A New York nonprofit organization founded by the chairman and CEO of one of China’s largest real estate internet portals has added to its historic Hudson Valley estate and school campus holdings with the $17.35 million purchase of Pace University’s former 37-acre campus in Briarcliff Manor.
The Research Center on Natural Conservation Inc. bought the campus at 235 Elm Road in December, according to a deed recorded this month in the Westchester County Clerk’s Office. The property, formerly the home of Briarcliff College before the women’s school closed and Pace acquired the campus in 1977, includes nine buildings totaling approximately 330,000 square feet of space, tennis courts and ball fields.
Pace put the Briarcliff Manor campus on the market in June 2015, along with its 82,000-square-foot Lubin Graduate Center at 1 Martine Ave. in downtown White Plains, as it began consolidating its Westchester facilities on its extensively renovated Pleasantville campus. The university’s condominium property in White Plains, which included five floors in Mack-Cali Realty Corp.’s Westchester Financial Center, was bought by Mack-Cali in 2016 for $10.75 million.
Research Center on Natural Conservation Inc. was registered as a nonprofit in New York state in October 2011, shortly before it paid $6.5 million for Arden House, the 100,000-square-foot mansion on 452 acres in Harriman in Orange County. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Arden House was built in 1909 by railroad magnate E.H. Harriman and has operated as a conference center since 1950, the first of its kind in the nation, according to its past and current owners.
The Harriman estate’s seller, the Open Space Institute, described the Research Center as a nonprofit “dedicated to discovering innovative natural conservation methods, organizing forums to discuss contemporary environmental issues and studying the effects of global warming.”
A broker representing OSI in the deal reportedly described the nonprofit as part of SouFun Holdings Ltd., a Chinese real estate company whose stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Based in Beijing, the company now operates as Fang Holdings Ltd.
Questioned by the Securities and Exchange Commission about its possibly undisclosed involvement in the Arden House purchase, SouFun Holdings attorneys in 2012 told the SEC that Research Center on Natural Conservation was established by Tianquan Vincent Mo, executive chairman and CEO of SouFun. The China company, however, is not involved with the New York nonprofit, the company’s U.S. attorneys told the SEC, and said news reports that the nonprofit was created by the company for the purpose of acquiring Arden House “are incorrect.”
The Research Center in 2015 acquired another historic Hudson Valley property, the New York Military Academy in Cornwall-on-Hudson, at a bankruptcy auction for $15.825 million. The 128-year-old boarding school lists President Donald Trump among its alumni.
Pace University was represented in the Briarcliff Manor sale by a brokerage team from CBRE Group’s Stamford office of William V. Cuddy Jr., executive vice president; Jacqueline Novotny, senior associate, and Patrick Colwell, senior vice president for investment properties. The buyer was represented by Richard M. Warshauer, senior managing director of Colliers International in New York City.
Officials at the Research Center for Natural Conservation could not be reached today to comment on the nonprofit’s plans for the vacant campus in Briarcliff Manor.