Private investors’ plan to convert old prisons into new housing: can it happen?

Published: Sep. 11, 2023 at 5:40 PM EDT
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OGDENSBURG, New York (WWNY) - It’s a community’s dream: private investors using all private dollars to turn closed prisons into housing. It’s exactly what’s in front of lawmakers in Ogdensburg Monday night and Watertown will follow.

Developer Rick St. Jean and his partners are ready to invest $300 to $400 million to repurpose parts of the former psychiatric center in Ogdensburg and closed state prisons in Ogdensburg and Watertown.

“I sold a sand and gravel business. I sold a water business that recently closed,” said St. Jean.

The mixed housing would be for elderly people and low-income families.

“Very big need for it around here and, you know, there’s a lot of homelessness, and senior housing facilities will be secured 24/7 with any other needs, you know, social workers, healthcare and transportation,” he said.

St. Jean says there’s no request for government grants.

“We won’t require any financing. I have several partners...I will be putting some of my own money into it,” he said.

In a letter to Ogdensburg lawmakers, St. Jean wants to delay the demolition of former psych center buildings until his plans are looked at. While that may not be possible, what is possible - according to local state representatives - is to move quickly on the closed prison properties.

“It would have to happen very rapidly. We’d have to see some movement instant almost. I’m not sure that can happen in that regard. As far as I’m concerned, let’s move onto the prisons and see what we can do there, and let’s try to improve the communities by repurposing some of the structures,” said Assemblyman Scott Gray (R. - 116th District).

“The residents of Ogdensburg and the local government have been trying to tackle this area for a very long time. We have a good opportunity here, it is very developable, and I’m encouraged to see developers coming to the table,” said Senator Mark Walczyk (R. - 49th District).

The state’s economic development arm says it is working diligently to implement recommendations from its 15-member New York Prison Redevelopment Commission and is looking forward to receiving proposals when the window for the request for proposals opens up. That should be sometime this year.