Main Street Delaware (MSD) has expressed a desire to enter into a lease agreement with the City of Delaware that would move its headquarters to the former City of Delaware Engineering Building located at 20 E. William St.
Delaware City Council discussed MSD’s request to occupy the vacant structure, also known as the former Sheets Building, during its regular meeting Monday.
Along with moving its headquarters, which is currently located at 20 E. Winter St., MSD wishes to establish a Delaware Welcome Center at the William Street location. In a letter to council, Main Street Delaware said it plans “to renovate and occupy the building remain unchanged,” and that it is in the process of “a major fundraising effort to support the Welcome Center and other initiatives.”
The building in question has sat vacant for more than five years now, having last been in use as city office space in 2015. In 2018, the Delaware Historic Preservation Commission opposed a proposal to raze the building to make way for a newly-constructed welcome center.
“We very much are the organization as far as knowing what the businesses are doing here and what events are going to be happening, specifically in the downtown,” MSD Executive Director Susie Bibler told The Gazette. “We tend to have a lot of those answers, and for years, we’ve been handing out maps of the downtown and the businesses, trying to promote the businesses that are down here. So, we want to continue doing that and have a more visible space in the downtown.”
Bibler said a lot of people don’t currently know where MSD is located, and the organization wants to become “more of a resource as we attract more people to our community.”
During Monday’s virtual meeting, some council members expressed concerns about the financial feasibility of the project for MSD. In its letter to council, MSD addressed its current financial standing in the wake of the virus outbreak.
“Like most organizations, the forced closures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted Main Street’s ability to raise funds through events and sponsorships,” the letter states. “While our income has declined, our expenses have declined as well, and we recently received PPP funding through our local financial institution to offset payroll expenses. While we continue to monitor our financial position, we also have reserve funds to continue operations for three to six months with reduced income.”
The letter goes on to state, “The importance and viability of the organization to downtown are apparent now more than ever, and we are ready to launch a fundraising campaign to continue and strengthen our efforts.”
Bibler said the pandemic has only served to heighten the need for a “more visible space in the downtown where people can come and get that information about what our downtown has to offer.” She said years ago, the downtown was only being used by the local community, whereas now it is seen as a “destination space” for people outside of Delaware.
Asked about the expected cost to restore the city-owned building, Bibler said the figure resides “somewhere in the $200,000 area, give or take a little bit.” She said some of the expenses associated with the restoration aren’t things that have to be done immediately, such as upgrading the heating and cooling systems that, while dated, still function.
To help curb costs, Bibler said MSD has the ability to find volunteers to work on the building for projects such as painting, rather than hiring out every job.
Vice Mayor Kent Shafer said he is in support of an agreement with MSD, although he expressed concerns about its ability to adequately fundraise.
“Provided that we have something in the lease that allows us, if things go bad, to back out of it, I’m ok with whatever,” Shafer said during the meeting.
“If they have the capital to do it, then that’s fine,” Councilman George Hellinger said. “But we need to protect ourselves from their potential inability to perform.”
“The building, as of now, is sitting there empty,” Councilman Drew Farrell said. “If they’re able to put it to use, I’d rather see that than further deterioration.”
Bibler said MSD is still working on setting up the fundraiser, which will run on the MSD website and will be promoted through its social media pages. To learn more about Main Street Delaware, visit www.mainstreetdelaware.com.