Take My Home, Please: Donors Give Big to Colleges & Universities
Charity begins at home, especially when it comes to deep-pocketed donors who believe real estate is one way to benefit their alma maters.
For cash-hounding universities and colleges, these properties can be a boon to the general fund coffers or, in some cases, extra space for classrooms or offices.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, more than 20 schools have received individual donations of at least $200 million over the years. At least some of those donations have come in the form of residential real estate. However, with real estate being a slightly more tricky transaction than a blank check, some of these house donations require patience or creativity to turn them into assets.
Here’s a look at some properties that have been donated in the name of higher education. Not all of them are $59 million estates, either.
Kluge Estate to Columbia University
Media mogul John Kluge died in 2010 at age 95, but he made it clear at least three years before his passing how he wanted some of his estate to be used. In 2007, Kluge made a $400 million pledge to his alma mater, Columbia University, and about 25 percent of that donation came in the form of Kluge’s estate at 80 Middle Rd, Palm Beach, FL 33480.
With Columbia located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, there wasn’t much use for the school to continue owning Kluge’s Florida getaway, so the university listed it for sale for $58 million.
Brown Harris Stevens sales director Carole Hogan, one of the four co-listing agents for the property, said the stunningly manicured grounds represent a unique opportunity for a buyer looking for oceanfront property in the exclusive estates section of Palm Beach.
The original 1921 beachfront home, designed by renowned architect Addison Mizner and registered as an historic structure, measures just under 6,000 square feet — far smaller than what today’s multi-millionaire/billionaire owners are looking for. It’s Kluge’s main house — an expanded 12,000 square-foot garden mansion — that is the larger dwelling.
South Florida’s luxury real estate market has ticked upward in recent months, so Columbia University may be getting closer to seeing cash out of the Kluge estate. All it will take is a buyer who either loves the place as it is or has the checkbook to turn the oceanfront “lot” into an estate suited for a 21st-century mogul.
Connecticut modern donated to Fairfield University
Alice Lawrence was the art-collecting widow of Manhattan real estate developer Sylvan Lawrence, and when she passed away in 2008, her children decided that the museum-like modern home that she had built for her artwork would have difficulty attracting a buyer. People in the Ridgefield, CT neighborhood generally want a home, not a concrete-and-glass minimalist gallery, even with its indoor and outdoor swimming pools.
That scenario turned into the good fortune of Fairfield University, which was gifted the Rafael Vinoly-designed masterpiece at 191 Ridgebury Rd, Ridgefield, CT 06877 by the estate’s attorney. The original list price for the “modern masterpiece” prior to the family donating the property had been $10 million, but the place wound up selling for $2.7 million. That was probably a nice return for Fairfield — a Jesuit university located about an hour away — but it was a bargain for the new owner.
The gifted home showed how open-ended some real estate donations are for colleges and universities, which each can handle donated property in any way they choose, provided the homes are granted without any strings attached. According to ConnecticutPost.com, faculty members who had heard very little about the donation from the publicity-shy family questioned whether the house could have been used for other purposes. But because no provisions were made for the home’s upkeep, and with taxes at $78,000 annually, the best way for Fairfield to realize a monetary reward was, after all, to sell.
The Bell House donated to Mercer University
This home at 315 College St. in Macon, GA is on the National Register of Historic Places and dates back to 1860. It is also the scene of a more recent event in pop culture history: The Allman Brothers were photographed on the front porch for their self-titled 1969 debut album.
Now the historic home complete with Civil War ghost stories and a 1990′s revival as a Macon restaurant is coming full circle. The Bell House was donated to Mercer University by university trustee Gus Bell of Savannah, GA.
The gift was to benefit the the school of engineering, but courtesy of a $1.5 million gift from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, the Bell House will be converted into a new music conservatory for the school called The McDuffie Center for Strings.
Gus Bell and his family bought the home in 2001 and undertook a meticulous renovation of what had been Beall’s 1860 restaurant for 20 years until its closure in 1993. The house had been used for office space prior to its donation to Mercer, but now the venue will ring in a new era of music in Macon.
Brookby Estate donated to Michigan’s Aquinas College
With an estimated value of more than $3.3 million, the estate at 250 Plymouth Ave SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506 was accepted by trustees at Aquinas College in late 2011. The home was built in 1927 by philanthropist John Blodgett, but was donated by its most recent owners, Sam and Janene Cummings, to enhance the academics, fundraising and visibility of the college.
The Brookby estate has had close ties to Aquinas over the years. The home, designed by New York architects Walker and Gillette with grounds by famed landscape architects Olmsted Brothers of Brookline, MA, originally covered 8 acres.
The donation included 5 acres where the main house and two servants’ quarters are located. The main house is the new home of the college president and hosts college functions.
Victorian home sold at reduced price to Oberlin College
In a real nice twist of creative giving, a couple in Oberlin, OH who spent more than three decades renovating and enjoying their grand Victorian decided to strike a deal with the college where they had both taught. Former Oberlin College professors Clayton Koppes and William Norris sold their 5,000-square-foot home to Oberlin College for $157,000 in 2011.
That was $158,000 less than its $315,000 appraised price, effectively gifting half the home’s value to the college they both loved. The 5-bedroom, 4-bathroom home is on a corner lot at 285 E College St, Oberlin, OH 44074. The home is now being used to house the dean of students.
Tiny cottage part of $7 million donation to Lake Forest College
Grace Groner died in 2010 at the age of 100, leaving behind instructions that would shock everyone who had known this gracious and dedicated 1931 graduate of Lake Forest College — a $7 million donation to her alma mater. No one had any idea that a $180 stock purchase decades earlier had bloomed into such a rich estate.
Groner’s thrift was renown. She lived in an tiny apartment for most of her adult life and only moved into her 600-square-foot house at 144 Washington Rd, Lake Forest, IL 60045 after a friend left it to her.
In the wake of the heart-warming and generous gift, Groner’s legacy has touched many in the Lake Forest College community and beyond. But it is her tiny cottage that may best symbolize the life and virtues of this amazing woman. Today, the renovated cottage is used to house scholarship students who exemplify Groner’s legacy, which is exactly why she included the cottage in her donation to the school.
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