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MacArthur Foundation

Several years before his death in 1978, John D. MacArthur, at the suggestion of his attorney William T. Kirby and chief financial officer, Paul Doolen, created the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The original board included Kirby as chair, MacArthur as president, and C.T. Hyland (Catherine T. MacArthur’s maiden name) as secretary. Other members included commentator Paul Harvey, two directors of MacArthur’s Bankers Life and Casualty Company, and J. Roderick MacArthur, the only son of John D. MacArthur. Later other prominent people were added, including former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury William Simon and Nobel laureate Jonas Salk

By law, the MacArthur Foundation had until 1983 to dispose of its income properties; there was no deadline for its 100,000 acres of raw land. After obtaining a five-year extension, in 1988 the foundation sold JDM Country Club to Hansen Properties of Philadelphia, who renamed it Ballen Isles.

The foundation’s vacant land was the last remaining open space in Palm Beach County. It donated or sold at least 30,000 acres to local governments or conservation groups for parks, preserves, and water management, and contributed the funds to develop John D. MacArthur Beach State Park on land donated by MacArthur before his death.

Much of the development in North County during the ‘80s, ‘90s, and early 2000s started with the large tracts of foundation land. It owned eight sections of land (eight square miles, or 5,120 acres) due west from the Intracoastal Waterway in suburban Palm Beach Gardens and Jupiter. The first sections to be developed became Frenchman’s Creek (1986) and Admiral’s Cove (1988). Taylor Woodrow later developed 2,300 acres of the western portion into the Country Club at Mirasol.

In 1999 the MacArthur Foundation nationally marketed the last 14,880 acres of woodlands, spread over Palm Beach, Martin, and St. Lucie counties. Watermark Communities Inc. (WCI) won the bid to purchase for $235 million. About 5,000 acres of the portfolio was in Palm Beach Gardens, where WCI developed Evergrene; most of the remaining land was resold to other builders, spurring a wave of development in the city.

Five years later, the foundation set up the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fund, a $20 million endowment managed by the Community Foundation of Palm Beach and Martin Counties to support local education, the environment, arts and culture, and community development.

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