What to do with 21 prime acres of Palos Verdes peninsula?

Marymount University California’s decision to cease operations puts its campus with commanding ocean views in play

Marymount President Brian Marcotte with Marymount University (Marymount University California, Google Maps, iStock)
Marymount President Brian Marcotte with Marymount University (Marymount University California, Google Maps, iStock)

The pending closure of a university in Rancho Palos Verdes — and potential availability of its very scenic, bluffside campus — has the industry buzzing.

What else to do when a prime 21-acre piece of land between a five-star luxury resort and one of Donald Trump’s golf course looks bound for a change of use?

“It’s a big parcel,” said Chris Adlam, a broker with Sotheby’s who has multiple luxury listings in the area. “It’s got to have a great view, and it’s going to certainly have huge potential.”

The college now known as Marymount California University has occupied a 21-acre plot in the Palos Verdes Peninsula, at the southern edge of Los Angeles County, for decades. The school was founded in 1968 as the two-year Marymount Palos Verdes College, then changed its name in 2013 when the school adopted some four-year and graduate programs. It currently has around 500 full-time students and 140 full-time staff, but, like many small colleges, it’s been struggling with declining enrollment for years, and a planned merger with Saint Leo University, a private college in Florida, recently failed.

(Marymount California University is a Roman Catholic institution, and operates independently of both Loyola Marymount University in Westchester and Mount Saint Mary’s University, which has campuses in the Figueroa Corridor south of Downtown Los Angeles and in Brentwood on the Westside).

On Monday, the university abruptly announced it would close at the end of August because of financial circumstances.

“This decision was not made lightly,” Marymount’s president, Brian Marcotte, said in a statement. “But we felt the most compassionate thing to do was to give everyone time to make plans.”

The decision could lead to a big opportunity for real estate. A representative for the college did not respond to an interview request from TRD, and the university has not disclosed what intentions it may have for the campus, although one broker said people from the university asked him to help suss out what the city might eventually allow.

“I think it probably is going to come up for sale,” said the broker, Dana Graham, who works with Berkshire Hathaway and has sold multiple properties near the campus. “It’s up the hill, but it does have a panoramic view — what most people would consider an orgasmic view.”

The 21-acre plot, located at 30800 Palos Verdes Drive East, in Rancho Palos Verdes, currently is zoned for institutional use and contains nine buildings, some of which date back to the 1950s, according to records. The campus also has athletic facilities that include tennis courts and a pool.

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The property’s assessed market value, according to records, is $10.2 million, although it could end up commanding far more: Numerous undeveloped plots in the area are currently listed for well over $1 million per acre, including a .8-acre plot that’s asking $1.3 million and a .4-acre plot that’s asking $1.1 million.

Graham also has a listing for an undeveloped five-acre plot nearby that’s asking $2.1 million, a price that’s only that low because the land is nearly entirely sloped, he said.

Graham predicted Marymount’s campus could eventually come up for sale at $30 or $35 million. “Just a wild-ass guess,” he added. “There’s no comps for that.”

Any development, or even a listing, could still be years away, however, because of complicated zoning and entitlement issues. Rancho Palos Verdes has a reputation for being strict, and residents — especially the campus’ wealthy neighbors down the hill — will likely have plenty of opinions.

“We’re talking years,” said Graham, “because there’ll be demonstrators. “They’ll probably find some endangered snail or something over there.”

Still, the broker predicted that the property would eventually be turned over to some kind of housing, considering Southern California’s severe supply imbalance and the pressure on municipalities to build. Other industry experts had different ideas.

“I doubt that they’re going to chop it up and sell it as parcels,” said the veteran Compass agent Ron Wynn. “If it’s just super super [desirable] real estate somebody will try to make a resort out of it.”

A luxury hospitality business would seemingly fit right in: Marymount’s campus practically overlooks the Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles, where one .7-acre lot happens to be for sale for $6.5 million. Several miles up the coast, toward the other end of the scenic peninsula, is the five-star, beachfront Terranea Resort, where weekday room rates start around $900 per night.

Wynn pointed to major hospitality firms such as Ritz Carlton and Montage. “Somebody’s going to do another Terranea,” he predicted.

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