Lillian Harrison, the Executive Director for Elevated Community Development Corporation, a non-profit that maintains the former National Guard Armory in Milford, recently provided Milford City Council with details on what her organization offers and the many programs available at the armory.
“We are here to discuss consideration of the purchase of the formerly abandoned Milford Armory, now converted into a community service center and as you may know, we are a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life in our community through various programs and initiatives,” Harrison said. “And over the past few years, we have worked tirelessly to revitalize the Armory, which was once neglected, of course, into a vibrant and diverse thriving community hub that provides essential services to local residents.”
Harrison continued, explaining that the Community Service Center offered a wide range of services for the community, including health and wellness, education and literacy classes along with job training and more.
“The center has become a source of pride for the community, providing a safe and supportive environment for the residents to gather and access the resources that they need to succeed. Given the significant investment of time and resources made in converting this property into a hub, it would be in the best interest we feel at this for the city to consider allowing us to purchase the property,” Harrison said. “Alternatively, if the city is not in a position to allow the purchase of the property, it is suggested the city would consider a long term lease of 50 to 99 years, understanding that this is a significant request. By working together, it ensures that the community service center will continue to provide essential services and support the residents for many years to come. Thank you for your time. And I wanted to add in addition to that, that we are we are at a point of what I call heavy lifting for the center. So, we’ve been able to make great strides in the renovation of the center. However, we need some major lifting now like a complete heating system. There are grants and tax incentives that we’re able to get that I know the city can’t get for us. However, we have to be better positioned to be able to apply for those.”
Harrison provided council with a slide presentation which showed the many services offered in the building. She explained that USDA and other organizations were willing to allow them to apply for grants, but since they did not have a long-term lease or did not own the building, they were limited in what could be provided to them. One of the programs offered in what is now known as the Milford Armory Community Service Center is one that provides transitional housing and a re-entry program that partners a construction program that hires ex-offenders. They also have a Women’s Forum and others offered by the Small Business Association. Councilman Andy Fulton asked why she was asking for a lease of 50 to 99 years.
“USDA was more specific about what we needed, and they were saying 35 to 50 years, but with all the heavy lifting we need to do, I am asking for 50,” Harrison said. “My team are all volunteers, and we are all working with multiple organizations to provide services to the community, whether it be food, furniture or other resources.”
Because the heating system is not adequate, Harrison said that there was diminished capacity in the building simply because it was too cold, requiring her volunteers to be creative in getting services to those in need. Diamond Mechanical, who sits on the advisory board, have provided an estimate for a new heating system which will require converting an oil system to a natural gas system, but they are unable to go out for grants due to the lease agreement on the building. Harrison showed a photo of the building during her presentation.
“That’s our lovely building,” she said. “And while it’s old, we have come a long way and I invite you guys to come out and take a tour of the building. While we have come a long way, we still have a way to go. Aesthetically, I am a girl, so I like it pretty. She’s not pretty yet, but we’re going to get there.”
City Solicitor David Rutt explained that the deed has restrictions regarding sale of the building.
“The deed from the State of Delaware dated December 16, 2014, has a restriction that says, ‘by acceptance of the deed, the City of Milford acknowledges that as described in Senate Bill 227 of the 147th General assembly, this property cannot be subsequently sold or in any way transferred to any person, corporation or association or used for a non-public purpose without further legislative approval from the Delaware General Assembly,’” Rutt read. “I can tell you, too, that the long term leases, you’re hitting 70 to 99 years and title companies look at that as a conveyance of interest.”
Councilman Fulton asked if a 40 year lease would also fall under a conveyance of interest. Rutt stated that he did not know but a 40 year lease may not trigger the title company to say the property was conveyed.
“As I’m remembering 20 years back, we went into a longtime agreement with Milford Headstart and I’m not certain of the terms, but we leased that land, that building and it’s still a long term lease,” Councilwoman Katrina Wilson said. “I’m not certain, I don’t remember the amount of years but I have to do some research to find that out and Terri might even know or have easy access to what. But then if that’s the case, at least it gives some groundwork of where to start.”
Councilman Fulton pointed out that it would be great to see what other long-term leases had been issued but that it was clear there were legislative roadblocks regarding the Armory property that may not exist with the Headstart property.
“You can’t even have the appearance of conveyance,” Councilman Fulton said. “Otherwise, we’ll need some of our representatives, Senator Dave Wilson or Bryan Shupe to step forward and propose legislation to do something about this.”
Councilman Mike Boyle explained that it was clear the city could not sell the building as there was no guarantee the legislators would approve it or how long that could take. He suggested that Harrison contact USDA to see what they recommended for a long-term lease.
“I certainly will do my due diligence and find out mainly in speaking with USDA,” Harrison said. “They have the largest part of the capital grant we need right now to get the system changed over and it was their requirement even before we moved forward.”
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