Shipyard task force requests $2.6 million from city

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The Vinyard Task Force requested $2.6 million from the City of Milford toward the purchase of the Vinyard Shipyard

At a recent meeting, Dan Bond and Sher Valenzuela requested that the city of Milford purchase the Vinyard Shipyard property for $2.6 million. Bond indicated that the task force had $1.3 million in state funding to use toward the asking price of $4 million. After providing background on the shipyard project, Bond explained how creating the Delaware Maritime Museum would benefit the city. The Vinyard Shipyard Task Force has been working to purchase the property since 2017.

“When the shipyard property is converted into a successful Museum, it could eventually provide significant economic and social benefits to our community. We don’t have anything like this that puts Milford on the map. It’s a great city. It’s a wonderful city to live in. We have great medical facilities here now. We’re having a wonderful growth spurt. But we don’t have a unique attraction that can bring people here,” Bond said. “In order to make this happen, the city could turn the museum development and operations over to a self-financing nonprofit organization. This has always been a random sort of a hurdle for the cities whenever they buy these types of things. “How do we operate it?” Well, I think you should separate the two. If you own the property, you can turn it over to a nonprofit organization. There are various ways that we could do this. That organization could be fully responsible for converting it into a museum and operating it and they would do that by getting grants from various organizations like the Longwood Foundation, the Crystal Foundation, from the state of Delaware from the federal government and so forth. They would provide their own financing. Also, the Lofland’s have offered to provide a grant in the amount of $25,000 per year for the first five years on a matching basis to help cover the museum’s operation and get it up and running.”

Bond explained that $800,000 of the funds held at the state would be withdrawn on June 30 if the city did not make a commitment. Councilwoman Madula Kalesis asked why the task force had waited until three weeks before losing the funds to come before council. Valenzuela stated that finding experts to create a good business plan was difficult for a project like this and that had taken time. According to state records, the $800,000 grant from the Community Development Fund was awarded in 2021.

Bond explained that if the city did not move quickly to purchase land that would complete the Riverwalk, the Lofland’s could sell to a developer and the city would lose this valuable piece of history. He mentioned an offer by DNREC for grant funding for an easement. Councilwoman Nadia Zychal asked why the easement was not granted and Brad Dennehy, Director of Parks and Recreation explained that since the city did not own the land, they were unable to use the grant funding. Councilman Dan Marabello asked if the state was willing to allow another month for the city to discuss the project further.

“When I met with the Representative Charles Postles last week, and I believe he speaks on behalf of Dave Wilson as well, if he can hear of a level of interest and commitment from the city of Milford, his exact words were ‘the city of Milford needs to own it.’ And that is something that I think is very significant to the wiggle room that we might have if the city of Milford can show its interest,” Valenzuela said. “We already have the federal interest in this project. Senator Tom Carper has been there. We already have the state’s interest in this project, as represented by the funding that’s already on the table. The city of Milford is the last piece that needs to fit into the equation. And that’s really what our state and federal representatives are waiting to hear. And their direct quote from Charles last week was he feels that the city, the state feels that the city needs to own its history. And that’s what this is all about.”

Councilman Jason James pointed out that although he was exuberant about the project, council did not have any money and that the funds they were discussing belonged to the taxpayers. He questioned what benefit this would bring to the citizens of Milford to which Bond replied the project had historical, recreational and economic value, using the St. Michael’s Maritime Museum as an example.

“If you try to start a shipyard, the first five years is probably a startup, you’re not going to be generating a lot of revenue. You need a lot of people coming and that takes time. The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum began in the late 60s. So, they’ve had 50 years 60 years to get to a budget of a revenue of $9 million and contributing twice as much as their revenue to the city,” Bond said. “And there are economic studies, multiple that show that and they do an annual economic impact report now they’re extremely successful over there. That’s a museum of maritime history and all kinds of maritime related and it’s also a center of activities, events and so forth, and St. Michael’s on the water. Now, we’re not as rich in this area as they are over there. I recognize that it’s gonna take time to build up but there is no operating wood building shipyard comparable to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum on the Delaware River.”

Bond also pointed out that families who were staying in Milford for games at Delaware Turf were often looking for things to do between games. He felt that currently in Milford the only thing to do was to get something to eat. He felt that an attraction like the maritime museum would draw many people who wanted an activity for part of an afternoon. Councilman Marabello asked what federal funds the task force had identified, and Bond indicated they had searched for some but had yet to find any. Councilman Marabello asked about the Longwood Foundation.

“The Longwood Foundation, we ask them for help and purchasing. They said, Well, you’re not at that stage yet. You need a good business plan,” Bond said. “Okay. That’s what we’re working on. Still. You have in your packet a preliminary plan; we still have work to do on that. There’s a lot of issues that need to be explored. We’ll get you the final business plan, but we sort of run out of time.”

Mayor Culotta stated that he felt this was a great project, but that it was not a good year to make such a large ask.

“It’s a very tight budget year. We know that we know that. We have to make up a big shortfall this year. Everybody is taking a cut in one way or another,” Mayor Culotta said. “So, this is a difficult discussion to have and try to get something resolved tonight. What I propose and Mr. Rutt, you can tell me if this makes sense or not, that we make a motion to discuss this further.” City Solicitor David Rutt stated a motion was not necessary and that it could simply be added to a future agenda.

“Okay, well, maybe a workshop for what we just said, there’s a lot of stuff to hash out. And as for our interest possibly, or we’re somewhat interested in. I don’t know. We’re not to decide anything tonight. It’s on the agenda just as an update,” Mayor Culotta said. “So, I’d say we continue the discussions. We don’t have a yes or no answer to the state representatives. However, we’re continuing the discussion. So that’s a good. Now, the previous mayor, never really had the opportunity to have this discussion, because it just stopped before it got this far. So, what I wanted to do is give the council an opportunity to hear about it, get an update and then decide if we want to move forward. But I suggest we just we just move on and continue with discussion at a later date.”

Councilman Marabello pointed out that time was of the essence.

“So, Mr. Mayor, what you’re saying is that we will find time on our agenda in the very near future where we would be able to discuss this again. And keep in mind, time is of the essence, and we can discuss it in more depth and, and just thinking back I think your presentation and your update is very enlightening. And it has really helped me see it in a way of how it could be a benefit to the city of Milford in a great economic move for us. We’re going to discuss money later. But I think I think it would be a great attraction for the city of Milford,” Councilwoman Katrina Wilson said. “I was just sharing with Mr. James I had two relatives that were ship makers and worked at the Milford shipyard, the Forman brothers as well as a cousin who was a Coverdale. They all lived over in we used to call it South Milford so I’m really familiar with that area and I think that the whole climate of it has gotten a lot lighter and more doable, just for what you’re saying today.”

Councilwoman Wilson continued.

“As far as buying it. I think before it was like do this or not. And with that kind of pressure sitting right around I didn’t want to go any further. But I feel that it’s a little different at this time, this stage in the game,” Councilwoman Wilson said. “So, I’m gonna pray that when you come back, that we’ve all had an opportunity to think about it and we’ve got our finance team here. They’re able to look and try you know, see how creative we could be. And it might even be someone that’s going to listen to this meeting tonight that might be able to contribute to it where it’d be even more stakeholders in the game.”

Bond stated that in his conversations with Representative Postles, the legislator was very clear that unless there was a commitment of $2.6 million by June 30, the $800,000 would be lost. Councilman James confirmed that in conversations he had with Representative Postles, that was true, that the state was not willing to extend this any farther. Valenzuela stated that she had been told they had until midnight June 30. Solicitor Rutt stated that discussions regarding the purchase of land needed to be held in executive session. Before Mayor Culotta closed the discussion after stating he would work with the city manager and city clerk to put this on a future agenda, Councilman Michael Stewart asked about what non-profit was currently helping the task force.

“See now that’s a very good question. And those are things that need to be worked out. Yes, we will have to work that out and have discussed this with the Milford Museum and the Milford Historical Society. Basically, our mission statements would allow them to be the umbrella organization,” Bond said. “Both organizations would not take responsibility, you would have to be a subgroup that would sort of join them like our task force and do the operational work and continue to work on the shipyard. But it’s a mistake to start on a brand new nonprofit if you don’t need to, because it’s a lot of time and effort. And you’re sort of at a disadvantage and getting grant money if you have no record.”

Bond explained that another non-profit could take on the project. Currently, he stated, Downtown Milford Inc. had been sheltering the task force and that the $800,000 at the state level was in the name of DMI, not the task force, but earmarked for the shipyard project.

“They’re another group that could be a shelter for us. So, we have three groups in town operational with good histories, that could be our shelter. We have always thought we don’t want to set up a new nonprofit and be part of those three. I think the Milford Historical Society’s board has said they would be willing. The Milford Museum we’ve had discussions and they’ve indicated interest,” Bond said. “DMI at this point says they’re not prepared to continue to be our shelter. But we could have a conversation with them again, to see if they want to continue to be our umbrella organization, but there would be some nonprofit.”

In the past, the city has indicated that they may be interested in owning the property, but they had no interest in running the shipyard. Bond explained that was why this proposal would work.

“The real estate transaction, getting your hands on this land that you do want, that someday you want to own at a discounted price today. And having a nonprofit organization that has to do his own financing, be responsible for everything itself is an opportunity to see if we can get to a working museum operating,” Bond said. “So we felt that was the proper way to present it to you to separate the landownership from the museum operation, that that operation would be a nonprofit probably in one of the three existing organizations.”

The project will be placed on an agenda in the future for further discussion.










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