By Tom Hays
NEW YORK: On a recent morning on the west side of Manhattan, Wendy Featherstone showed off a prime piece of real estate that many New Yorkers don’t know exists.
The eight-story brick building in Chelsea’s gallery district has three terraces, one with views of the Statue of Liberty and cruise ships docking along the Hudson River. There’s an indoor pool, basketball court and even a private chapel with stained-glass windows.
Featherstone isn’t a pushy real estate agent — she’s a prison superintendent. The property once was a medium-security women’s lockup called Bayview Correctional Facility. And those terraces? They’re really caged-in recreation areas.
The superintendent ran Bayview until Superstorm Sandy made the Hudson surge and sent a wall of water into the facility as she and her workers helplessly looked on.
“You know in the Ten Commandments, the way the water is when they part the sea? That’s how the water was coming down,” she recalled as she walked an empty cell block. “It was the river. The river was in here.”
Featherstone rode out the storm on a cot in her second-floor office after the power went out. The water receded and no one was harmed. But a year later, the Bayview Correctional Facility remains empty.
The 153 women — serving time for robberies, assaults and lesser crimes — were evacuated a few days before the storm to upstate prisons and never came back. The flooding destroyed boilers and damaged electrical equipment, causing $600,000 in damage.
The state’s current budget called for the facility to close by the end of the fiscal year as a cost-saving measure, leaving the building in limbo.
The state has sold other shuttered prisons elsewhere to local governments that have turned them into business parks or to private buyers at auction. The Empire State Development agency is still assessing the best use for Bayview, but its location alone suggests it has more potential than the typical redevelopment stepchild.
Bayview abuts a condominium high-rise designed by French architect Jean Nouvel and topped by a penthouse unit that sold for nearly $20 million. Promotional material for the high-rise touts neighborhood features that are steps away — a slew of gourmet restaurants, the sprawling Chelsea Piers sports facility and the popular Highline elevated park — but makes no mention of the vertical prison that’s in plain view from the upper floors.
In such a hot neighborhood, potential buyers would swarm if they knew the building could be torn down and replaced with more high-end residential development, said Jonathan Miller, president of real estate appraiser Miller Samuel Inc.
“The value there is in the land, or ‘the dirt’ as developers call it,” he said.
Miller said it’s too soon to estimate the value of the Bayview site, but he cited the recent sale of a nearby lot that once had a gas station for a reported $23.5 million.
Featherstone is unsentimental when asked about Bayview’s uncertain future.
“I can’t imagine it as anything else,” she said. “I just see it as a prison.”