Simon donates $30M estate to Great American Songbook foundation

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The Great American Songbook Foundation, a nonprofit affiliated with The Center for the Performing Arts that focuses on preserving and celebrating the work of legendary songwriters, received a huge gift Jan. 4.

Bren Simon, widow of the late Mel Simon, who owned the Indiana Pacers and founded the nation’s largest shopping mall group, has decided to donate her 107-acre Asherwood Estate to the foundation. The property is valued at $30 million and could be used to house and archive the foundation’s collection of more than 100,000 artifacts and items. There’s also the possibility that the residential property could be used to showcase the collection to the public in a museum setting. The property, which boasts two golf courses, a pool, a fully furnished 50,000-square-foot main house, an 8,000-square-foot clubhouse and a 6,000-square-foot guesthouse, could also be used to host parties and fundraisers to support the foundation and The Center as a whole.

“I’d say overwhelming is a good word,” said Chris Lewis, executive director of the Great American Songbook Foundation. “Really, the possibilities are endless. Now we really want to figure out what this means and how we use this to advance our mission.”

Many questions are left to be answered. Will neighbors object to this use next to their homes? Will the home work as a museum? What are the costs associated with the property?

Jeff McDermott, CEO of both the Center and the foundation, said a thorough exploration will take place and that this gift was too generous to pass up. There are no conditions attached to the gift, so the Center could sell the property.

“We don’t know all of the answers yet,” he said. “While the conversations started years ago, this really came together in the last few months. There will be a lot of planning that will take place. It’s a blank page. The potential is sort of unlimited, and we’ll take our time to figure out the best use.”

This deal came together after Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard introduced Bren Simon to Michael Feinstein, the renowned singer who also serves as artistic director for the Center.

“It has been a pleasure to introduce Bren to Michael so that they could learn how their resources could work toward the goal of preserving part of our American heritage of music and culture,” Brainard said.

Brainard previously said he’d like to see a songbook museum in Carmel and suggested it could be housed in a free-standing building next to the Monon Trail near The Palladium. It is unknown how this announcement could alter or even eliminate those plans.


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