Indiana University and Residential Real Estate and Foundations and Mel Simon and Real Estate & Retail

Simons poised to give estate to IU

May 12, 2008

Billionaire philanthropists Mel and Bren Simon are laying the groundwork to donate Asherwood--their extravagant Carmel estate and golf course--to the Indiana University Foundation, potentially to house a new think tank.

The couple plans to downsize into a home just outside the town square in the nearby Village of WestClay. The two paid about $2.5 million for a three-story, Beaux Arts-style home featured in this year's Indianapolis Monthly Dream Home tour. They also own homes outside of Indiana, including in California and Florida.

The home at Asherwood, along Ditch Road near West 106th Street, is something of a white elephant, weighing in at more than 43,000 square feet. That's twice as large as the Carmel palace built nearby by former Conseco executive Stephen Hilbert--a property listed for $20 million in 2005 that still hasn't sold.

Observers believe the Simon estate is worth at least $50 million, although the home itself appraises for tax purposes at $10.6 million. Part of the value is the potential for residential development on the more than 100-acre property; the estate is surrounded by luxury single-family-home communities such as Deerfield, Windemere and Coppergate.

If the Simons give Asherwood to the IU Foundation, a cash gift likely would accompany the real estate since upkeep alone is in the range of $1 million per year, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told IBJ.

One idea for the property is to create a Simon-Clinton Institute in partnership with IU and its Department of Political Science, the source said. The institute would promote liberal ideas.

The Simons, Bren in particular, have championed and funded Democratic causes and candidates for years. The couple counts Bill and Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, and Birch and Evan Bayh as friends. Over the years, they have held dozens of social events at Asherwood--ranging from the Black and White Ball, an Indianapolis 500 staple, to political fund-raisers and charity events.

The Simons bought the Asherwood property in 1973. In 1994, they won approval to build a 10-green golf course with what Esquire magazine described as "crisscrossing fairways so that a total of 27 different holes can be played."

The couple expanded the original home after it burned in 1999, embarking on a behemoth estate that features a 2,700-square-foot spa, a 1,300-square-foot library, and a 30-foot-by-50-foot outdoor pool, according to a 1999 story in The Indianapolis Star.

A spokeswoman for the Simons would not discuss Asherwood or the couple's new home in WestClay, saying only that the Simons are working on routine estate planning. A spokeswoman for the IU Foundation also declined to discuss the matter.

The Simon family has given to IU for years, including a $50 million gift in 2006 that led the university to rename the IU Cancer Center the Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center. Family members also have given to the Bess Meshulam Simon Music Library and Recital Center; the Helene G. Simon Hillel Center; and Simon Hall, a new multidisciplinary science building on the Bloomington campus.

Mel Simon, 81, ranked 446th on this year's Forbes magazine list of billionaires, with net worth of $2.6 billion. He founded locally based Simon Property Group Inc. with his brother Herb, 73, who ranks 897th on the Forbes list, with net worth of $1.3 billion. The pair also owns the Indiana Pacers.

Mel's and Bren's home in the Village of WestClay was built by locally based Paul E. Estridge Homes. It is one of a handful of "city homes" offered in the project by locally based Brenwick Development.

One of the development's unique draws is the wide range of residents living there, a departure from projects that feature a narrow price range, said Jeff Kontor, Brenwick's vice president of sales.

"We have $90,000 condos and $3 million homes and anything in between," he said.

Kontor said company officials do not discuss specific residents who live in the project, but he did say buyers of homes in WestClay include Indianapolis Colts players and Indy Racing League drivers.

The Simons bought a four-bed, four-bath home on Rhettsbury Street just around the corner from Chappie's, a cafe and coffee bar.

The owner of Chappie's, Chad Blackwelder, has been hearing a lot of talk about WestClay's new residents. He hopes to sell them on a new selection of wines and his specialty, a southwest chicken wrap.

"It's a real social and neighborly community," Blackwelder said. "You can get to everything you need in a stone's throw."

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