PHOTO COURTESY/MEDIA RELATIONS, TORCH PHOTO/RACHEL JOHNSON
The St. John’s alumnus behind the name Bent Hall accuses the University in a lawsuit of reneging on an oral agreement to keep his surname attached to the building forever.
Bruce Bent, who graduated in 1961 and is a former Board of Trustees member, alleges in his lawsuit that St. John’s “agreed to convey the naming rights to the Building, including prominent signage reflecting the naming rights throughout the Building” to him in 1981 when the building was dedicated.
The words “Bent Hall” had been written on an awning on the front of the building prior to its recent renovations. Since the building reopened in the fall, however, the front of the building’s signage was changed to read “The Peter J. Tobin College of Business.”
Bent says in his lawsuit, filed Jan. 26 in Queens Supreme Court and obtained by the Torch, that he unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate a deal in which the University would reacquire the building’s naming rights for a undisclosed fee.
The lawsuit seeks what it describes as “fair value” retribution of Bent’s original $500,000 contribution.
“At the University’s request, Mr. Bent made a significant payment to the University Endowment. In exchange, the University granted Mr. Bent naming rights to the building in perpetuity,” Bent’s lawyer, John Dellaportas, said in an email to the Torch. “Mr. Bent honored his agreement with the University, but unfortunately, the University has reneged.”
The University, however, contends that Bent Hall is still, in fact, called Bent Hall. Signage reading “Bent Hall” remains affixed to the side of the building, and can also be seen on one of the nearby signs that directs people toward various buildings on campus.
“Bent Hall has not changed its name,” Brian Browne, a spokesperson for St. John’s, said. “There is no formal, or informal plans or strategy to rename Bent Hall.”
As to the front entrance of the building now reading “The Peter J. Tobin College of Business,” Browne noted how several buildings on campus have the name of one of SJU’s colleges affixed to them, despite also having a different commonly used name. Sullivan Hall, which also has “The School of Education” written on it, is one such structure.
Bent’s lawsuit says that in exchange for a “substantial financial payment,” the naming rights to the building were given to him. According to both Dellaportas and Browne, the payment in question was in the amount of $500,000.
The lawsuit initially contends that the university “confirmed writing” that the naming rights belonged to Bent forever. Later, it says President Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw sent Bent a letter in October stating the University was within rights “because the parties had no written agreement.”
Dellaportas, Bent’s lawyer, confirmed to the Torch there is nothing in writing.
“The agreement was oral, not written, as Mr. Bent trusted St. John’s to be true to its word,” Dellaportas said.
Two years ago St. John’s received a $2.5 million grant to renovate Bent Hall. The grant came from the New York State Higher Education Capital Grant Matching Program, a grant-matching program created to “finance capital projects and equipment purchases by independent institutions of higher learning in New York State,” according to the Dorm Authority of the State of New York’s website.
In a Feb. 26, 2016, news release, the University stated that the Tobin College of Business would be housed in Bent Hall once fully renovated — the building used to be the site of both Tobin and the College of Professional Studies, which is now located in St. Augustine Hall.
“When construction is completed the Tobin College of Business will occupy four floors of completely remodeled Bent Hall featuring new classrooms, a large multi-purpose space, faculty offices, student study and collaboration areas, a technologically advanced financial information lab and a start-up incubator lab,” the University said.
In an email, Bent’s spokesman, Richard Mahony, also contended that the name of the building was changed without consulting Bent. According to Browne, Bent was consulted.
“Bent Hall, which, after 36 years had reached the end of its useful life, has been extensively renovated as a new, modern facility to exclusively house the University’s business school,” Browne said in a statement. “While Mr. Bent was presented with the opportunity to become involved with this new facility, he made the decision not to do so.”
Bent filed the lawsuit after a failed attempt to negotiate a settlement.
“More than 30 years later, without consulting Mr. Bent or offering to reacquire the naming rights – the standard practice in such circumstances – the University removed his name and replaced it with that of another donor,” Mahony said. “After his efforts to resolve this matter were rebuffed by the University, Mr. Bent filed this lawsuit.”
Bent Hall’s renovations were completed at the start of the fall 2017.
An economics and management major at St. John’s, Bent became well-known on Wall Street and in the investment banking world. Bent, who is credited in a 2001 Newsday profile with creating the money market mutual fund, was CEO for 30 years of The Reserve Funds.
In 2009 the Securities and Exchange Commission accused Bent and his son Bruce Bent II of securities fraud in a civil suit related to the 2008 market crash. The Bents were later cleared of all charges by a jury.