Rice’s properties: down to Earth and out of the park
Courtesy Woodson Research Center
A sketched map of West University Place in 1917.
Many Rice students know that the university owns and leases some of the land in Rice Village. Lesser known, however, is the scope of Rice’s extensive and occasionally eccentric real estate holdings, which cover everything from the basics to the land that holds a women’s clothing retailer in the Rice Village, the Impeccable Pig.
Perhaps the most surprising historical holding was the decade-long ownership of the old Yankee Stadium. The capital stock of the stadium via the primary lease was sold to Rice alumnus John W. Cox ’27 in July 1955; Cox then gifted it to Rice in 1962. Although the university owned the stadium itself, the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, owned the piece of real estate it stood upon.
When it became evident that the stadium was in dire need of repairs in 1970, the Yankees’ owners approached New York Mayor John Lindsay with a proposal to buy it and finance its renovation. Originally, Cox had estimated his gift capable of bringing Rice more than $1 million; the city of New York bought the Stadium’s lease from Rice for $2.5 million in 1972. Added to annual revenues, Rice gained a total of $3.7 million from the donation, equivalent to nearly $19 million today.
In general, Rice’s investments, overseen by the Rice Management Company, tend toward natural resources and real estate, which together make up 24% of total assets. Some ownings, however, are not as standard.
“Unique investments include exposure to Artificial Intelligence, Biotechnology, Music Royalties [and] Professional Sports Leagues,” Rice Management Company President Allison Thacker wrote in an email to the Thresher.
Rice’s resulting endowment of nearly $8 billion is responsible for a significant portion of the budget.
“The annual distribution from the endowment continues to be the single largest revenue source to the operating budget and supports approximately 40% of the university’s operating expenses,” according to the Rice Management Company.
This can contextualize Rice’s emphasis on the upkeep and management of these investments, considering Rice’s projected 2024 operating budget: $920 million.
One of the longest-held assets in the natural resource collection is the Beauregard Parish tree farm in Louisiana, which was a large portion of William Marsh Rice’s bequest towards the university’s establishment upon his death. Rice formed the Rice Land Lumber Co. to manage the property, and from there it has played a significant part in the university. Funds from its timber sale financed the construction of the very first buildings on campus, including the Institute Commons, now known as Baker College.
Further, it was discovered in the 1930s that the land was also an oil field with several underground reservoirs, and drilling operations have continued since then.
A significant portion of the forest was hit by the Tiger Island fire in the area, which occurred Aug. 22, though most of the land itself was unaffected. The farm has weathered similar obstacles before; after the land was stripped of timber and lay fallow for decades, a reforestation initiative was embraced in the 1950s in order to create and maintain a renewable resource. In line with this aspiration is the RMC’s current objective of carbon neutrality.
“Rice plans for the Natural Resources portfolio to be carbon neutral (with the use of carbon offsets) by 2030, in-line with the University’s carbon neutrality goals,” Thacker wrote.
The other major portion of Rice’s portfolio is real estate, which makes up almost 15% of Rice’s endowment. A new project in this sector is the Ion district, an ongoing development in Houston for which Rice is an investor, as well as owner of the sixteen blocks upon which it is being built. The Ion building, which is the central piece of the development, opened in May 2022 and includes coworking spaces, restaurants and an investor studio.
Rice has had its forays into aerospace as well. The Johnson Space Center is built partially on 600 acres of land donated by Rice a month after President Kennedy gave his famous speech in Rice Stadium in 1962. From the years 1917 to 1924, there was an airstrip called Rice Field just outside the edge of campus, approximately where University Place is today.
Though today there is little so strange as Yankee Stadium within Rice’s endowment, many of the holdings have a long history with the university, and their contributions still shape student life, financial aid and campus improvements. Even something as supposedly straightforward as investments can hide a story.
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