News / March 4, 2020

How and why Knox acquires new property

This graphic charts the boundaries between Knox’s “core area” and Galesburg. Whether more property ­­is acquired in the future depends on the price and the if the college can grow its population. (Graphic by Michelle Dudley/TKS)

The boundaries that decide where Knox College ends and Galesburg begins were drawn over a decade ago. Still, Knox continues to grow, acquiring new property every year — up to 12 new properties since 2010.   

      Many of these properties remain empty lots down Monmouth Blvd., while others include the Hope Center, WAC and the Kappa Kappa Gamma House. Scott Maust, Knox’s Director of Facilities, said the Board of Trustees are responsible for the outline of Knox’s “core area” and when properties go up for sale within or near its boundaries, the college will inquire.

      “The only properties right now that we do not own within our core area, is of course, the day-care building, the Lackey Monument building (both near WAC), then there’s one property right just to the south of where Eleanor Kahn (Director of Campus Life) and the Sigma Nu house is, we don’t own that,” Maust said.

Maust also pointed to a few properties down West Street, a swath of gravel owned by Herr Petroleum located just east of the Knosher Bowl and the lot where the Carver Center once stood as other properties Knox could potentially be interested acquiring in the future.

But whether Knox purchases new property is contingent upon several factors such as its market price, if the property fills a gap within the campus’s core area, can site new facilities or add to the buffer zone between the college and the city it resides in.

How property is acquired

Maust said Knox has never purchased a property and made its residents vacate early.

“One of the narratives I’ve heard is that we go out and we pressure people to sell at a reduced price and that’s not true,” Knox’s Vice President of Finances, Paul Eisenmenger said. “If a property owner puts a property for sale, we may express interest in that as, just you know, an arms-length buyer to negotiate price.”

Depending on the location, size and condition of the property, Maust said the typical residential lot runs between $20,000 to $40,000. More unique or developed lots can run up to $80,000.

Maust said Knox will only consider purchasing available property within the core area if it is first appraised at a fair price.

“A couple of properties told us they would sell them to us but then when we start talking to them they wanted an astronomical price because they think Knox has got deep pockets and Knox is like, ‘Hey we’ve been here 180 years, we’re in no hurry,’” Maust said, “We’re going to give you a fair market value but we’re not going to go crazy.”

After a price is determined fair, the Knox administration will present the property to the Facilities and Infrastructure sub-committee of the Board of Trustees and explain how the property could be utilized, be it renovated or torn down.

“I will say that if the college administration, the president, vice president goes to the Facilities Committee and says, ‘Hey, this is a good opportunity,’ they’re very good at listening. And if we justify the needs they’ll say, ‘Yes, we support this,’” Maust said.

Once the Facilities Committee approves of the property, the Budgeting and Finance sub-committee is tasked with locating funding. Then the property will be presented once more — why it is important to purchase and where the money will come from — to the full Board of Trustees, who vote yea or nay on the final purchase.

Financing

Knox would not be able to finance acquiring many new properties without outside help. Maust estimated that 90% of Knox properties are acquired through donor support, granting a more viable method than drawing from the endowment or taking out loans.

Knox Trustees and donors coordinate their connections to negotiate good deals and their resources to clinch them. In the case of the Frances House, Maust said a Knox Trustee, a lawyer and big supporter of the college, secured a significant discount for the college before another donor donated the money.

“Typically, something like that — Frances House, Hope Center those are perfect examples — is they come available and normally we have a donor, might be a trustee or a couple of trustees or half dozen of trustees, whoever, will pass the hat, so to speak and get the funds to purchase the property and we do it that way,” Maust said.

While most properties are purchased from the private owner, Knox has also acquired a number of properties through quit claim deeds, in which the city essentially donates a property to the college after it was forfeited from its former owner due to back taxes. Knox acquired the empty lot just west across the street of the Quickie this way in 2017 , for $660.

Of the properties Knox has acquired, Knox is exempt from paying property taxes on a majority of them. This is because Knox is a non-for-profit entity and if it can prove the property will be used for the educational program, the school can request exemption.

“Sometimes we don’t get it, but majority of the time we do as long as we can show it is for educational purposes,” Maust said.

Rarely, Knox does acquire property outside of its core area when property is donated or willed to the college. Maust said that the school tends to only accept these properties in order to sell them, as it can even be expensive to own empty grass lots. City ordinance requires lawns to remain under six inches so every summer Maust sends employees to mow the lots Knox owns on Monmouth Boulevard.

“If it’s way outside the core area we just don’t want to purchase property that might be three, four, five, six blocks off campus and we have to maintain because that all takes money,” Maust said. 

While Knox is focused on reducing the expenses of acquiring and maintaining  property, Maust said the school would pay above the fair market value for a special need.

“If there was a piece of property in an area that would prevent us from building a dorm, if we needed to build a dorm and there was a piece of property we didn’t own, we would probably pay a premium to get that so we could do it,” Maust said. “But we’re not doing that now.”

Determining a need

Knox rarely purchases a property without an idea how it will be used, Maust said. Yet a portion of Knox’s properties include empty lots down Academy St. or Monmouth Blvd. Maust said the college has begun discussing building solar arrays and has worked to plant the orchard near the Knox Farm. Besides that, there are no other major newbuilding projects in the works.

Yet, these undeveloped lots still serve a purpose. Knox acquires new property on the outskirts of campus to create a buffer zone between the college and the city. This buffer zone, Maust said, is designed to make campus safer and more “aesthetic” for students.

“I’m looking at if there’s an old dilapidated house taken down so there’s more green space and you can see, people don’t hang out there and stuff like that,” Maust said.

Maust said the best example of this kind of effort is when Knox first purchased the property at 265 S. Academy St. — or better known as Smash House.

“Actually, back when we purchased this there used to be an old garage there, a whole bunch of trees and brush and stuff and that’s where so much drug dealing was going on,” Maust said. “It was really bad. So when we purchased that and renovated that, I cleaned all that brush up and took that building down and put lights up there (in the lot behind Smash House).”

In the past, these cleanup projects have proven expensive. Maust said they had to haul over 200 tires out of the garage that stood behind Smash House. Knox also acquired the property west across the street from the Quickie for a similar reason. By the time it was forfeited to the city, it was overflowing with debris. Maust said it took five to six 30-yard dumpsters and a professional crew with respirators to empty out the lot.

Whether properties with pre-existing structures are renovated or torn down depends upon how expensive the project would be and what the building could be used for.

At the corner of South, Academy and Monmouth Blvd. there is a triangular concrete lot that once housed a barber shop. Maust said the college considered turning the building into an off-site radio station before they determined it would be more expensive to renovate than to tear down. Now the property adds the buffer zone instead.

On the other hand, The Frances House, next to Borzello Hall, once housed nuns’ quarters for St. Mary’s Hospital. Now, as the SMC renovations begin to unfurl, the building could serve as an opportunity to house displaced offices.

“Frances House, what we thought was it would be a good location to put Advancement so then, for us to do that, we have to renovate the Frances House to move,” Maust said. “That’s something President (Teresa) Amott and Vice President of Advancement (Beverly Holmes) is working on is how would we fund that renovation, but that would be kind of up before we could move into the E-Wing renovation.”

In some cases, Knox has acquired property far outside the core area that has still served useful. A 12 acre property at 538 Louisville Road was donated to the college in 2016 and while Knox is still looking for a buyer, Maust said the property has proven useful when he needed a spot to get rid of excess dirt instead of hauling it out of the city.

Looking to the future

Acquiring new property is not one of Knox’s financial priorities. The school has acquired one or two new properties each year over the past 15 years, the highest amount of new acquisitions reaching four each year from 2005 through 2007.

The reach of Knox’s core area remains proportional to the school’s population and its needs.

“I think we’ll fill it out first. I don’t think that we’re that far away from filling out the core area. I think for us to expand beyond the core area, Knox is going to have to grow academically and student numbers first,” Maust said.“ You know you have to be able to support the expansion. Right now we’re kind of shrinking a little bit so I don’t see that happening anytime real soon.”

But Eisenmenger said acquiring new property tends to serve a long term end, for hypothetical needs and “what if’s.”

Knox generates a “campus master plan” around every ten years which assesses the future of the college and goals for how it will grow or change. Eisenmenger said Knox may be due for one.

“We’re not in a real-estate acquisition mode. As properties become available that are adjacent to the campus we take a look at them and if its a compelling case, then we’ll consider buying it. Just again to give the campus just a little bit wider footprint,” Eisenmenger said. “Forever is a long time.”

Sam Lisec, Co-News Editor
Co-News Editor
Samuel Lisec is a junior majoring in creative writing and minoring in journalism and philosophy. During his sophomore year, he worked as a staff writer. At the start of his junior year, he became a news editor. He is the recipient of the Knox Theodore Hazen Kimble Award for best feature story in 2018, and the Illinois College Press Association Honorable Mention Award for a Comic Strip in 2018. Email: smllisec@gmail.com

Tags:  campus facilities campus map campus plan paul eisenmenger property scott maust

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