale, a spokesman for the Governor said he hoped to prevent them from falling into disrepair. So long as they remain disused, they would be an unnecessary drain on public funds, he added.

"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," the spokesman told The New York Times. The market remains unconvinced, though. Fred Macchia, an estate agent who lives near the 998-bed Oneida Correctional Facility in the city of Rome – which sits beside a still-functioning prison – said he doubted a buyer would come forward.

"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. Who's going to do it?" he asked. "The state's not going to do it – they're just trying to get rid of it."

Several other disused public properties were also listed for sale and are also proving hard to shift. They include a Romanesque armoury in Poughkeepsie, which dates back to the Spanish-American War.

Governor Cuomo has had better luck offloading less expensive public assets. In April, he auctioned off 454 disused cars and trucks, and set up an eBay site to find buyers for smaller items, including several industrial saws and Dell computer keyboards.

He is also hoping to cash in on the sale of 23 homes set aside for prison superintendents, which will go up for auction this summer. Some are next door to working correctional facilities, so may also prove hard to shift.

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