By James M. Odato
A large lodge and conference center in Schroon Lake is scheduled to be sold and reopened as a resort, an executive for the current owners, Word of Life Fellowship Inc., said Thursday.
Located on the northwest end of the nine-mile-long lake that gives the hamlet its name, the shuttered hotel complex is under contract to be purchased by a private company next month, said John Nelson, vice president of the nonprofit organization that has been consolidating its camping, conference and lodging operations for Bible study and vacationing.
The Word of Life Lodge’s new owners will likely announce plans in late September after the deal closes, Nelson said. “They intend to run it as some sort of resort,” he said. “My sense is they will be very good stewards of the property. I’ve seen the other work that they’ve done and been impressed.”
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Owned since 1953 by Word of Life, the lodge facilities have been expanded and improved and used for conferences and vacationers that abide by the standards of the organization, whose mission is to build and strengthen the Church of Jesus Christ through ministries, Bible institutes and youth and family programs. With about 160 rooms for lodging, the lodge complex once drew visitors from around the world. It was built in the early 20th century and had been known as the Brown Swan Club Resort.
The 27 acre-site is just south of the hamlet of Schroon Lake. Most of the grounds are on the west side of Route 9 but there is some lakeside property on the east side of the road. It has multiple structures and has offered dining and indoor swimming in the past. In 2020 it was closed because of the pandemic and has not reopened.
Nelson said Word of Life leaders decided to discontinue the lodge component of their town of Schroon operations for financial reasons, partly because of the changing trends in vacationing with fewer people tending to return each year to the same destination.
The organization did not list the property for sale, but did make an announcement on its web site May 10 about the decision to make it available for purchase. Several suiters inquired and one signed a purchase agreement in May, Nelson said. He declined to name the purchaser.
The Word of Life’s operations were essentially on hold because of COVID-19 restrictions last year. This year managers opened only in their camping and lodging operations in the southern end of the lake in Pottersville. Another camping site, an island known as Word of Life Island, is also in the northern end of the lake.
In 2020, the organization sold its headquarters building as well. It had been located in a former public school building in Pottersville. The organization moved its headquarters into other quarters it owns along Schroon Lake and expanded operations in Florida. Its Bible instititute, family and children’s camping, and other programs remain viable and are planned to continue in the Adirondacks, Nelson said. The organization has an 1,200-seat auditorium at its institute and a new gymnasium that may be used when large-group events are planned, he said.
However usage is down from past years. Summer attendance, typically 10,000 guests, declined markedly with the youth participation down about 50 percent this year, he said. Word of Life cut its payroll in the region to about 75 full-time jobs, down from 90.
Jeffrey Subra, Schroon town supervisor, said he has been introduced to the prospective new owners of the lodge and has discussed the transaction with Nelson. He said he has been asked to keep plans confidential but added that he has been reassured that the future for the site will be good for the region. “I believe wholeheartedly it’s a very positive thing for the town, a very positive thing for the Adirondacks,” Subra said.
He and Town Council Member Richard Gero said the region has lacked lodging available for the general public and they are hopeful the new owners will develop a business that will attract visitors and provide jobs. “This is a step in the right direction for Schroon Lake,” Gero said.
“The area has a ton of potential.”
Subra said Word of Life has voluntarily contributed funds to the town even though it is a tax-free organization. Once the new owners take control of the lodge complex, he said, the real estate is expected to return to the tax roll for the first time in generations.
The purchaser of the lodge is a Saratoga-area developer with a track record of building condos and townhouse residences, said Roger Friedman, a town of Schroon board member for 28 years who runs an area real estate business. He said the area hasn’t had a major hotel in decades and believes the transaction could be a “game changer” for the town.