NYS Exposed: Closed in 2011, state hasn't been able to sell Butler Correctional Facility

May 15, 2017 11:35 PM

In the rural community of Red Creek, the opportunities for job growth are sparse.

With a population of about 500, this eastern Wayne County village is struggling for its very survival. In 2014, it was dealt a major blow when the state shut down the nearby Butler Correctional Facility, one of 13 state prisons shuttered by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

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When Butler closed, 130 jobs went elsewhere.

"Clearly, we don't have a very robust job market around here," says Mayor Chuck Palermo. "So whenever we lose something of that caliber, 130-plus jobs, that's big for us."

Chuck Palermo is mayor of Red Creek and openly wonders what appeal the former prison would have for a private sector investor.

Palermo says, "You don't see something all of a sudden closing and there's a vacuum of, 'Oh, well gosh, that's going to open up opportunity for so many other businesses to come in and do that...' No, no, that's not the case."

And its impact stretches beyond the neighboring rural communities. Every year, it sits vacant; the former prison is costing you, the state taxpayers, $358,000 to pay for maintenance, utilities and security guards -- more than one and a half times the annual operating budget for the entire Village of Red Creek.

Palermo says, "The scale of what the state spends, that may be a drop in the bucket. But again, in relationship to what we do on a small community scale, gosh, that's such a tremendous waste."

The state's economic development agency was tasked with trying to find a buyer for the empty prison. But, as of Monday, the state has still not even put out a request for proposals -- which would start the process for Butler to be re-developed.

So we went to Howard Zemsky, president of Empire State Development, to find out why the delay, despite the continued cost to maintain it.

"We'll ultimately issue an RFP," says Zemsky. "In the meantime, as we have with some of the other correctional facilities, we've dedicated some funds for economic transformation in and around that region."

But back up a minute: That's similar to what Zemsky told us almost two years ago when we first started questioning the state's lack of enthusiasm in marketing the property.

"We'll get to it," says Zemsky. "We can't move everything at the same time."

Palermo tells us, "It's nerve-wracking. I think because there is that stone-wall feeling from the state that, we'll get back to you on it."

Certainly there are challenges to finding a proper re-use for a medium security prison campus, but Zemsky remains confident.

"Getting expressions of interest from folks, from potential re-developers, is important," says Zemsky. "We do engage actively with the community in this process. In time we will succeed."

The state points out that it saved taxpayers millions of dollars by closing Butler Correctional. And Butler isn't the only moth-balled prison that remains unsold. Of the 13 prisons closed since 2011, ten are upstate and New York has only sold three of them.


Brett Davidsen

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