Sacred Heart to buy 150 acres in Milford

Sacred Heart University has entered into an agreement to purchase 150 acres of land in Milford, and residents in Easton are questioning the status of the university’s proposed purchase of the 29-acre South Park Avenue property in Easton.

The upcoming purchase includes the 18-hole Great River Golf Course and a 32,000-square-foot clubhouse for $6 million, roughly the same price as the the South Park Avenue parcel.

The Milford site is 15 minutes from the university’s main campus at 5151 Park Ave. in Fairfield, university officials said. The South Park site is a couple minutes from the main campus.

Sacred Heart had emerged as the Easton selectmen’s first choice to purchase the South Park parcel out of six proposals they heard after the New England Prayer Center lost its final option to buy the property.

Prayer Center officials subsequently pitched a new proposal, which is among the six the selectmen heard recently. Read more here about the proposals here.

In light of the Great River purchase, Deb Noack, Sacred Heart director of communications, said this week, “We are currently focused on the purchase agreement for Great River, which will take some time to finalize. If the Easton property is still available once that happens, we would be interested in exploring that opportunity.”

The Easton selectmen postponed taking further action on the site back in September after Michael Kinney, senior vice president for finance and administration, wrote in a memo to First Selectman Adam Dunsby that the university’s board of directors had “put off land acquisitions at this time.”

Dunsby said at the time that Sacred Heart informed him the university was still interested in South Park, but “another opportunity presented itself, which would prevent deeper consideration of the South Park property for several months.”

Dunsby said the selectmen would “discuss the matter and appropriate courses of action at upcoming meetings” but that most likely nothing would happen until after the election, since the composition of the board was about to change.

Kinney said the Milford purchase afforded “an unprecedented opportunity to more than double the university’s acreage. I want to emphasize that no tuition dollars will be used to make this purchase. Rather it is a strategic decision for the long-term benefit of the university and, as a purchase from our investment portfolio, will allow for further diversification.”

He said the cost per acre “makes this one of the most value-added purchases the university has made to date.”

John J. Petillo, Sacred Heart president, said the investment is not only an investment in a golf course, but an investment in the university’s core business.

“Ownership of the course will allow us to develop new academic programs in the areas of golf management and hospitality management and will complement our current programs in exercise science, sports communications and sports management,” Petillo said.

“A golf management program — for which we will seek PGA approval, would be the only one in metropolitan New York and New England — one of the most saturated areas on earth for golf courses. We also expect it will provide opportunities for vital hands-on work experience and internships for students, and we hope to host national golf camps and regional and national NCAA championships there,” Petillo said.

With the purchase, Sacred Heart will join more than 80 other colleges that own golf courses. “We believe this will help us sustain what has already become an elite golf program that has been number one in New England and has won three conference championships and participated in three Division I NCAA tournaments since 2007,” said Bobby Valentine, Sacred Heart executive director of intercollegiate athletics. “It will also help us to recruit and retain the best student athletes.”

Kinney said university officials believe the purchase will be the starting point for many enhancements to come.

“There is no doubt that Great River will continue to thrive through a stable partnership with a major university, and our mutual values of excellence, service and high quality will remain a top priority,” he said.

University officials expect to complete the Milford sale in December.