In late October, The Sultana Education Foundation offered Chestertown $80,000 to buy the Sultana Shipyard at Cannon and Mill Streets, the same price the town purchased it from the Kent County Commissioners in 1997.
Since then, SEF has leased the publicly owned property from the town for $1 a year.
The contract offer came with a letter from Sultana President Drew McMullen expressing SEF’s desire to purchase the property.
But knowledge of the offer was not made public–in anticipation of one, and possibly two new members joining the council in January as a result of the fall election.
Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said he made the decision to table the offer until next year.
“The matter of a prospective buyer’s interest in part of the shipyard was deferred, by me, to a matter to be addressed by the new Town Council,” Ingersoll said in an email on Dec. 27. “This is planned for the earliest possible agenda in the new year, following the swearing-in of the new council members.”
While Ingersoll said the decision was his, council members were aware of SEF’s offer but chose not to mention it even for the purpose of deferring the issue to the new council in 2020. Communications between Ingersoll and council members were “confidential.”
Ward 4 Councilwoman-elect Meghan Efland ran unopposed to fill the seat vacated by Marty Stetson, but the Ward 2 contest between incumbent Linda Kuiper and challenger Tom Herz had yet to be decided.
Ingersoll said the process requires the shipyard to be legally declared surplus property before the sale could take place, and that process would have run through the transition to the new council in January.
“[Sultana’s] letter of interest in late October was received at the time of the election and I deferred it for one main reason: the sale of any property by the Town cannot start until the property is declared surplus or excess by Ordinance,” Ingersoll wrote. “This process is a two meeting process, with a comment period and rarely can be accomplished in less than 6 weeks.”
If the Council votes to declare the parcel surplus public property, the town will advertise the ordinance to provide a competitive bidding process for the property, which is zoned RB Professional Office.
Two council members contacted last week would not comment on why SEF’s offer was not made public.
The shipyard was used to build the Schooner Sultana and SEF continued to lease the facility after the ship was launched in 2001. SEF now wants to redevelop the shipyard to further augment its educational programs, which can’t be done without title to the property. McMullen said the redevelopment would only be possible if the nonprofit “can secure long-term rights for the use of the property. Our preference to accomplish this would be an outright purchase from the Town of Chestertown.”
The shipyard lot is Parcel 3 of Tract No. 1, which includes the town service yard. Tract 2 was on the other side of Mill Street and was sold. Tract 1 was purchased for $80,000 and Tract No. 2 was purchased for $3,000, according to the deed. There is a deed restriction that must be resolved with the State of Maryland, State Highway Administration before the sale. Ingersoll said those issues would be explored by the new council in January. Ingersoll said SEF recently paid for a boundary survey of Tract No. 1. He also said he was unaware of what the property might appraise for.