St. John’s University Selling Staten Island Campus

It’s prime for residential redevelopment but local officials might oppose.

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St. John’s University has put its Staten Island campus up for sale, with plans to shutter the 16-acre property next year.

Arthur Mirante and David Carlos of Savills are marketing the Grymes Hill campus, which includes 10 buildings of varying ages and sizes. They say St. John’s doesn’t have a specific sale price in mind, but the city’s Department of Finance values the property at $50 million. The Catholic university wants to expand its main campus in the Hillcrest area of eastern Queens, and it hopes that the sale of its Staten Island outpost will help generate the funding to do so. 

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Enrollment at Grymes Hill has dropped significantly over the past 20 years, from 2,000 students in 2000 to roughly 860 students today. The pandemic accelerated the decline in student population, prompting St. John’s to consider a sale. 

The university also told Higher Ed Dive that fewer students are attending Catholic elementary, middle and high schools on Staten Island, which had traditionally been feeder schools for the local St John’s campus. St. John’s acquired the Staten Island campus in 1971 from a now-defunct women’s school, Notre Dame College. 

The brokers say that St. John’s wants to sell the campus to another educational institution, which could be local, out-of-state or international. However, Mirante acknowledged that the campus could work well as senior housing or a medical facility. The property has about 175,000 square feet of existing buildings, including a gym, a library, administrative offices, classrooms and labs. But the campus has about 543,740 square feet of unused air rights for community facilities or commercial buildings and could accommodate roughly 431,244 square feet of residential development.

“We don’t have an official asking price,” Carlos said in late March. “We’re going to start our marketing process in the next month or so and really go out to the market and talk to all types of interested parties, see what kind of demand is out there for this kind of academic campus. We’re going to be marketing this domestically and internationally because we really do think there’s a lot of interest internationally to set up a campus in New York City.” 

He added that, “St. John’s has made it clear that this is not about squeezing every last dollar from a potential buyer but about finding a buyer that is the right fit for the community and Staten Island.” 

The Grymes Hill complex isn’t St. John’s only satellite campus. It also has a Manhattan location at 101 Astor Place, in the IBM Watson building. And, in 2016, it unloaded a 170-acre campus in Oakdale, Long Island, to Amity University for $22.5 million. 

Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella and other local officials have already publicly opposed the idea of St. John’s selling to residential developers. They want to avoid another repeat of the scandal involving Mount Manresa, a former Jesuit theological seminary that developers hope to turn into 250 single-family homes.

The Board of Standards and Appeals and later a state appellate court shot down 163 of the proposed new building applications because the developers, Savo Brothers Development, wanted to construct those houses on private unmapped streets. Then-Borough President James Oddo also opted to give the new streets greed-themed names like Cupidity Drive and Avidity Place, following a court battle with the developers. 

Rebecca Baird-Remba can be reached at rbairdremba@commercialobserver.com.