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Couple looks to breathe new life into former sanatorium

October 3, 2019
By GRIFFIN KELLY - For the News ( , Lake Placid News

SARANAC LAKE - Real estate entrepreneurs Wayne Zukin and Sue Smith, of Philadelphia and Rainbow Lake, are looking to give new life to this community's former tuberculosis sanatorium.

They are under contract to buy the historic healing campus that led to Saranac Lake's growth from a small hamlet to a bustling village. They plan to close the deal in mid-October.

It was a 19th century stone church with a red spire and a partially caved-in floor, the Baker Memorial Chapel, that really made Zukin want to take out his checkbook.

"Honestly if the chapel wasn't there, we probably wouldn't be sitting around talking about this project because it's such an amazing building," he said in an interview Thursday, Sept. 26.

The property is currently owned by American Management Association, a nonprofit group that provides executive training courses, seminars and materials to individuals, teams, organizations and government agencies. However, the group uses only two of the property's 29 buildings.

The property is located on the shoulder of Mount Pisgah, on the site of the former Trudeau Sanatorium for the treatment of tuberculosis patients, which Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau founded as the Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium in 1884. It was renamed the Trudeau Sanatorium after Trudeau died in 1915. AMA bought it in 1957, after the sanatorium closed in 1954.

The 64-acre parcel is listed for sale at $6.5 million.

Zukin and Smith said they love the site's historical value, but they also want to purchase the property because it seems like a profitable opportunity. They aren't quite sure what to do with the buildings just yet.

"We've started doing some preliminary leasing," Zukin said. "We've started some preliminary architectural work and looking at designs and things like that, but we still don't own it. We still don't have any firm plans."

The AMA offices and its employees would remain. The couple's ideas for possible new ventures could include a wellness center, offices, a hotel, a performance space, artist studios, a wedding venue involving the chapel, restaurants and a manufacturing center, Zukin said. He added three houses on the west end of the property would mostly likely be converted into residences.

Behind the houses are 25 acres that link to the Mount Pisgah Ski Center. Again, Zukin and Smith are unsure what to do with this portion. They've considered building townhouses and possibly linking trails to the village-owned ski center.

"We want to maintain a connection with the village in some way," Zukin said. "A lot of people use that area for snowshoeing and hiking and all of that. We'd like to incorporate that, but it's still undecided."

At this point, Zukin and Smith said they are open to suggestions for future plans.

Despite some of the buildings being over 100 years old, the two said they don't want to demolish and start fresh, but rather renovate and reinvigorate. Zukin said this can be a challenge because often it's cheaper to clear space and start new construction instead of renovating an old structure. But restoring historic buildings is their specialty.

"That's a question when you're building," he said. "'How far do you go with restoration? When is it economical?' You may just go ahead with it anyway. Often that plays well where you may spend more on one building to make it exceptional, but the overflow benefits the rest of the project. That's what makes it worth while."

Real estate philosophy

Zukin and Smith own a few rental houses in Saranac Lake as well as multiple downtown buildings such as the ones housing Origin Coffee Company, the Ampersound music shop and the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation, Eco Living and the Adirondack Trading Co.

Zukin and Smith said they focus more on getting and keeping tenants than having the highest rents. They work with broker, Brian Draper of Say Real Estate in Saranac Lake on that. They have one vacant storefront, where Celtic Vape and Major Plowshares Army Navy used to be on Broadway.

"It's a balancing act," Zukin said. "We want to get what the property's worth, but maybe were a little under what other landlords might ask for."

Zukin said it may take some time to fully renovate older properties, but as long as they can make the tenant happy, the renovations get done eventually.

"We're here, and we're here to stay," he said. "We're long-term holders. We rarely sell and see things as long-term investments."

In 2018, Saranac Lake won a $9.7 million in grants from the state's Downtown Revitalization Initiative. With the recipients finalized, Zukin looks toward the future and imagines what the village could become. He said communities should encourage downtown retail businesses and living accommodations. More than anything else, he would like to see more retail stores.

"People want to go out to eat, but they also want to do other things," he said. "Retail across the country is in a funny place because of Amazon and the internet, but the vibrancy of downtowns is tied to that. I also want to see more people living downtown. As there are more opportunities for families and couples and folks to live downtown, that also adds to that vibrancy."



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