JCC sells land to developers

BY DAVID BAUGHER, EDITOR

The Jewish Community Center approved the sale of nearly half the land comprising the I.E. Millstone Campus in Creve Coeur to a pair of home developers last week. The $9.5 million deal will cover a 52-acre tract of land, located in the northwest portion of the campus. The JCC said the area is undeveloped and its sale will not affect campus operations.

“It really hasn’t been used for the 47 years that we’ve been here,” said Lynn Wittels, president and chief executive officer of the JCC.

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According to figures provided by Margaret Schatz, JCC’s director of marketing and sales, the 110-acre campus was originally purchased as a 122-acre plot by I.E. Millstone in the late 1950s. Twelve acres were sold off several years ago.

Wittels said the campus, which after the sale will comprise 58 acres, still has 17 acres of undeveloped land for future use.

“We will continue to have enough land to meet not only the needs we have today but to meet the projected needs for the community in the future,” she said. “We are maintaining enough residual land that should a day school be interested in joining our campus, we can accommodate them. Should there be a need for anything else in the Jewish community, we think we’ll be able to handle it. We are also maintaining all of our outdoor camping lands.”

Wittels said the two camps on the campus — Sidney Baer and Nat Koplar — will not be affected by the sale.

Michael Staenberg, chairman of the JCC board, said the money from the sale, which will be put into an endowment, will help the financial health of the JCC.

Staenberg said that the endowment presently stands at about $8 million with about $6 million more expected to come from the ongoing $49 million capital campaign.

“With this we’ll be close to $24 million,” he said. “To put it into perspective our annual income is about $14 million. For a non-profit you want your endowment to have a dollar-per-dollar match.”

“About four or five years ago, we undertook the strategic plan, redid what our lines of business were, redid our programming and came up with our capital campaign, our endowment campaign and this all fits in with exactly what we are doing,” he said.

Wittels said the process began about two-and-a-half years ago when the JCC commissioned a land task force which started to seek out potential buyers for the parcel.

The two companies who purchased the tract — Levinson Homes and Touchstone Homes — plan to build new homes in the area. Ed Levinson, owner of Levinson Homes, said that exact plans haven’t been finalized but estimates that about 200 units could be built. For Levinson, the land has special personal meaning as well. He said he attended camp on the campus and “grew up at the J.”

“I spent the whole day there,” he said. “My mom used to work at the Federation.”

Levinson estimated the deal may take a year or so to finalize and construction may begin in about two years.

I.E. Millstone, the campus’s namesake, said he was consulted about the deal.

“It’s something the board had considered and I’m a member of that board and I think it is the proper thing for them to do at this particular time,” he said.

Wittels said the sale should be seen as part of a larger overall picture.

“We think it helps us to maintain the strength of the Jewish Community Center for many generations to come,” she said.

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