Dover finally sells old library building for $1 – and more than $1 million in funding

DOVER — New life is about to be breathed into the old Dover Public Library building that has sat dormant since the city opened its new $20.8 million library in September 2012.

Members of Dover City Council unanimously approved the sale of the old library, at 45 S. State St., to Wesley College during a special meeting on Aug. 14.

The transfer of the building, which was arranged by Sen. Colin Bonini (R-Dover) and Rep. Sean Lynn (D-Dover), was for $1, with the sale contingent upon a commitment of $1.05 million in Community Transportation Funds from both state legislators.

Sen. Bonini said the transfer will take the building off taxpayers’ rolls, which is an added bonus.

“I think it is a win-win and I think it’s going to drive economic development, it’s going to repurpose a building that is for all practical purposes abandoned and it’s going to expand educational opportunities for Delawareans,” said Sen. Bonini. “I’m very excited about it.”

The old library building is 17,980 square feet and sits on 0.8587 of an acre. It was appraised by Dover Consulting Services Inc. on May 12, 2016, to have a value of $1.62 million.

The deal satisfied City Councilman Fred Neil, as the legislators’ CTF money will be used to offset the General Fund budget of the city, which allowed the sale to take place.

The CTF dollars will still be used for transportation purposes, including road repairs and improvements, within the city.

“The city really wasn’t interested in having another liquor store or a tattoo parlor sitting on that property downtown,” Mr. Neil said. “The money for the infrastructure came for Sen. Bonini and from Rep. Lynn and then it became a very viable solution and I acquiesced to that.

“I was satisfied the taxpayers of the city where getting their money’s worth from the property. Now, we have some value out of it.”

The old library building is 17,980 square feet and sits on 0.8587 of an acre. It was appraised by Dover Consulting Services Inc. on May 12, 2016, to have a value of $1.62 million.

However, city council members had the building and property re-appraised last October at around $1.1 million, not including costs to bring the building up to code.

It is anticipated that Sen. Bonini will provide the city a total of $750,000 in payments from his transportation funds, including $500,000 for Fiscal Year 2018 and $125,000 each year from the FY 2019 and FY 2020 budgets.

Rep. Lynn has committed $300,000 to come out of his FY 2018 CTF budget allotment.

“The (transportation) dollars will offset the city’s General Fund Budget,” said Rep. Lynn. “(The city of Dover) got essentially $1 million for the sale of the library. This just really streamlined the process of getting the money to the city.”

The city added a clause in the deal that stated “that there will be a clawback option in which the city of Dover would be offered the right of first refusal in the event that Wesley College no longer wishes to use the building for educational purposes.”

Councilman David Anderson said he thought “that the motion was one that was fiscally prudent, consistent with the Comprehensive Plan of the city of Dover to bring educational institutions in and more economic development foot traffic.”

Mr. Anderson added that it will “expand the safety footprint by bringing Wesley College security as an extra set of eyes downtown; therefore, it something he believes is in the public interest.”

Reaching across the aisle

Sen. Bonini and Rep. Lynn reached across party lines to make the library deal become a reality.

“I’m very excited,” Rep. Lynn said. “I think it’s a fantastic deal that is a win-win for the city and Wesley College.”

He added that it wasn’t difficult to work with Sen. Bonini on the project.

“Colin and I have been friends for a long time,” he said. “Despite our sometimes ideological differences, we have always maintained a close friendship.”

Mr. Bonini, a 1991 graduate of Wesley College, put a clause in the FY 2018 bond bill SB 125, which “strongly” recommended the sale of the library.

Mr. Bonini’s clause, listed as Section 33 of the bill, said, “The General Assembly, in order to encourage economic development, increase access to higher education and contribute to public safety in the Downtown Dover community, very strongly recommends that the ‘Old Dover Library’ Building and surrounding support buildings at 45 South State 8 Street, Dover, DE 19901, be transferred from the city of Dover to Wesley College.

“The General Assembly recognizes the importance and benefit of this transaction not only for the greater educational opportunities provided by Wesley College to the community, but also the financial relief such a transaction would grant to the city of Dover Taxpayers.”

Original concept finally realized

Wesley President Robert E. Clark II unveiled a proposal before the Council Committee of the Whole at City Hall Council Chambers on July 12, 2016, to have ownership of the building transferred to the college, saying it would relieve the city of associated costs of the building and ensure that a vacant building with limited parking is put to productive use.

The college has visions of turning the former library building into a state-of-the-art educational facility dedicated to the teaching and training in health science — in particular, occupational therapists — and other high-demand fields of study.

The number of students who will utilize the new facility annually is estimated to be in excess of 500.

“Here’s a building that will allow the educational arm of our community to use to educate our future, that future that will then come back and be the health care professionals, or the teachers, or the coaches,” President Clark said.

“I’m very excited about this because it provides opportunities for our future, our young men and women, but more importantly it provides an opportunity for our community and I truly believe that we are one team, we are one family and we all have one future, and that’s together.”

Members of Dover City Council decided to take a step back and take a deeper look before voting on transferring ownership of the old public library building at 45 S. State Street over to Wesley College at no cost.

The deal was tabled on July 26, 2016, as the city looked at other possible options for the building, including possible use as a homeless shelter, restaurant or additional city offices.

For Councilman Neil, it all worked out in the end — more than a year after the idea of transferring the building to Wesley College was first discussed before the Council Committee of the Whole.

“Our state legislators came through with the final figures in terms of value of that property with what it costs and what it would take to get repaired for someone else’s use and it became a very viable solution,” he said. “Now it’s up to Wesley to be able to bring (the building) back (to use).”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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