Entrepreneurs

Transforming a prison into a profitable athletic facility

It takes an entrepreneur with a certain amount of vision to see potential in a rundown, 38-acre plot of land that includes an abandoned prison.

But beyond the barbed wire, peeling paint and spooky hallways that look like they're straight out of AMC's "The Walking Dead," Tony Abbatine had an idea.

The businessman bought part of the former Mid-Orange Correctional Facility in Warwick, New York, from the town in 2014 for $1.7 million, after the state closed it down. Today, Abbatine is revamping the property into a state-of-the-art athletic facility — the Yard Sports Village.

"It was a little intimidating, and took me about four visits to see the light," Abbatine said.

Tony Abbatine in the yard of Mid-Orange Correctional Facility in Warwick, New York.
Sophie Bearman | CNBC
Tony Abbatine in the yard of Mid-Orange Correctional Facility in Warwick, New York.

But the entrepreneur is no stranger to revamping unwanted, unusual properties. Abbatine also owns the Rock, the national training center and headquarters for Frozen Ropes, a baseball and softball franchise that teaches young athletes. Abbatine founded Frozen Ropes.

"Everyone laughed at me and said, 'Why would you buy a rock quarry and build a sports complex?'" he said. "People don't see what I saw. ... But three years later we built a gorgeous, 9,000-square-foot field house with turf fields. So I was a natural choice to come here and see this property," he said of the prison.

Abbatine has not only reinvented properties, but revamped his career several times over. He started out as assistant district attorney in the Bronx. "How apropos is it that in 2016, we are sitting in a prison?" he joked.

From there, his resume says, he worked as a consultant for Major League Baseball for nearly a decade, working with the New York Yankees and Mets, as well as the Boston Red Sox. He also traveled the world from Paris to Dubai, teaching the fundamentals of baseball and softball before moving his Frozen Ropes business to the Rock.

Tony Abbatine bought an old prison, the Mid-Orange Correctional Facility
Qin Chen | CNBC

Since opening last year, the Yard has hosted nearly 500 teams for sports tournaments and is holding athletic training classes for young athletes, ages 7 to 17, with a touch of prison flavor. The barbed wire remains in tact, along with the guard tower and security gate. One class is even called "Jail Break."

Abbatine says the business is beginning to show a profit, making use of the field and the first renovated building, the field house.

Tony Abbatine sits with CNBC’s Kate Rogers in an unrenovated portion of the former Mid-Orange Correctional Facility. He plans to turn the space into a yoga studio.
Qin Chen | CNBC
Tony Abbatine sits with CNBC’s Kate Rogers in an unrenovated portion of the former Mid-Orange Correctional Facility. He plans to turn the space into a yoga studio.

The Yard has also hosted events including birthday parties and baby showers. That may sound odd at first but Abbatine chalks up the location interest to the public's "fascination with incarceration" and the popularity of TV shows like Netflix's "Orange is the New Black."

Eventually, the entrepreneur envisions a campus where athletes of all sports can come to train from judo to Pilates and more.

Thanks to his colorful career, Abbatine says he feels like he hasn't worked in 20 years because he loves what he does so much.

"This is a passion I have always had," he said. "You go through uncertainty in the middle of the night, but you wake up in the morning and say, 'You know what? If this is what you believe, if you work really hard and you focus on what needs to be done, ...'" Abbatine said. "That's what entrepreneurs do. They don't spend a lot of time thinking about the 'what-ifs.'"