Dover helps Wesley, votes to send old library deed restriction to the state

DOVER — Members of Dover City Council did their part in helping to fulfill an agreement between Wesley College and the State of Delaware that would send up to $3 million in public funds to the small liberal arts college in the heart of Dover.

Dover City Council members voted unanimously 9-0 following a 30-minute executive session on Monday night to waive a deed restriction that had previously given Dover the right of first refusal on purchasing the old Dover Public Library building at 45 South State Street should Wesley no longer intend to use the building for educational purposes.

The provision had been placed on the property when the city of Dover elected to sell the building to Wesley College for $1 in 2017, on the condition that state lawmakers would direct more than $1 million in state transportation money to the city.

Dover City Council President William “Bill” Hare said the deal made too much sense not to make. The right of first refusal is now in the hands of the state.

“I think it was a very good decision, it supports Wesley and supports the state and I think it’s a win-win for everybody,” Mr. Hare said.

Dover City Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. was previously skeptical about giving right of first refusal of the old Dover Public Library to the state, but decided to vote to move the deed over to Delaware.

“I got a clearer understanding of what was going to transpire,” Mr. Sudler said. “The state is actually going to receive the right of first refusal clause, so I was OK with that.”

Wesley College, which has been struggling financially in recent years, is seeking to draw on public funds while it negotiates a potential merger with another institution.

The funding is expected to help the college continue operations until it can come to an accord on a merger with another higher education institution, which could be announced in the coming weeks.

In November, the private school submitted a request for $3.2 million from the state’s Higher Education Economic Development Investment Fund. The group, which consists of the director of the Office of Management and Budget, the secretary of state, the co-chairs of the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Committee on Capital Improvement and the controller general, previously awarded $2 million to the college in 2019.

Wesley also was given permission in the spring to move $1.375 million earmarked for it the prior year to renovate the former Dover library.

College officials were informed in the summer they would not receive any more funding without first submitting a long-term strategic plan to the state, which they have not yet done.

“The decision to approve these additional funds proved difficult for the committee,” the five-member committee said in a statement. “However, the committee understands that should the college cease operations the economic impact to the state’s capital — the loss of over 200 jobs and vacancy of 19 buildings in downtown Dover — would be significant. In addition, hundreds of Delawareans would have their education disrupted without a clear path to continue their education.

“The state has entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with the college that includes a number of conditions agreed to by the college in order to be eligible to receive these additional funds. These conditions include drawing the funds on an as-needed basis, providing regular reports to the state and meeting certain milestones.”

In addition to the conditions mentioned in the statement, Wesley must agree not to request any further funding and to “provide the state with a “teach out” plan inclusive of a plan for graduating the approximately 200 spring 2020 graduates,” about half of whom are native to the First State, per the letter informing Wesley of the decision.

Should the school fail to come to terms on a merger, it will have to surrender possession of the old Dover Public Library to the state. The college purchased the South State Street property from the city in 2016 for $1.

Funding from the state will be provided monthly as needed to ensure Wesley can continue to make payroll and to leverage federal grants and similar resources, according to the letter approving the request.

Staff writer Matt Bittle contributed to this report.