New plan emerges for use of former Mount McGregor prison | Local
MAURY THOMPSON Special for The Post-Star
Ghost hunting by night and appreciation of history by day would be part of the activities of a new local tourist attraction at the former Mount McGregor Correctional Institution.
Paranormal expert Steven Brodt of South Glens Falls and investor Mark Erskine of Chicago are in talks with the state and finalizing an offer to purchase the former Wilton and Moreau Correctional Facility, which closed in 2014, and to redevelop the site.
A four-story building on the property would be renovated into a museum about the property’s past uses as a medium-security correctional facility, training center for the developmentally disabled, rehabilitation camp for World War II veterans, tuberculosis sanatorium and originally as the site of the luxurious Balmoral Hotel, which burned down in 1897.
Paranormal investigation tours and seminars could be immediately held on the property to generate revenue for renovations.
Architecture and photography tours would also be offered, and the grounds could be used for events such as car shows and weddings.
People also read…
The site could be rented to television and film producers to film on location.
Brodt and Erskine toured the property with officials from the Empire State Development Corp. and have submitted various documents, and the duo is working with Saratoga County Economic Development Corp. to finalize a formal offer to purchase the property.
The purchase price would be negotiated with the State.
“We’re getting closer,” Erskine said in a phone interview Friday. “Now he is submitting another set of documents.”
State Sense. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury and Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon, and Assemblyman Matt Simpson, R-Horicon, wrote letters endorsing the plan.
“I think this is a very unique opportunity” that would reverse the deterioration of buildings since the correctional facility closed, Simpson said in a phone interview.
“After learning about the details of the project, I happily signed their letter of support to Empire State Development. Steve and Mark have over a decade of experience in heritage tourism and real estate development and studied in depth the revenue and historic tourism opportunities that are expected to be generated by this innovative project,” Jordan said in a statement. “The Mount McGregor facility has sat idle since its closure in 2014. Instead of demolishing this facility, we should be rethinking and reimagining smart new uses for this facility and others.”
The concept is modeled after similar historic dual-use sites, such as Waverly Hills Sanitarium in Kentucky, Moundsville Penitentiary in West Virginia, Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in West Virginia, and the State Penitentiary. Eastern State in Philadelphia, where Brodt conducted paranormal tours.
“In my decade-plus as a fan of heritage tourism and paranormal investigator – and more recently as owner of the Glens Falls-based paranormal events company Haunted Nights – I have had the pleasure of visiting more than two dozen cities across the country where abandoned hospitals and correctional facilities have been reimagined as destinations for heritage tourism and paranormal investigation,” Brodt said. “These facilities enjoy a second or even a third life and bring a significant number of visitors and economic activities to these regions. We see a tremendous opportunity to do the same at Mount McGregor.
Brodt is a nationally renowned paranormal investigation expert who has appeared on the Travel Channel and specialty YouTube channels.
Erskine is a longtime private real estate and mortgage investor who met Brodt through their mutual interest in paranormal investigations.
Brodt said Erskine was not a “silent” partner, and would be involved in operating the facility and may even move to the area.
Erskine said he has a “rough” estimate of spending more than $1 million on renovations in the first two to three years.
It all depends on how quickly they can complete the purchase of the property.
“There are more and more leaks on certain roofs. So the rain and snow just adds to the damage until we get there,” he said.
In a few years, in a second phase of renovation, the duo wishes to renovate the chapel and refurbish its historic pipe organ for concerts and other gatherings.
Eventually, they would develop overnight accommodation on the property.
Erskine said their project is compatible with the Grant Cottage National Historic Site, located just outside the former correctional facility property, and would attract more visitors.
The state-owned historic site, which is now affiliated with the National Park Service system, includes Drexel Cottage, where former Civil War general and U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant spent his final days before he died of throat cancer in 1885.
Grant Cottage has recently completed a master plan for the improvements envisaged on the site over the next 10-15 years.
The plan for Grant Cottage, among other projects, includes the construction of a lookout point east of Mount McGregor, where author Mark Twain is said to have once looked out and admired the countryside when visiting Grant.
It’s unclear if Twain’s ghost returns to the property, but they found reported ghost sightings in their research, Erskine said.
Two different correctional officers they interviewed, each working at the facility at different times, said they saw the same ghost in the same building, he said.
Brodt said the site has broad appeal, not just to ghost hunters but also to the general public, who are curious about the historic property that has been largely off limits since the mid-1980s.
“For a long time no one went there unless they were prisoners,” he said.