Keelan: Colleges are the hottest real estate market in Vermont

By Don Keelan

Over the last several years Vermont has witnessed the closing of five colleges, with several more on life-support or probation. Closed are Burlington College, The College of St. Joseph, Marlboro College, Green Mountain College and Southern Vermont College.

Collectively, the colleges’ estimated real estate value is nearly $60 million. However, when you see the sale price or possible sale price, the discounts are enormous.

And deep discounts aren’t the only issue; add into the fray the buyers’ personalities and backgrounds. Additionally, except for Burlington College and The College of St. Joseph, what will the closed campuses be used for?

Don Keelan

A good example is the recent sale of Green Mountain College for $4.5 million, a price down from its 2016 appraisal of $20 million. The nearly 190-year-old college on 155 acres was sold to the former owner of Shoreham, Vermont’s WhistlePig Whiskey Company. Some readers may remember Raj P. Bhakta for his long appearance on Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” or his controversy with his former WhistlePig board members. His plans for GMC might be to turn the school into a special agricultural college.

Rabbi Moshe Pearlstein of Lakewood, New Jersey’s Zinchron Chaim Inc., has been unable to stay out of the media in his quest to buy Southern Vermont College. The 371-acre, 12-building campus with an estimated value of over $9 million has Pearlstein’s company (summer camps for children from New Jersey and New York) looking to buy the property for about $3 million. His company sponsored two three-week camping sessions for 350 boys and then 350 girls at the College this summer (Zinchron Chaim, Inc. also hosted about 400 children at Rutland’s Holiday Inn).

Some Bennington residents and SVC alumni are working to have the Town of Bennington acquire the College, which has a reasonably new 16,000 square foot gym the town could use.

The sale of Burlington College to the Farrell Development Company of Burlington has so far been a huge success. The former $20 million home of the Burlington Catholic Diocese was sold to the College for $10 million in 2010. Then, the 32-acre campus, which fronts Lake Champlain, closed under the weight of debt it took on and was then sold to Farrell for under $10 million. Presently, a 700-unit sustainable-living housing project is underway.

The closing and subsequent sale of Burlington College was not without controversy. In this case, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ wife Jane Sanders was instrumental in acquiring the college from the Diocese.

The least controversial sale of a Vermont college is the closing of The College of Saint Joseph in Rutland, which was taken back by the mortgagee Heritage Family Credit Union. Aside from the campus gym being leased to the City of Rutland, the college sale was consummated with a New Jersey developer to build a 175-unit senior independent and assisted living housing on the campus, as reported by the Rutland Herald.

However, the controversy over another institution’s sale price and future use is still a hot topic in Marlboro.  The recent sale of the 533-acre Marlboro College to Seth Andrew’s Democracy Builders Fund, a New York City charter school and non-profit organization, for $1.7 million, was described in C.B. Hall’s piece in the August Vermont Business Magazine as “a long, bruising and contentious process.”

When the closing was made public, the alumni association and residents of Marlboro were terribly upset. The pricing, far below the reported assessment of $4.5 million, was one issue. The other was the accusations of racism leveled at Seth Andrews by an ad hoc anonymous group, BlackNBrown at DP, which is affiliated with alumni of Democracy Builders’ 21 schools.
No wonder the sale of colleges is a hot market with sale prices so far-off their historical valuations and so many options for repurposing. Could there be a silver lining here that is being missed?

Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

11 thoughts on “Keelan: Colleges are the hottest real estate market in Vermont

  1. “Could there be a silver lining here that is being missed?”

    Yes: The fact that these facilities might be utilized in the future for something other than the production of another generational wave of indoctrinated Marxists.

  2. Lots of ppl from NY purchased homes in VT following 9/11. As nearby cities become hellholes VT must look pretty good – this is a new wave. Who wants to die in a nursing home in NY lol or forced to use public health system. I know a couple of ppl in two nearby ‘hoods – just blending into the life here in VT.
    — New Yorker who broke her rent-stabilized lease on the Upper West Side to move to Vermont during lockdown says she got bored after a month and has already moved back to the city
    •Maureen Cross has told how she swapped Manhattan for Vermont in lockdown
    •Cross, an accountant, gave up her coveted rent stabilized apartment
    •She traded in a studio for a three-bedroom spacious residence
    •Within a month, however, she broke her year-long lease and moved back
    •The Upper West Side has seen an exodus amid COVID-19 and a surge in crime
    •Vermont is among the biggest draws, and has seen a 75% surge in relocations
    By Harriet Alexander For
    Published: 18:49 EDT, 1 September 2020 | Updated: 23:10 EDT September 2020

  3. Well, like anyother piece of property, you always look for the deal, and most
    commercial developers are the first to jump on any deals when talking high
    dollars millions, you can’t blame them, but you can blame local government.

    The only problem I see is that Towns & Cities try to get out from under the loss
    of the tax base and have a ” fire sale “, pretty stupid for tax-payers, but pretty
    lucrative for developers and they know it !!

    The Burlngton College was brought to it’s knees by the inept handling by it’s
    president Jane Sanders, know one in the finance world will tell you how she
    received a multi-million dollar loan on her credit ….Oh,Yeah Senator Sanders !!

    Burlington College was scooped up by Farrell, hopefully the city will enjoy a boost
    in property tax base so the Cities infrastructure will be upgraded to handle the 700
    additional properties of waste water, as Burlington dumps millions of waste every
    years into the lake and it always a ” whoops “…. from the city !!

    City & Town Government, just don’t have a clue about business & real estate !!

    • Yes Laura – ya’d hafta be batblind not to see the real point here. Huge red flag as to the condition of our state. Waiting for next shoe of credit downgrade as flata*s broke VT crumbles not unlike the glut of buildings! 😀

      • It’s really a cryin’ shame Stardust.
        You probably oughtta bail because it’s not looking like too good of a future up here.
        And I can’t say how it will go over here in NH either.
        We are so heavily invaded now with outta staters that we too wonder how we’ll hold onto the place. It’s really a numbers game at the end of the day.
        And to suggest we try and hold onto our culture that made us what we are..
        Oh well, dats racist ya know.
        Have fun governing these places when all the normal people leave.

        • My heart turned at end of Douglas regime and took a sharp left turn following GWB fail. Following Shummy reign of terror recognized the left as mostly communist wolves in sheeps clothing they are. I have deep generational roots on both sides – and both had farmers.

          VTers insultingly displayed by the likes of sh***y cartoonist Danziger -Teeds – who oddly cannot illustrate a wall much less humans – is a disgrace. Sociopathic portrayal of Trump is downright sick – demonstrating fools can be educated and attempt to scribble cartoons.

          WCAX portrays a sunny side of VT that does not exist for majority. VPR is a cult that does little more than present an eyewateringly boring level of generic left leaning op-eds shared by most print and online publications in the VSSR. All contain news but mostly an opinionated mentality not shared by a large percentage as if conservatives do not exist.

          Reports do not reflect what massive numbers of VTers face. At least 12,000 have left in 15 years. Schools decimated, glut of real estate including buildings of all shapes and sizes, empty businesses, homes etc etc along with aforementioned tell the real story.

  4. If this article says anything, it says the value of college properties in Vermont is depressed, certainly not ‘hot’.

    “Could there be a silver lining here that is being missed?”

    Apparently not in Mr. Keelan’s eyes. Otherwise he’d be buying.

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