GABRIELS - The soon-to-be owner of Camp Gabriels reportedly wants to turn the now-shuttered minimum security prison into a private group camp and retreat center.
Adam Fine of New York City submitted the second-highest bid, $166,000, for the former prison when it was put up for auction by the state in October. It is located off state Route 86 in the hamlet of Gabriels, in the town of Brighton.
The highest bidder was Mohammad Ibrahim of Elmont, who offered $210,777 for the property, but he was unable to complete the transaction, according to Joe Brill, a spokesman for the state Office of General Services. The next highest bid, from Fine, was then accepted.
"We anticipate a closing will occur in the next few weeks," Brill said in an email Friday, Feb. 28. "The contract has been approved by OGS and the Attorney General's Office, and we are awaiting final approval from the Office of the State Comptroller."
Brill said he couldn't provide any contact information for Fine, but the Lake Placid News/Adirondack Daily Enterprise has learned that Fine has submitted an application to the state Adirondack Park Agency. The newspaper company had to file a Freedom of Information Law request with the agency to get a copy of the application, and that request is still pending. However, an APA summary of the application says "the landowner proposes to convert the former state correctional facility into a private group camp facility.
"The group camp will be operated year-round and will include an educational facility, a summer camp/school and a retreat," the report says.
Brighton Supervisor Peter Shrope said he attended a meeting recently at Camp Gabriels with Fine, his lawyer, several town officials and representatives of multiple state agencies including the APA, OGS, Department of Health and Department of Environmental Conservation.
"My understanding is one of the owner's partners, for the past six years he's been running a summer camp, and they've been leasing college facilities and public group facilities for the summer camp, and it's become so popular that they're looking to turn the former Camp Gabriels into a summer camp," Shrope said. "I understand that they've also had some discussions with (the state Olympic Regional Development Authority), and the possibility exists of having it be open for lodging and conferences all year long."
Since the prison closed in 2009, there have been several different ideas pitched for the property, including a state veterans cemetery and a Native American cultural center. Shrope said he's excited about what Fine wants to do.
"I think having a summer camp there would be fantastic," he said. "It will certainly bring people through the area. It will bring people through Saranac Lake and up to Gabriels, they'll stop at the Brighton Mini Mart, and we've got the (Paul Smith's College) VIC there. I think it's a fantastic thing for our community."
Shrope said Fine wants to have a first camp session on the property this summer. Before that can happen, though, the property's buildings and utility systems will need to be evaluated. Shrope said that was part of the goal of last week's meeting.
"We were walking around outside checking the systems out, looking at what the potential water system would be, what the sewer system would be and what the timeline would be for getting things back online," Shrope said. "They're going to have to pressure test all the water lines, re-certify the septic system and get all kinds of permits. It's a huge job no matter what happens at any time frame."
Town Councilman Steve Tucker was also on the recent tour.
"It sounds like a pretty good use of the facilities," he said. "It will be a great fit. I'm guessing there will be jobs available. They're going to need people working on the grounds, maintenance and running the kitchen. It would be great for the community."
Tucker said the new owner also wants to put in a pool and create a soccer field on the property.
Shrope said he talked with the owner and his attorney about holding a public information meeting at the town hall about the project. A time for that session will likely be discussed at the town board's next meeting on March 13, Shrope said.
The 91-acre, 332-bed former prison includes 55 structures ranging from storage buildings and three circa-1927 dormitory buildings to an outdoor workout facility, a newer gymnasium and a circa-1904 chapel.
It began a century ago as a tuberculosis sanitarium run by the Sisters of Mercy. Nearby Paul Smith's College later used it for dormitories, and then in 1982 the state bought it and made it a minimum-security prison camp without fences. Camp Gabriels was one of three prisons the state closed in 2009 as a way to cut costs amid a declining inmate population.
The Office of General Services originally put Camp Gabriels up for bid in October 2010, asking a minimum price of $950,000, but no one bid on it. The state knocked $200,000 off the minimum in 2011, and still no one bid. The minimum at last fall's auction was $90,000.