New owners of Dowling property hold meeting
ISLIP TOWN—The new owners of the former Dowling College property held an informal public meeting at Islip Town Hall West on Tuesday, Feb. 6 to address the future of the shuttered 25-acre campus. Mercury International LLC, which is based in Delaware, recently filed an application with the Town of Islip to change the current zoning for Idle Hour House and Power House from residential to accommodate their plans for the property. Their director of operations, Don Cook, said his company intends to start an educational institution sometime in the future.
“That is a long, tedious process with New York State,” said Thomas Wassel, partner at Cullen and Dykman LLP, the law firm representing the new owners. “It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight, but we intend to preserve the buildings and the character of the neighborhood.” He also said his client intends to preserve the famous “well” and “love tree” that are both located on the campus. “We’re not bringing Dowling back, but we’re going to bring the property back,” Wassel said. “It’s a jewel of the community and we intend to polish that jewel to the benefit of the community members.”
The proposed educational institution is being labeled as a “degree-granting school.” Cook isn’t locked into what kind of degrees or curriculum would be provided, but is interested in attracting both local and international students. Mercury International LLC is a subsidiary of NCF Capital, an educational institution based in Beijing, China.
Cook said he is interested in using the property to generate some type of revenue in the short term, being that the educational institution is quite some time away. He has entertained several ideas, including proposals to use the facility for film and TV production while it is vacant.
Numerous local residents asked if the developer would ever “flip” the property, whether because that was their initial plan or backup plan in case the project doesn’t materialize in the future. Cook said his company isn’t interested in splitting up the property and is committed to staying for the long haul, but couldn’t promise they wouldn’t sell sometime in the future.
Several residents also asked why the new owner would spend $26 million if the zoning change couldn’t be guaranteed. Cook repeatedly expressed the belief his company would acquire the zoning change. One resident even expressed their concern the investment might be used as “a shelter for money” since the owners are based overseas. Cook dismissed this idea.
Oakdale resident Don Connolly, on the other hand, doesn’t consider the investment to be that high. “It might seem like a lot to you and me,” he said, “but not to [the developer].”
Oakdale Historical Society president Maryann Almes said she is “cautiously optimistic” about the project. “[Mercury International LLC] has a plan, but it’s vague,” Almes said. “I would like to see the line of communication stay open.”
Connetquot School District Board of Education trustee Lee Kennedy has lived in the Artist Colony for 35 years. She said Oakdale doesn’t have a “downtown” like Patchogue, Huntington or Sayville, but they have history, so preservation of the landmark is crucial.
Mercury isn’t obligated to maintain the historical integrity of the property, but Islip Town planning commissioner Ron Meyer said at Tuesday’s meeting that they are, in fact, doing so. While no tours are currently available, Cook said he thinks those concerned about the future of the campus would be “pleased” with what they’ve done on the inside.
Steve Birkeland moved to Oakdale from Brooklyn in 1956. “The Dodgers left with me,” he joked. Birkeland knows some of the initials carved into the “love tree.” Being a photographer, he has shot many weddings on the property. He also said he’s spoken with Cook multiple times. “You can tell from [Cook’s] tone, he was interested in maintaining the history and tone,” he said. “I look forward to working with him.”
Oakdale resident Michelle Burke said you’re always going to see resistance to a project like this. “People don’t like the unknown,” she said. “But it seems like [the project] is off to a good start.”
Meanwhile, Dowling College’s 105-acre Brookhaven campus in Shirley was auctioned off last week. No winner has been announced, with the top bid being $10.2 million.
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