Carey Institute listing its campus for sale, hopes to continue work

— Photo from the Carey Institute for Global Good website

Two large historic homes are among the buildings on the rolling campus of the Carey Institute for Global Good.

RENSSELAERVILLE — The Carey Center for Global Good is putting its bucolic 100-acre campus up for sale, listing the property for $2.75 million.

“COVID is really the long and short of it ... We have not been able to have any of our usual meetings and events — our core business,” said Gareth Crawford, the center’s president and chief executive officer. However, asked about deficits, he said the center had never been able to pay for itself.

Crawford told The Enterprise on Monday that the not-for-profit institute had lost $2 million to $3 million because of the shutdown caused by the pandemic, which began locally in March.

“We’re not in a position to continue because of the overhead cost and maintenance of the property,” said Crawford, noting that, in recent weeks, “COVID numbers are up again.”

At its last meeting, on Oct. 22, the institute’s board of trustees made the decision, with a unanimous vote, to list the property for sale, he said.

The institute is one of the rural areas’s biggest employers and grandest properties. The town’s website and local real-estate listings describe it as a local attraction. The campus is adjacent to the Huyck Preserve, another not-for-profit, which conducts scientific research and offers recreational and educational opportunities.

Crawford said that the institute plans to put a conservation easement in place before it sells the property. He also said that the institute will continue its work although he does not yet know where it will be based. The intention is to remain in Rensselaerville, he said.

“I would hope the programs will continue,” Crawford said, noting that some of the programs rely on the physical campus.

The property currently has two large historic homes, a carriage house turned restaurant, a building that houses an auditorium along with office space, three large residences, and several smaller buildings. 

An earlier incarnation of the center, The Institute of Man and Science, was chartered by the State University of New York in 1963. The institute’s evolving century-long history is described in this week’s Enterprise editorial.

As the institute struggled financially, William Polk Carey, a trustee for 20 years with a home in Rensselaerville, arranged to buy the property. He died in 2012 just before the sale was announced. Carey was the founder of W. P. Carey & Co., a real-estate financing firm with international reach.

Under the leadership of Carol Ash, a Rensselaerville resident who had retired as commissioner of the state’s Office of Parks and Recreation, the institute in 2014 appealed for donations as Ash said it would not survive with its Carey endowment alone.

Ash now chairs the board of trustees and her husband, journalist Josh Friedman, is vice chair. The trustees are not paid. Their son-in-law, Crawford, became president in 2014. Crawford had led not-for-profit programs in crisis areas in Asia, Africa, and Pakistan.

The Carey Institute eventually teamed up with the Logan Foundation, providing support and a safe haven for creators of long-form journalism — books, films, and more. The institute provides a  largely online program for teachers. It also continued with community-based projects, building a brewery that, with help from the United States Department of Agriculture, helped educate farmers and breweries across the state.

The Logan program is currently being run virtually, Crawford said, conceding that the campus had been valuable for the “rich collegial fellowship” that developed among the participants as they shared long walks and meals on the campus.

Asked if the Logan Foundation would continue its support if the campus were sold, Crawford said, “We haven’t had that conversation with the Logan Foundation yet.”

 “We need to assess the pilot program,” he said of the10-week virtual residencies.


Enterprise file photo — Marcello Iaia
Gathering at Stonecrop: Supporters of the newly formed Carey Institute for Global Good came together in September 2014 to hear plans for its future.




According to Albany County assessment rolls, 90.3 acres of the campus are assessed at $1.53 million, with just the land valued at $254,000.

Victoria Kraker, Rensselaerville’s tax collector, said that a small piece of property on the campus — .13 acres where a cell tower stands — paid $970.48 last year; that money was received from Verizon. The institute’s not-for-profit education exemption does not cover fees for the lighting district, for which the institute paid $154.89 last year, or for water, for which the institute paid $87.39 last year.

Crawford said the campus will be listed for sale at $2.75 million based on an appraisal the institute recently had done.

Carey had bought the property for $1.35 million.


— Photo from the Carey Institute for Global Good
William Polk Carey relaxes with his dogs in Rensselaerville. He died in 2012 just before his purchase of the Rensselaerville Institute property was announced.


The property will be listed with James Male of House Hudson Valley Realty, Crawford confirmed. His website shows a number of Rensselaerville properties, including an 18th-Century Greek Revival mansion on Renselaerville’s main street that Richard Ballinger donated to the institute in 2018, when it was listed for sale at $695,000; it is now listed for $100,000 less.

Crawford said the number of people employed by the institute varies with the season. At the height of summer, he said, about 70 people are employed. Some are seasonal or part-time workers; he estimated the institute employs 40 to 50 full-time equivalents year-round.

Net assets listed in the IRS filings go from $6.78 million in 2014 to $5.78 million in 2017. The year 2014 stands out from the other years because it shows far greater revenue — $7.83 million — and it is the only year where revenue less expenses was a positive number: $6.87 million.

Crawford said he believed that was a gift from the Carey estate, which was before he became president of the institute. “When I started the end of that year, we had about three years of operational funds,” he said.

An emphasis was put on sales and marketing, to increase events like meetings and weddings. And then, too, to keep the institute’s tax-exempt status, programs had to be run as well. The goal was to “make up the gap,” he said.

The IRS reports show that, in 2015, the gap between revenues and expenses was about $666,000; in 2016, about $574,000; and in 2017, about $18,000.

Asked about the deficits, Crawford said, “It’s the cost of running the company. It’s never been able to pay for itself.”

Part of it has to do with the remote location, Crawford said, and also with the cost of maintaining old buildings. Part of it also has to do with the weather, he said.

“From May to October, people like coming here,” he said, and the institute hosts weddings and conventions. “From the end of October through April, it’s not quite as warm and pleasant.”

Developing the Logan program for the long-form journalists was a way to fill bedrooms, he said.

“It’s always a big lift to get it to make enough,” said Crawford.


The campus of the Carey Institute for Global Good is bordered by Route 85 to the right. Lake Myosotis is to the left. The 6.6-acre Rooney property juts into the campus from the northern edge.


The Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy has protected about 1,520 acres in Rensselaerville and is in the earliest stages of looking at protecting 100 more.

With the Carey Institute considering the sale of its campus, Mark King, the director of the conservancy, said his organization would be interested in securing a conservation easement.

Crawford said the institute is “much more than amenable” to having an easement in place to protect the land from development.

“We take the responsibility seriously,” he said.

King expects the easement would be in place before a sale is finalized. That way, the buyer would know what he is getting into, said King.

He speculated, “There will be a lot of concern about the future of it … That’s where conservation easements are a good tool … They set a baseline.”

King said no campaign is planned at this time to raise funds for an easement and no price has been set for the cost of an easement.

“We’ve protected a lot of properties in Rensselaerville, most of which surround the hamlet,” said King, including the “top of the world” Bolotsky Property, which was protected in 2016.

These properties are part of the Helderberg Corridor, which stretches from the Catskills to Thacher Park and the Helderberg escarpment. “A corridor doesn’t have to be miles and miles wide,” he said. Some species, like interior forest nesting birds need a wide swath, said King, but other species, like herps and reptiles don’t need a wide swath.

Aside from protecting significant habitats, one of the conservancy’s goals in Rensselaerville is to protect the land around the historic hamlet, said King.

Part of the institute property that is of interest to the conservancy, King said, is “a substantial area of forest” along Route 85.

He described the area as “a steep forested slope not appropriate for forestry or building.” But, he went on, “Often we see people do those things anyway.”

 “We’d also want to look at the impact on Myosotis and buffering the water supply.”

The hamlet’s water supply comes from Lake Myosotis.

Also, King said, conservation easements have value when they serve as buffers. Often, communities as they develop blend together and are no longer distinct.

The 100-acre institute property is adjacent to the Huyck Preserve, which is used for science and for recreation. He said that property does not have an easement.

One of the values of easements, noted King, is they stabilize a property even if ownership and use change.

“I don’t think a wedding venue is in conflict with an easement,” he said.

He likened the situation to the recent easement the conservancy secured for the farmland on Picard Road in New Scotland at the base of the escarpment. Picard’s Grove had for decades been used as a community gathering space, a use King said would be compatible with the easement.

“Weddings are temporary uses,” he said.

King said of the institute campus, “It’s not what people would envision as a natural area … Really, it’s a balancing situation: uses versus benefit to conservation.”

King has pointed out before that an easement does not open a property to the public. It remains private property on which taxes are paid.


The Rooneys’ house

Ellen Rooney with her sisters and brother share ownership of a home on about six acres that juts into the institute’s campus from the property’s northern edge. Their 19th-Century Greek Revival house has white clapboards, green shutters, and a black standing-seam terne roof.

“Our house was originally part of the Huyck estate,” said Ellen Rooney, a landscape and garden photographer who lives in London. “It was built as a wedding present for Katharine Huyck.” 

Rooney’s grandparents lived in Albany — her grandfather was a doctor — and bought the place in Rensselaerville during the 1930s as a summer home. Rooney’s mother, Marguerite, married Andy Rooney, the well-known writer and “60 Minutes” curmudgeon, and the Rooneys acquired the house around 1970. 

Andy Rooney came up from Connecticut for weekends and would spend the month of July in the Rensselaerville house. He would write in a five-sided room, called the Pentagon, which had no windows so he wouldn’t be distracted.

Andy Rooney also had a shop for woodworking, and the house still has tables and other furniture he made from exotic woods. Marguerite Rooney enjoyed keeping up her mother’s garden and staffed a stand at the local farmers’ market. She was active in supporting community institutions like the library and Conkling Hall.

Albany County assessment rolls list the house on 6.6 acres under “estate of Andrew Rooney” with a total assessed value of $206,000. The value for Ellen Rooney, who is 73, comes from the memories she has of her grandparents and of her parents in the house, her weekend visits when she worked for years in New York City — especially the Labor Day tennis tournaments — and the more than 20 Christmas celebrations she had there with her extended family.


— Photo from Ellen Rooney
A 19th-Century house owned by the four children of Andy and Marguerite Rooney is on the edge of the Carey Institute's campus.


On Aug. 22, Ellen Rooney said, she received an email from Carol Ash, saying that, due to difficulties caused by the coronavirus, the institute was struggling financially and also with the high maintenance cost of buildings, and had received an unsolicited offer to buy the campus.

The man who made the offer, Akiva Reich, called Rooney, she said, and told her he wanted to buy the Rooneys’ house because, without it, his investors wouldn’t back his plan to create a wedding venue there. Reich owns wedding and event venues in Brooklyn where he lives and also has renovated Hasbrouck House in Stone Ridge, two hours from New York City, said Rooney.

Reich declined comment.

Rooney told Reich their property was not for sale and had been in the family for almost 90 years. She spoke with her family members and they were not interested in selling at this time. Reich persisted in wanting a right of first refusal, Rooney said, and, on Nov. 10, emailed her brother that he would walk away from buying the institute property if the Rooneys wouldn’t agree.


Final thoughts

Crawford downplayed the role of Akiva Reich and said, “The important thing is, with whoever buys it, we try to thread the needle of keeping the character of the place while continuing to provide employment opportunities for local people.”

Crawford said there are a lot of different views within the community. “Different elements have priorities,” he said.

Asked what those priorities are, Crawford said the institute is balancing the idea of protecting the environmental aspects at one end of the spectrum with providing local economic opportunities at the other end of the spectrum.

“What Bill Carey wanted was to provide opportunities for young people to stay in the area. At the same time, the institute has a global mission.

There’s the property on one hand and programs on the other, said Crawford.  “Managing the property and achieving global good — that was Bill’s vision,” said Crawford, adding, “Our programs are very high quality.”

He also said, “It’s a juggling act to achieve both those things.”

Carey’s byword was: Doing good while doing well.

Crawford concluded of the institute, “We would hope to keep it going. It depends on how quick a sale. There are a lot of unknowns.”


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