A twenty million dollar gift to the struggling City of Wilmington apparently was not sufficient for State Representative Charles Potter, whose late-breaking challenge has effectively canceled a deal that had administration, council, county and broad community support.
Catholic boys school Salesianum and the City of Wilmington had announced an innovative lease agreement at a press conference on November 2, 2016, that would have the school take on a long term lease to renovate and manage Baynard Stadium, pending final approval of City Council.
The aging stadium – longstanding site of Salesianum football and other scholastic and city sports team games and other events – is badly in need of investment and repairs; this past summer the stadium’s south bleachers were condemned and removed.
Salesianum had proposed to invest $20 million of private funds into the facility with a vision for widening community use of the stadium, in exchange for a renewable 50-year lease.
Potter decried the deal at Monday night’s meeting of the City Council’s Education Youth and Family Committee, causing Salesianum President Brendan Kennealey to announce that Salesianum was withdrawing its offer.
Potter has suggested that the stadium renovations should be carried out with public funds, a contention that has met with derision from across the political spectrum, given the city’s woeful financial state.
“An effort led by state representative Charles Potter and his wife, City Treasurer Elect Velda Jones-Potter, suggested that this renovation could – and should – be funded by taxpayer dollars,” said Salesianum President Brendan Kennealey. “As a result, the committee’s chairman, previously a sponsor of the legislation City Council Member Nnamdi Chukwuocha, decided that a task force was necessary to examine the situation at Baynard Stadium.”
Excerpts of a statement Kennealey shared with the Salesianum community are included below:
“Funding for this facility simply has not kept pace with the extraordinary investment needed to maintain a safe space for athletes and spectators alike…No one understands the community-building power of sport better than Salesianum. Indeed, our own 113 year history is filled with examples of competition bringing disparate communities together. It was this experience that, in combination with urgent needs of the physical plant, led us to develop our proposal with members of the City Council, the Office of the Mayor, and Delaware Department of Natural Resources.
The drafted agreement was aimed at creating a first-class facility that would dramatically increase access for the community-at-large, while also serving as a driver for economic development in the area. Our vision was an athletic complex that would have hosted youth football on Sundays, Boys and Girls Club events throughout the week, allowed new scholastic users such as Warner Elementary, and dramatically increased utilization by private citizens. All of this would be made possible through market-rate rentals to local and regional club teams. It is a vision that, when announced recently, earned broad support region-wide, not just from the Salesianum Community.
Our goal all along was to have a facility that the City of Wilmington could be proud of; a facility that honored the rich history and tradition of this landmark. We are fully supportive of any plan that can achieve that goal. Accordingly, Salesianum is withdrawing our proposal to invest $20 million in Baynard Stadium so as to not serve as a distraction to the city’s task force now charged with identifying public funds for the stadium.
Salesianum’s withdrawal of its proposal does not represent a change in our commitment to the City of Wilmington. It is, however, reflective of a reality that Salesianum was providing resources to the City through charitable gifts. With substantial funds already committed, the current political environment, and the uncertainty that it brings, jeopardizes our ability to credibly raise funds and properly steward the gifts of those who have already committed.
With a full understanding of the economic realities of the budgeting process for the State of Delaware and the City of Wilmington, Salesianum stepped forward in relief of taxpayers and offered to be a leader for the City. Of course, we want that which is best for the city we have called home for more than a century. We wish the task force the best in coming up with alternate solutions and stand ready to be supportive of this process.”