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Search for new owner goes global

NCF hopes to find recipient by year’s end

NORTHFIELD — The search for a recipient of the 217-acre former Northfield Mount Hermon School campus has gone worldwide.

This week, campus owner the National Christian Foundation launched a website advertising the free campus to potential matches:

www.northfieldopportunity.org

“Large Christian ministries, schools, seminaries and think tanks will most likely be the best potential recipients,” it reads. “However, NCF will also consider dividing up the space among several, smaller ministries.”

Aimee Minnich, president of the NCF Heartland office in Olathe, Kan., said she hopes to find a recipient for the campus by the end of the year, and complete the transaction by early 2014.

For now, though, the organization seeks to expand its pool of suitors, not narrow it.

The NCF’s criteria closely follow that of the previous owner, Hobby Lobby Stores, which signed the campus over to the NCF this January. Hobby Lobby, however, was not interested in dividing the campus for several recipients.

The website describes the campus, details its history with founder Dwight L. Moody, and provides several pictures and aerial map.

It does not describe the surrounding town in much detail.

“We’re trying to provide just what needs to be presented to get people interested (in the campus),” explained Minnich.

The right suitors, she said, will ask the right questions.

“We want the conversation (with interested groups) to develop naturally over time,” Minnich continued.

Since the NCF took over the campus and its 43 buildings, it has given tours of the property to interested groups only twice. Both groups, said Minnich, were educational organizations, though she would not elaborate.

Minnich said she hopes to return to the campus this spring, and start bringing more groups through. Meanwhile, she said, the NCF will examine roofs on campus, work on the grounds, and make sure everything’s in shape.

The process of giving away the campus is a difficult one, said Minnich.

“There’s no formula for how to give away a campus of this size,” she said. Candidates’ financial data is vetted, and they are checked out to make sure they meet the NCF’s criteria, but much of the process will be done on a case-by-case basis.

Minnich said she has learned a lot about Northfield and the area through letters and emails from residents.

“I love to hear everyone’s perspective about the real value the campus is to the town,” she said. “There have been about a dozen people who have reached out. It’s not the whole population of Northfield or the surrounding towns, but it definitely helps give us a feel for the town.”

The website goes on to detail financial and other requirements.

Proposals must include demonstration of the ability to maintain an annual budget of $5 million to $10 million, two years of prior tax returns and other financials, a forecast for the first three years’ use of the Northfield campus and the applicant’s other endeavors, a campus ramp-up plan and projected investment break-even date.

A craft store chain owned by the Oklahoma Christian philanthropist Green family, Hobby Lobby bought the campus for $100,000 on 2009, put more than $6 million into it. When two intended recipients, the startup CS Lewis College and established, for-profit Grand Canyon University couldn’t close the deal, the Greens gave the campus to the NCF, a sort of clearing house linking philanthropists with Christian and other nonprofit causes.

The NCF has a long track record of handling real estate donations. Donors receive a tax break by giving their property to the non-profit NCF, which then either gives the property directly to another nonprofit, or sells it outright and donates the proceeds to charity.

Minnich previously said the group has handled more than $600 million in non-cash donations in the past six years.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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