As controversy swirled on the Valparaiso University campus weeks after President Jose Padilla announced the private school was considering selling three cornerstone pieces from the Brauer Museum of Art to fund dorm renovations for first-year students, the university purchased The Market, formerly Strongbow Inn, for $2.2 million, according to Porter County records.
The sale, between Luke Land LLC, part of Luke Oil, and the Lutheran University Association Inc., closed on March 9, according to a deed on file with the Porter County Recorder’s Office. A sales disclosure form provided by the Porter County Assessor’s Office shows the sale price was $2.2 million for the property at 2405 U.S. 30.
The form makes no mention of the property’s planned use — according to Indiana Code cited on the form, that information is confidential — but under the portion of the form about finance data, boxes were checked “no” for whether the seller was financing the sale and whether there is a mortgage loan.
The university’s endowment purchased the land, according to a Tuesday email from Michael Fenton, the university’s spokesperson.
“The endowment funds being used for said purchase are restricted, as is the majority of the funding in the endowment. Using that money for other projects, including the proposed residence hall renovations, would not have been an option,” he said.
“This purchase is part of the overarching investment strategy and is expected to provide a positive cash return. As with any asset held for investment, the purpose is to increase the value of the endowment in the long-term.”
Word on campus about the building purchase began to spread in early March during a Faculty Senate meeting.
“There’s been nothing public about the land use,” said John Ruff, a senior research professor who has been keeping tabs on the sale of the artwork, including a Georgia O’Keeffe painting that has been exhibited on loan at art museums across the globe, and has been one of several outspoken critics of the plan.
Ruff has been deeply involved with the museum over the years and his wife, Gloria, was its previous registrar and associate curator.
In a Feb. 8 letter to campus, Padilla said university officials would consider “assets and resources that are not core or critical to our educational mission and strategic plan,” and reallocate them to support the university’s new strategic plan.
“In this instance, we intend to pay for the much-needed dorm renovations by using the proceeds from the sale of select paintings from the campus art museum,” Padilla said, going on to note that the university’s board “granted me the authority to sell the paintings at its October 2022 meeting.”
The paintings, which Padilla did not name in the letter, include O’Keeffe’s “Rust Red Hills,” Frederic E. Church’s “Mountain Landscape” and “The Silver Vale and the Golden Gate” by Childe Hassam.
“At this time we are still completing due diligence for the proposed sale of the artwork and have no further updates,” Fenton said in his Tuesday email.
Collectively, the paintings are worth several million dollars; Fenton has said in a previous email that the projected cost of renovating Brandt Hall and Wehrenberg Hall is approximately $8 million.
Two of the three paintings were purchased through a restrictive trust agreement that states that the proceeds from the sale of those pieces is to be reinvested back into the museum’s collection.
Several people have said that selling the works to fund dorm renovations would be a violation of that agreement and could hamper the university’s ability to solicit restricted gifts in the future.
“I don’t know that there’s anywhere in the strategic plan for buying more property,” he said, adding the university already has buildings it can’t maintain, such as the Art-Psychology Building that burned down on April 29.
According to the Porter County Assessor’s Office website, The Market property had an assessed value of $2,201,100 as of April 2022. Luke Land LLC purchased the property from Russ and Nancy Adams, the former owners of Strongbow Inn, in 2013 for $1.3 million.
Strongbow Inn closed in March 2015 after more than seven decades in business.
The prospect of selling the artwork to fund dorm renovations has garnered national news coverage and generated a student march to Padilla’s office in February to protest the sale, as well as an online petition.
Valparaiso Mayor Matt Murphy has issued a statement in support of Padilla and the decision, but a majority of the Faculty Senate has condemned the move and said so in a letter to the president.
Additionally, major art museum associations have banded together and issued a statement that if the sale goes forward, the Brauer Museum could face censure or sanctions, which would hamper its ability to loan out pieces in its collection, among other measures.
Dick Brauer, the museum’s founding director and its namesake, has threatened to remove his name from the facility if the sale goes forward.