Civic Leaders Say Fuller’s Exit is Both Loss for Pasadena and Rare Opportunity to Recharge Downtown

Published : Thursday, May 24, 2018 | 5:40 AM

[Updated Thursday, May 24, 2018 | 12:30 p.m.]   After 70 years as a staple in Pasadena’s downtown, Fuller Theological Seminary announced Tuesday the school that is world’s largest multidenominational seminary is moving out of Pasadena, relocating inland to Pomona and selling the campus.

Civic leaders said Wednesday that while Fuller’s departure is a loss for Pasadena, it also poses a rare opportunity to recharge the downtown area as well.

The Seminary’s approximately 13 acres of prime real estate in the heart of Pasadena are comprised of a hodgepodge collection of  11 different property types commercial buildings, university-style facilities built over the decades, 248-plus apartment units, and former residences converted into classrooms and offices situated between Union Street and Walnut Street to the east of Los Robles Avenue.

There is also developable land and green space, said brokers at the CBRE Group Inc., which will be marketing the properties for Fuller.

“Fuller Seminary has been part of Pasadena for many years and we are sorry to see them leave. However, this change also represents an opportunity for Fuller, Pomona, the new owner(s), and the Pasadena community,” said Pasadena’s Economic Development Manager Eric Duyshart.

Mayor Terry Tornek echoed the remark.

“One door closes, and another one opens,” Tornek said. “This is not something that’s going to happen instantly. It’s going to take some time to go to the market to find the appropriate buyer or buyers.”

Tornek says the announcement of the Seminary’s plan to relocate was not exactly new information to City officials.

“This … didn’t take us totally by surprise. We’ve been thinking about it and talking about it internally for some time.

“We’ve asked Fuller to let us participate in early discussions with any prospective buyers and they assured us that they would, so we can be confident that their disposition process will result in a good outcome to the City as well as to Fuller,” explained Tornek.

Tornek says the City has no plans or intention to purchase the property.

“I’m not sure it’ll all be one buyer,” Tornek said. “There’s a variety of issues here and you can be sure the city will be deeply engaged in it.”

“The entire portfolio could be appealing to a larger-scale owner-user for similar uses or be sold off to different local, national or foreign investors for its quality multifamily and office assets or to repurpose the existing educational and office buildings,” CBRE’s Laurie Lustig-Bower said in a statement.

Commercial Real estate expert Steven E. Marcussen, Executive Director at Cushman & Wakefield said it’s highly possible that ultimately another school would buy the campus.

“In Pasadena, there are so many private schools and new private schools looking for facilities,” he said, noting the value to an incoming school of property already zoned and constructed and permitted to be used as an educational facility.

Marcussen said the sale of the property is likely to have a positive impact all around.

“Of course it’s a loss of a good institution. It’s been here for many years, but on the real estate side, it’s an opportunity to bring a new tenant to that campus or to sell the assets individually to improve the neighborhood,” said Marcussen.

However, Mayor Terry Tornek pointed out that the campus is zoned for several possible purposes, and that the city has latitude for repurposing the property’s uses within the Central District specific plan.

“If the question is can the city be flexible, the answer is absolutely yes,” said Tornek about other uses for the property that may not include being another school.

Fuller’s footprint in Pasadena began to evolve about a decade ago. In its first major move, the Seminary sold apartment housing which had comprised its campus dorms.

When Carmel Partners bought three dorm buildings a total of 172 rooms for $24 million from Fuller Theological Seminary in 2014, and then announced plans for their demolition in 2015, the shock waves were felt throughout the Pasadena housing community.

The sale also greatly reduced the physical footprint of the Fuller campus.

Fuller said it had chosen to sell the property after experiencing the nationwide decrease in graduate enrollment since 2008. In recent years, the Seminary has seen a substantial increase in online enrollment, according to officials. By selling the “excess housing capacity” Fuller said it was able to reallocate resources mostly into student scholarships.

“I knew they had been downsizing and selling off their residential properties for some time, but I was not aware they were leaving their beautiful craftsman campus in the heart of Pasadena,” said Pasadena Heritage Executive Director Sue Mossman.

Mossman said the campus is listed on The National Register of Historic Places and the City does regulate such properties in terms when it involves exterior preservation.

“I am comforted by the fact that the campus is already designated,” said Mossman.

Selling a property of this size with preservation guidelines in place may require finding “a special buyer,” Mossman said.

“The property would undoubtedly be a prime development site if the existing buildings weren’t protected. I’m guessing it would take a special purchaser who can see a good use and is excited about the existing buildings and the configuration of the campus and has a good use in mind with the way the campus is currently,” said Mossman.

Vice Mayor John Kennedy said the City should concentrate on the opportunity for what can take Fuller’s place.

“What I see is an opportunity for mixed-use development, full of extraordinary housing and preservation of wonderful housing stocks that exists on the campus and we’ll just have to see how that all works out. It’ll go through a planning process and hopefully that planning process to help us materialize something that really advances our community,” said Kennedy.

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