Middletown seeking bids to resurrect sports complex project


MIDDLETOWN — After well over a year of legal wrangling to control of town-owned land for a failed sports complex construction project, there’s now hope for a revival.

At a regularly scheduled town council meeting Monday night, Middletown’s elected officials announced that requests for proposal are being accepted to “allow for the construction, maintenance and operation of a multi-field outdoor sports complex with an indoor sports facility on approximately 170 acres of publicly owned land on Levels Road.”

Previous plans to build the Delaware Sports Complex imploded with money troubles that eventually brought dissolution of a 99-year lease at $1 annually between the town and private investors who filed for bankruptcy. DSC owner Dan Watson of Easton, Maryland, said he was abandoning hope to keep the project going after a federal court ruling to nullify the lease on Aug. 21.

The project was hamstrung by financial woes and over $1.6 million in claims by 13 creditors against the DSC were filed, including $195,000 sought by the town.

An attempt to reach Mr. Watson — who took control of the DSC this year after debt was accumulated by original investors — for comment via email on Monday was unsuccessful.

Mayor Kenneth L. Branner Jr. said general plans are in place to construct 20 fields for soccer/laccrosse use, four baseball and four soccer fields and a 200,000-square-foot multipurpose building. Also allocated is four grass fields for the Delaware Union youth soccer program.

As the town and Mr. Watson attempted to reach a solution on the DSC, the mayor said three or four different groups contacted the town to express interest in taking control of the project and wanted to learn more about the process.

All bids will be considered, the mayor said, including ones that may stray from the original general plan.

“The drawback to that is that it will take a couple months longer to complete the process,” the mayor said, noting that all bids — local or otherwise -— will be considered.

The deadline for RFPs submitted to the Town of Middletown is Monday, Oct. 30 at 4:30 p.m. A copy of the RFP can be obtained by emailing Town Manager Morris Deputy at mdeputy@middletownde.org.

Following the RFP deadline, the town will schedule public meetings for the week of Nov. 1 were applicants can present their plans. Council will announce its selection for developer at its regular meeting on Nov. 6.

Once the project is awarded, the mayor believes construction can begin immediately and grass fields may be playable for the spring sports season. At least four grass fields were completed when the DSC project began construction.

Even as the DSC project collapsed, the mayor remained resolute in his belief that a sports complex concept will work on Levels Road west of Middletown near U.S. 301 and the Maryland border.

“Everyone we’ve talked to loves the plan and sees no reason why it won’t work,” he said. “The travel sports business is a booming industry and this area fits into that model very well.”

The town and Mr. Watson are still tied together on a lease and agreement to own and operate a golf course, outdoor swimming pool and clubhouse within the nearby upscale Estates at Saint Annes neighborhood. The $1 annual lease for 99 years covers approximately 194.8 acres of municipal-owned land.

Mayor Branner said a certificate of occupancy was nearly complete for the clubhouse, and Mr. Watson had been notified.

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