$2.2M payment staves off foreclosure of former Dowling College campus
Suffolk County’s planned seizure of the former Dowling College campus in Oakdale is on hold after the property’s owner paid more than $2 million in back taxes, officials said.
A representative of Delaware-based Mercury International, which bought the 25-acre campus on the Connetquot River last year, hand-delivered a check for $2.2 million last week to the Riverhead office of county Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr., Kennedy said.
The payment is enough to halt foreclosure proceedings begun when Mercury failed to pay $4,178,986 in back taxes over the past four years, Kennedy said in an interview last week. Kennedy had said in October that the county could seize the site as soon as next month.
"That stops any foreclosure process at this point," he said. "This takes them out of that time period where we would pull the trigger under the [county] tax act and now makes them only a year delinquent."
Attempts to reach Mercury International or its representatives were unsuccessful.
The former Dowling campus — home to the 19th-century Idle Hour estate once owned by railroad heir William K. Vanderbilt — has remained shuttered since the bankrupt college closed in 2016.
Mercury, which paid $26.1 million to buy the campus following an auction, is the second entity to purchase the site after a previous buyer backed out of a $26.5 million deal.
Mercury officials have said they plan to develop an educational facility on the campus but have offered few details. Islip Town last year approved special zoning to preserve the mansion and other historical sites on the property.
Mercury sued the town last year in a tax dispute. Islip officials, citing the lawsuit, have declined to comment.
Suffolk Legis. Anthony A. Piccirillo (R-Bohemia) said in a text message he was "hopeful that this is a first step in remedying the community concerns with this property."
Steve Birkeland of Bayport, an Oakdale native and member of the hamlet’s historical society, said the tax payment is welcome news.
"It’s good that something happened. We’d like to see more positive and more verbal contact with them," he said, referring to Mercury officials. "It’s a beginning. It’s a positive sign and we can smile."
Residents of the Idle Hour neighborhood near the campus have complained about poor maintenance at the property, citing downed tree limbs, graffiti and damage to the buildings. Islip Town has cited Mercury for numerous property maintenance violations.
"The lawn still looks like it hasn’t been touched in three months," Birkeland said, adding neighbors would clean the property for free, "but there’s no dialogue" with the owners. He said many are frustrated by the slow progress in redeveloping the site.
"We don’t know if they are going forward with it," Birkeland said.
Kennedy said Mercury’s payment will go into county coffers. Under the county tax act, the comptroller’s office collects delinquent tax payments for Suffolk’s 10 towns, he said.
The county expects to pay $14 million this year to the towns to compensate for unpaid property taxes, Kennedy said.