In Dover, Duncan Center eyed for new city hall

DOVER — It’s no secret.
City of Dover officials are growing tired of sinking money into renovations for its nearly 50-year-old City Hall and affiliated cramped offices at 15 Loockerman Plaza.

That’s what prompted Mayor Robin Christiansen, City Manager Donna Mitchell and members of Dover City Council to become involved in a series of closed-door executive sessions and special meetings in May.

They discussed the idea of acquiring the much newer and roomier Duncan Center at 500 Loockerman St., which is on the market. There were no details offered in May regarding the meetings except that the city was discussing “a potential land acquisition.”

Members of Dover’s City Council acknowledged the city has been engaged in preliminary discussions on a contract with the owners of the 58,893-square-foot Duncan Center, which was built in 2003.

However, they didn’t comment on any other specifics of a potential deal, including how much the acquisition would cost the city.
Judging from public listings on a commercial real estate website the cost of purchasing the building on the west end of Loockerman Street would easily top the million-dollar mark.

Mayor Christiansen was unavailable for comment on Monday regarding the city’s potential purchase of the Duncan Center.
Members of Dover City Council would have to vote during a public meeting on any final agreement to purchase the building.

Dover City Council President William “Bill” Hare said it’s much too early to talk about moving Dover’s City Hall to the west side of town.
“First of all, we haven’t gotten to the point where it’s something to really discuss,” he said. “We’re still in the research stage. We just have to wait and see what, if anything, develops out of this.”

Councilman Fred Neil, who represents the 3rd District, said he could see the positives in moving Dover’s city offices to the newer location.
“If all the boxes are checked off regarding the condition of the building and the price is right, buying the Duncan Center would be serendipity,” he said.

“This would be a great buy for the taxpayers.”
Mr. Neil said the potential move to the Duncan Center simply makes sense.

“We could consolidate a number of city services, including those from the worn-out 5 Reed St., into a much newer building and eliminate the millions budgeted this fiscal year for the rehabilitation of that building alone, with more costs to come,” he said.
“We could even have a drive-thru for payment of services, saving some taxpayers’ time.

“While the city would not create a building with rental space because we do not want to compete with other commercial properties, the current rented space will significantly cut down the cost to the taxpayers. It will be easier and at a lower cost to make this building both accessible and secure.”

Mr. Neil added the city’s use of the building would help to open the west end for further economic development.
In that vein, the city could potentially get a decent deal on the Duncan Center, considering it is located within the state capital’s Federal Opportunity Zone and Downtown Development District — the desired growth zone of the city.

The U.S. Department of Treasury and the IRS describes the program’s benefits as “Qualified Opportunity Zones retain this designation for 10 years.

Investors can defer tax on any prior gains until no later than December 31, 2026, so long as the gain is reinvested in a Qualified Opportunity Fund, an investment vehicle organized to make investments in Qualified Opportunity Zones.

“In addition, if the investor holds the investment in the Opportunity Fund for at least 10 years, the investor would be eligible for an increase in its basis equal to the fair market value of the investment on the date that it is sold.”

The Duncan Center is currently leased to lawyers, corporations, lobbyists, and state and federal government tenants.
It also has an event hall on the top floor called The Outlook at the Duncan Center, which can accommodate up to 350 people.

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

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