PLATTSBURGH — After operating under a not-for-profit board for 131 years, the Samuel F. Vilas Home has changed hands.
Eli and Emily Schwartzberg, owners and operators of the Champlain Valley Senior Community in Willsboro, bought the licensed adult-care home in the City of Plattsburgh in September.
Eli, a Cornell University graduate, compared the project to the pair's earlier venture in Willsboro.
"My wife and I renovated the former Willsboro School into an assisted living and memory care facility," he said. "That was a really cool project.
"That's why we were attracted to the Vilas (Vye-les) Home — it's the same industry and a historic building," the Lake Placid native added. "It's really a landmark in Plattsburgh.
"Everybody knows this building."
The Samuel F. Vilas Home, built in 1888, sits at the corner of Beekman and Cornelia streets and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The structure has space enough for 42 residents and currently houses about 37.
The home offers care to its adult clientele, including 24-hour supervision and assistance, medication management, daily meals and snacks, laundry and housekeeping services and a variety of daily activities and outings.
But, Eli said, the Vilas Home's level of care has been somewhat limited.
"Right now it's just a base-level assisted living," he said. "One of the biggest things is people have to come here and then they have to move on if they need more care."
And, as its new owners, Eli and Emily plan to expand the home's services, creating an enhanced assisted living facility with capacity for memory-care services.
"The goal is for us to offer more services so that the adults can actually stay here — maybe forever," Eli said. "You end up increasing staffing and you also hire additional skilled people.
"So more registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, home-health aids and certified nursing assistants."
Any increase in staffing, though, hasn't been determined just yet.
Eli said the first step would be a historic renovation of the building, which could include an expansion, and was expected to finish within the next two years.
The Schwartzbergs completed a historic renovation on the former Willsboro School in 2013, which, like the Vilas Home, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
That designation requires any renovations to follow certain guidelines, Eli explained.
"It's a challenge, because it's a historic building," he said. "It takes an extra level of experience and know how — especially when you're trying to use the facility for the elderly.
"A historic renovation doesn't necessarily cost more money or take more time, it just takes a little bit more sophistication to pull it off."
The new owner said the renovations to the Vilas Home would bring in additional bathrooms, expand room size and make other improvements.
In mid-August, the Vilas Home LLC, faced with tax liability from years of unpaid taxes, received approval from the County of Clinton Industrial Development Agency's (CCIDA) Board of Directors for a payment in lieu of taxes agreement, or PILOT.
That 10-year agreement would amount to a 27 percent property-tax abatement.
"So, they would be paying 73 percent over the next ten years of what the property taxes would be," CCIDA Executive Director Renee McFarlin had explained.
Though a future expansion and an extension of services had been listed on the Vilas Home application, McFarlin had said the agreement was solely for the Schwartzbergs' initial acquisition of the building.
At the time, Eli had said that, without a 10-year tax break, acquiring the adult-care home was unlikely, if not impossible.
SPREADING ITS WINGS
Eli said he and Emily, who graduated with an M.A. in advertising from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, won't be re-branding the adult home.
"It's still going to be called the Vilas Home," Eli said. "We're taking it over, but we're not changing the name. We're not changing the staff.
"We're really about continuing the legacy that the Vilas family set out. We're kind of shepherds of their original mission."
And, he added, the couple was honored to take ownership from the Vilas Home Board of Directors after that not-for-profit's longstanding reign.
"It was sort of like letting your kid spread their wings," he said. "The board really wants the best for this building."
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