Real estate developer's donated ranch aids university's mission

Real estate gifts are increasing because of the benefits they offer for donors

September 30, 2021

Iconic real estate developer Rusty Lyon Jr. wanted to help future generations pursue their educational and professional dreams. One way he did that is through what he knew best — real estate.

Lyon was a real estate visionary who started his career at his father's brokerage, Russ Lyon Realty, after serving as an Air Force pilot in the Korean War. He founded Westcor Companies in 1964 and developed more than 12 Valley malls in his career. Lyon branched into hospitality development and is credited with designing and building the Boulders Resort and Spa and others. A large log home sits among the Ponderosa pines near Payson. The main residence of La Cienega Ranch, a 77.25-acre property donated to the ASU Foundation that was recently sold.

He ran Westcor for nearly 40 years before selling it to shopping center developer Macerich in 2002. He then retired to spend more time at his 77.25-acre La Cienega Ranch at the base of the Mogollon Rim near Payson, Arizona. The ranch was a place to unwind and escape the metropolitan busyness for Lyon, his wife, Rosie, and their children and grandchildren.

Rosie Lyon died in 2008, and once her husband's health declined in 2016 the family donated La Cienega Ranch to the ASU Foundation for A New American University to benefit Arizona State University. Rusty Lyon died several months later.

The foundation's real estate affiliate, University Realty, recently sold the ranch that included nearly 15,000 square feet of livable space among seven homes, a barn with horse stalls, helipad, pond and group ramada for $4.5 million.

Real estate gifts are increasing for universities because of the many benefits they offer for alumni and other donors. From fiscal years 2016 to 2020, public and private U.S. colleges and universities received more than 3,630 real estate gifts valued at $928.3 million from donors, according to survey data from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

"Gifts of real estate may provide donors income, tax benefits and the opportunity to make a difference," said Brad Grannis, portfolio and assets manager for University Realty. "There are several options to donate real estate, depending on when you want to transfer the property and whether money is owed on it."

Over the years, Grannis helped the ASU Foundation receive several real estate gifts, which have funded scholarships and enrichment opportunities at ASU.

For the Lyons, donating the ranch to ASU made the most sense.

"It all depends on each person's estate, but it certainly can have tax advantages," said Scott Lyon, one of the Lyons' sons and founder of Westroc Hospitality. "At the time, the market was pretty soft, and it's such a narrow market for who would be buying a property like that. If they (my parents) sold it, they'd have to pay capital gains taxes. If they kept it in the family, we would have to pay estate taxes on the value of the ranch and not be able to sell it in time before the taxes were due. They eliminated a burden on the family from an estate standpoint."

Lyons' support of ASU

Lonnie Ostrom, former president of the ASU Foundation, has fond memories of the Lyons and their ranch. He and his wife, Martha, became good friends with the Lyons and visited their ranch periodically where they played bridge and enjoyed the property's amenities.  

"They were just really humble, down-to-earth people," Ostrom said. "They were very wealthy, and you'd never know it."

Ostrom recalls taking development officers from ASU's Teachers College — now the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College — to Charleston's Restaurant for lunch, and he'd invite Rosie Lyon to join them.

"She always brought coupons," Ostrom said. "I'd say, 'We're paying for it,' and Rosie would say, 'I know, but this will make it a little less.' She had a great sense of humor, and they loved ASU."

The Lyons were longtime ASU supporters who donated to athletics, W. P. Carey School of Business, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Arizona PBS, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and other units and programs.

Rosie Lyon graduated with a degree in elementary education from Arizona State College, the precursor to ASU. She was inducted into ASU's College of Education Hall of Fame in 2004, and she received the Alumni Service Award in 2006 and became a lifetime member of the ASU Alumni Association. She served on the executive committee for the ASU Campaign for Leadership from 1995 to 2001 and was a member of the Adopt A Devil Program.

Rusty Lyon served on the ASU Foundation and the University Research Park boards and was active with the university for a while, Ostrom said.

La Cienega Ranch history

La Cienega Ranch – named after a ranch in Rosie Lyon's family – was a summer retreat for the Lyon family from the mid-1980s until 2016 when they donated it, said Scott Lyon, who toured the property with his parents when they first saw it.

"My mom, Rosie, it was really her gig," he said. "Dad loved being there when he was there, but she had a soft spot for it."

There was an old post office at the site of the tack room until it burned in 1990 in the Dude Fire, which devastated more than 24,000 acres, destroyed more than 70 structures and killed six fire crew members. The other structures at the ranch remained, but the surrounding ponderosa pine forest was ravaged by the flames.

"That fire really broke my mom's heart at that time," Scott Lyon said. "They stuck it out. They continued to improve the property."

Two homes, a maintenance garage and a barn with tack room were built on the property following the fire.  

One of the original structures at the ranch, called the Gingerbread House, served as a primary residence until the Lyons built the more than 3,700-square-foot rustic lodge in 1986 that was designed by Bob Bacon, architect for the Boulders Resort and Spa in Scottsdale. The Gingerbread House was built in approximately 1880 and was actually two historic homes that were later connected together to make one log cabin, Scott Lyon said, adding that he, his wife and daughters stayed there several times.

He and his four daughters have "super fond memories" of La Cienega Ranch and spending time in the area hiking, exploring and horseback riding.

The Lyon family's generosity will enable University Realty to invest in real estate for the benefit of ASU.

The family wanted their gift to benefit real estate-related opportunities, given their involvement in the industry, Grannis said, adding that real estate gifts to ASU can be designated for any cause the donor chooses.

"Donors receive a charitable deduction for the appraised value of their property and forgo the expense of closing costs," said Frank Aazami, broker with Russ Lyon Sotheby's International Realty who represented University Realty in the sale of the ranch. "The donation of appreciated real property to the foundation is a wonderful way to provide enhanced benefit to donors.”

His colleague Erika Sahagun Dickey added that escalating land prices have many owners assessing their options.

"Real estate gifts of appreciated property potentially save significant capital gains tax and can increase the after-tax impact of your charitable giving," she said. "They are a great way to rebalance your property portfolio and support the university in the process."

To learn more about real estate gifts to ASU, contact Brad Grannis at 480-965-8098 or or your development officer.

Michelle Stermole

Senior Director, Public Relations and Strategic Communications , ASU Enterprise Partners


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LEEDing the charge on sustainability

September 30, 2021

ASU plans series of events and activities in observance of Campus Sustainability Month

Arizona State University first-year student Briana Wells has always been mindful of the universe around her and the carbon footprint she leaves behind.

She recycles cans, bottles, paper and old books, and she repurposes items for other uses in her daily life. But this year she wanted to step up her commitment. 

That’s why she spent a few hours on a recent Monday toiling in the sun — planting bok choy, cilantro and jalapeños — along with a handful of other ASU students and staff in The Garden Commons on Arizona State University's Polytechnic campus.

“I’ve always liked plants, and I want to do my part for the environment,” said Wells, a robotics major in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. “Even though it’s not much, I still want to contribute. ASU has a large audience, and getting out the message of sustainability is something I really like about the university.”

Held every October, Campus Sustainability Month was started by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) and is an international celebration that encourages seeking innovative ways to make a positive impact on the world.

“Campus Sustainability Month is a chance for ASU to highlight our leadership and commitment to sustainability within our campus and the community,” said Susan Norton, program manager for University Sustainability Practices. “It is also a way to educate and engage the campus community about our numerous sustainability programs that speak to actionable steps one can take to help ASU advance our sustainability goals.”

All throughout the month of October, ASU has organized activities, events and experiences on different campuses to engage and inspire incoming students and other campus stakeholders to become sustainability change agents. They include sustainability tours and displays, recycling audits, produce giveaways, service projects and much more.

In addition to the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory — launched with the goal of keeping our planet habitable and home to the first ever school dedicated to sustainability — ASU is a global leader in this field.

And it’s not just talk — the proof is in the pudding.

Last month ASU ranked No. 1 on Sierra magazine’s annual “coolest schools” ranking of the most environmentally friendly colleges and universities in North America.

This marks the first time the university attained this honor out of a record 328 institutions, rising from No. 4 previously, thanks to its comprehensive approach to sustainability that spans academia, campus operations, student life and endowment investments. This is the seventh year ASU has scored in the top 10 of the Sierra Club’s national publication.

ASU is also one of the few institutions in the world that carries a platinum rating by AASHE, which provides a sustainability tracking assessment for colleges and universities.

In 2020, the university surpassed its lofty ambition to achieve climate neutrality by 2025 — six years ahead of its original goal

There's also how ASU constructs sustainable building projects, shades its campuses and "LEEDs" the charge when it comes to demonstrating sustainability.

The university now has 65 LEED-certified building projects and 90 solar installations on all four campuses in the metro Phoenix area. The installations tally approximately 90,000 solar panels, shaded parking spots and stadium seats.

Beyond rankings, buildings and solar panels, ASU has fostered a sustainability community of faculty, scholars, staff and students who are free to explore and create sustainability programs and get others to thinking about their role in helping the environment.

People like Tyler Eglen, a project manager for Rob and Melani Sustainability Solutions Service in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory. Last year when he was a graduate student, Eglen started a student organization chapter of Precious Plastic @ASU. The group, composed of about 40 students, utilizes social engagement, a suite of semi-industrial plastic-processing machines and education to empower people to clean up and recycle plastic waste.

“I was awarded $5,000 through a Sustainbility Initiatives Revolving Fund grant from Zero Waste, and they encouraged me to create this student-run organization to support sustainability efforts, so that’s how it got started,” Eglen said. “We used the money to create a plastic-shredding machine in ASU’s Design School.”

Eglen said the club collects plastic items from the campus, shreds them into a “flake” and places them into an extruder to create new products. One of the products is plastic lumber, often used for park benches, porches and at playgrounds.

“Plastic lumber is a great solution for wood since wood prices are going through the roof,” Eglen said. “It reduces waste, and it’s much more durable than wood.”

ASU senior Madelynne Greathouse has dedicated her academic career to sustainability. She believes it’s going to play a big role in her future.

“The idea that ASU was committed to making our environment a better place was attractive to me when I first came here from Colorado,” said Greathouse, who is a sustainability major in the College of Global Futures and a student worker for University Sustainability Practices. “The discipline of sustainability is so broad and up and coming. I feel that’s the cutting edge of innovation.”

A month of sustainability events

Sustainability Displays on Campus
Oct. 4–25

Learn about various campus displays that speak to ASU’s commitment and dedication to ASU’s sustainable practices. Locations include all dining halls on each campus and various spots on the ASU Tempe and Polytechnic campuses.

Sustainability Walking Tours
11 a.m. Oct. 6; 9 a.m. Oct. 14; 11 a.m. Oct. 18
Student Pavilion (by the front entrance), Tempe campus
RSVP required

Take a guided walking around the Tempe campus and learn about sustainability points of pride. The first 10 people to register and attend each walking tour will receive a sustainable swag bag.

Green Event Planner Training
1–2:15 p.m. Oct. 6
Memorial Union 224 Gila Room, Tempe campus, or join via Zoom
RSVP required

This interactive presentation will give participants the tools needed to plan, execute and manage an environmentally friendly event.

U.S. Green Building Council and LEED Zoom Information Session
9–10 a.m. Oct. 7, via Zoom; noon–1 p.m. Oct. 15, via Zoom; 9–10 a.m. Oct. 21, via Zoom; noon–1 p.m. Oct. 28, via Zoom

Join staff from the U.S. Green Building Council and University Sustainability Practices on sustainable building and LEED accreditation.

Plant Walk and Talk
10–10:45 a.m. Oct. 12
Student Union, Polytechnic campus
RSVP required

Join University Sustainability Practices for this walk, which will identify the common edible desert plants growing on the ASU Polytechnic campus. Participants should be prepared for a 45-minute walk.

Global Conference on Sustainability in Higher Education
Oct. 12–14, online

ASU’s Global Futures Laboratory is the host institution for this year’s virtual conference, which will offer three full days of live content and networking.

Fair Trade Chocolate Table at Tooker House
11 a.m.–noon Oct. 13
Tooker House patio, Tempe campus

Stop by and try chocolate samples while learning about the importance of fair trade practices.

Lunch and Learn: Luffa in the Garden
Noon–1 p.m. Oct. 20
Garden Commons, Polytechnic campus

A garden can grow more than veggies and herbs. Luffas (or loufahs) are biodegradable sponges that thrive in our desert climate. During this lunch and learn, join University Sustainability Practices and discover how to grow, harvest and process luffa sponges to use in the kitchen and bath. Participants will receive luffa seeds and a sponge. Bring your lunch and enjoy under the newly constructed shade pavilion. 

Find more events on the Campus Sustainability Month website and at ASU Events.

Top photo: First-year robotics student Briana Wells plants bok choy in a raised garden bed in the Garden Commons on the Polytechnic campus Sept. 27. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News