For Sale: American Jewish University’s Bel-Air Campus

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Following the expansion of its digital platform, American Jewish University (AJU) is putting its 35-acre Bel-Air, Los Angeles, campus on the market, Commercial Observer has learned.

The school says the move is aimed at providing more flexibility for the institution “as the Jewish community and world at large have changed significantly.” It comes shortly after the AJU launched a new digital platform called Maven for online classes and digital public events.

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The school said the sale of The Sunny & Isadore Familian Campus will fund a range of academic and community programs. The Bel-Air campus is located at 15600 Mulholland Drive just off the 405 Freeway. It includes academic and residential complexes, as well as the Gindi Auditorium, two art galleries, the Bel and Jack Ostrow Academic Library and the Burton Sperber Jewish Community Library, the Lowy-Winkler Family Rare Book Center, and the David Allen Shapiro Memorial Synagogue.

Stuart Gabriel, chairman of Arden Realty and director of the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate, said the Familian campus is stunning and well-located between the city and the San Fernando Valley.

“I anticipate that there will be quite a few bids for the facility, and given recent real estate trends, it should command quite a price,” he told CO. “There are perhaps no facilities that have the range of uses provided with that type of locational attractiveness and ease of access. The facility likely offers robust asset appreciation opportunities over the coming years.”

Eastdil Secured has the listing. AJU will maintain ownership of the 2,200-acre Brandeis Bardin Campus in Simi Valley, which is not part of the sale.

“We look forward to continuing our work to advance the Jewish journeys of  individuals and organizations and elevate Jewish life across North America, through both robust online and in-person offerings,” AJU president Jeffrey Herbst said in a statement.

With a dwindling undergraduate population, the university launched an exploratory process less than a year ago to lease out the underutilized portions of the Bel Air campus and consider options for future use. 

The value of AJU’s total assets and net assets dropped every year between 2017 and the year ending June 2020, and the value of its net assets dropped 28 percent between 2014 and 2020, according to independent audits. The school also paused admissions to its undergraduate program and its residential components in October 2018 because the program was losing money for the university. However, in November 2020, AJU launched a business school.

“The desire to liquidate now is reflective of serious trends in in-person learning use of the facility, and financial metrics have likely come to bear in this decision,” Gabriel said. “I suspect the bottom line is an immediate financial imperative for the AJU.”

Thousands of people enroll for non-credit-granting courses each year, but the university’s credit enrollment has always been very small with 142 students at its peak. In fall 2018, the program enrolled 68 undergraduate students. The school did not disclose current enrollment numbers.

Gabriel said the decision to sell the Bel-Air campus is a dramatic indication of the fact that the pandemic combined with the rise of online learning have made for winners and losers. 

“AJU’s situation is no different than any other small universities who find increasing challenges of competition in an evolving educational environment and evolving demographic base of learners,” Gabriel said. “They’ve obviously made the decision that their student base is permanently shifting toward less traditional virtual learning environments. This is a clear indication that they don’t see a strong and robust future in in-person learning graduate degrees.”

AJU stems from the University of Judaism, which was founded in L.A. in 1947 and moved to the Bel-Air campus in 1977.

Gregory Cornfield can be reached at gcornfield@commercialobserver.com.