The billionaire Oklahoma family that owns Hobby Lobby is offering a 217-acre campus in Northfield, Mass., and its 43 buildings at a low, low price: free.
Hobby Lobby bought the property in 2009 to donate to the C.S. Lewis Foundation, which planned to locate a new college there. But the foundation has been unable to meet a fundraising deadline to operate the proposed school.
Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby, said the Green family now is considering other applicants.
“We just feel like God's got a plan for it,” Green said. The recipient will need to demonstrate adequate finances, he said.
“The best fit is an educational purpose; that's what it was built for,” Green said. “We're most interested in Christian educational use, but not that we wouldn't be open to some other use.”
When Hobby Lobby bought the campus, Green said the transaction was aimed at preserving and honoring the legacy of the Northfield school's founder, legendary evangelist D.L. Moody.
The Green family regularly backs Christian education, having bailed out Oral Roberts University with a $70 million donation, presented Zion Bible College with a campus in Haverhill, Mass., and built a 1 million-square-foot complex for Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
The family also is planning a museum to house its private collection of biblical antiquities, one of the world's largest.
Since paying $100,000 for the former home of Northfield Mount Hermon School after it consolidated its operations onto another campus, Hobby Lobby has spent $5 million in upkeep and improvements.
C.S. Lewis College said it is continuing to raise money with the goal of being the sole occupant of the Northfield campus. “The path going forward may involve sharing the campus in some way with another organization,” the college said on its website.
Green conceded buying the property in anticipation of C.S. Lewis College raising the money to operate its facility involved some risk.
“It was a new startup,” he said. “We've donated before, but in most cases it was a church or a university. It didn't work out.”
About a dozen entities are considering taking ownership of the campus, but media attention prompted by the wider offer likely will attract more, Green said.
Without entirely ruling out C.S. Lewis College as a possibility, Green said his family is not interested in holding onto the campus. The family will meet next month to discuss the matter, Green said.
“We will continue to look until we can find a good fit for the property,” he said. “The sooner, the better.”
About the campus
Christian evangelist and educator D.L. Moody founded Northfield Mount Herman in 1879. It now is a coed boarding school of 630 students in grades 9 through 12 and a postgraduate year in Massachusetts near the borders of Vermont and New Hampshire.