Menlo College is exploring buying the Sunset Magazine property in Menlo Park and using the existing buildings as an additional campus for the school, according to college President Rich Moran.
Menlo Park Mayor Ray Mueller, who met with Mr. Moran on Wednesday, Nov. 19, said the plan could be a win for the city and the college, which is located in Atherton off El Camino Real and Valparaiso Avenue right next door to Menlo Park. "I think it's a promising idea," he said.
President Moran said the college, which this year reached an enrollment cap set by the town of Atherton, is interested in expanding. When he read that Time Inc. wanted to sell the Sunset magazine Willow Road property, "I thought it might be an opportunity for the college to expand on that beautiful campus," he said.
The property is attractive to the college not only because it is only 2 miles away from the existing campus. The Sunset buildings are also architecturally similar to Menlo College's buildings, Mr. Moran noted. Not only would Menlo College want to use the existing buildings on the 7-acre property, "we would be interested in keeping the actual Sunset magazine in there," he said. The college is also interested in preserving the annual Sunset festival, he added.
"It's a compelling idea right now and a way to preserve iconic architecture, and to let a small college that's bursting, expand," President Moran said.
Mayor Mueller said that a number of details remain to be worked out. "If this works, I couldn't be more happy," he said. "I think Sunset magazine is one of those legacy businesses in town that our residents identify with."
Vice Mayor Catherine Carlton, who was also at the meeting with President Moran, said he promised that if the site were used for any housing, it would be for faculty and not students. "They also seemed extremely sensitive to the fact that it was a neighborhood," she said, and had promised they "would make an effort to be part of the neighborhood."
President Moran said on Friday, Nov. 21, that he had been in some preliminary talks with Time Inc.'s broker.
President Moran said he realizes the property will be expensive. "It would require creative financing or giving in order to make this happen," he said. However, he added, "it's an idea with enough merit that if smart people get in the room together, it might happen."
Mayor Mueller acknowledged that Menlo Park might be able to get more revenue from some other use of the property. "Our job as public servants is not to maximize tax revenues," he said. "I think it's a trade-off that people are willing to take."
The existing Sunset magazine campus is, Mayor Mueller said, "a vital part of our spirit and ecosystem."
However, the mayor acknowledged, there are other possible acceptable uses for the property. "I want this to work out with Menlo College, but if it doesn't that isn't the end of the line," he said.
Jim Irizarry of the San Mateo County assessor's office said nonprofit educational institutions can apply for an exemption from property taxes and that Menlo College current has such an exemption for its Atherton property.