Many of us are still wondering what will become of the scenic and historic former Dowling College campus in Oakdale now that Mercury International who bought the once picture-perfect property in 2017 for $26.1 million sold on 12/17/21 to China Orient Asset Management Co Ltd. The town of Islip has boarded up the vacant, valuable property. Tax bills I hear are getting paid via taxes and such, but the new owners who are based in Beijing have no specific plans for the property at present other than listing it on their balance sheet. How unfortunate.
The much disliked, tax-delinquent Mercury International bought what was the Dowling College campus in 2017 in a bankruptcy auction for $26.1 million, was purchased by China Orient Asset Management Company Ltd. on December 17, 2021, for $42 million. The foreign firm is based in Beijing. Mercury paid $26.1 million. So they made a hefty profit but allowed the once postcard-perfect property to turn ugly.
This is not such great news considering the new buyers are based in communist China and likely have little interest in caring for the property other than listing it as an asset on their balance sheet. And like Mercury, they provide no security for the property despite its value. I anticipate they will likely do the absolute minimum to maintain or secure the property. If so, how unfortunate that would be.
I hear bills are getting paid tax-wise. The Town of Islip has boarded up the property as best they could and the vandalism sprees have subsided. A few arrests have been made but a lot of damage has already been done. Too many incidents to detail. The big break-in of the mansion in August of 2021 amounted to $50,000+ in damages. How sad to see these apathetic fun-seekers damage a historic building.
However, despite an ample about of media coverage via CBS News and Newsday that had a full-page article in the "Our Towns" section that told a sad story of senseless vandalism taking place too often at was once Dowling.
As a result of all these break-ins and destruction, Angie Carpenter (Islip Town Supervisor) reached out to the Oakdale Historical Society, working with Suffolk County Police Dept. to come up with solutions to stop these reckless acts of destruction.
Carpenter wrote a letter on August 3rd, 2021 to the acting Suffolk County Police Commissioner and offered a good idea that helped slow down the senseless destruction and break-ins that have plagued the property these past few years. The idea was a simple one, but a good one. Carpenter suggested that Suffolk County Police use the parking lot near the mansion as a "relief point" this way there can be more police presence to deter and stop vandals.
Mercury International the former property owners didn't provide security on the waterfront, historic property other than having a few inside and outdoor cameras.
The Town of Islip held an in-person meeting at 655 Main St. on July 20th, 2021 at 2 pm. A good portion of that meeting was about the state of the mansion and the grounds and how it was being neglected. A number of local residents voiced their concerns and displeasure about how Mercury had done little to clean up the property and safeguard the grounds.
Residents and also members of the Dowling Neighborhood Watch group did and still do their best to prevent break-ins. Unfortunately, they happened all too frequently and sadly residents were more concerned than Mercury International ever was.
The once crown jewel of historic Idle Hour sadly became an eyesore with fallen trees, branches, tall grass, and broken glass via the numerous break-ins.
Pressure to stop the neglect and danger was rightfully applied on Mercury by Tom Alfano and the Friends of Idle Hour, The Oakdale Historical Society, many caring and concerned Oakdale residents such as David Chan, Anthony Piccirillo (R-8th District), the Town of Islip, and to a lesser degree by some former alumni like myself who hold degrees from what once was Suffolk County's first 4-year private college that was postcard-perfect on 25-acres of waterfront property that was also the former William K. Vanderbilt summer mansion.
The pressure started when on May 19th, 2021 at 5:17 pm on NBC News 4 NY on a 2-minute news segment "Danger Next Door" the former Dowling College campus was shown in its current state; abandoned and in ruins. News 4 showed the vandalized buildings, the fallen trees, and the tall grass.
Then on May 28th of 2021 News 12 did the same, which further fueled the fire for change and to hold Mercury Int'l accountable. Caught on camera was a Mercury employee coming out of the mansion who had no comment. No surprise. He should be embarrassed and ashamed to be part of this mess.
In addition to TV coverage, The Suffolk County News (SCN) ran a feature article on May 28, 2021, which detailed the actions that have been taken and the people who deserve credit for bringing w
Newsday at times has run similar articles, but SCN' was most informative. Newsday again ran an update article on February 17, 2022.
Being a former graduate of Dowling College from the 1980s, I was happy to learn at first that Mercury International of Delaware who was affiliated with the buyer of record, Deleware-based NCF Capital Ltd in the Fall of 2017. In 2018 they had proposed to reopen the historic 25-acres of waterfront property as a place of learning. Oakdale College at one point I had heard was a possible alternative, but the buyer changed their plans. In short, they never filed any such application with the Town of Islip. Instead, they did nothing, but sit on the property and let it decay.
If someone were to tell me you will outlive the college you graduated from, I would not believe them. I'd say, no way, not possible. Well, it did happen to me and thousands of other alumni when Dowling College closed after 48 years (1968-2016).
Dowling's Oakdale campus focal point was the 110-room, 45,000 square feet William K. Vanderbilt summer home later renamed Fortunoff Hall after a former benefactor Alan Fortunoff who paid to restore the mansion after a fire in 1974 badly damaged the historic structure.
To think my college closed because it became saddled with too much debt, $65.8 million to be exact, is sad and shocking.
To think the degree that sits below the workstation I write from is from middle states accredited college that doesn't exist anymore is sad and downright depressing.
Mercury International of Delaware when they become the buyer was identified in court documents as "An educational end-user." That turned out to be a farce; a blatant lie.
I was then somewhat relieved that Dowling could still possibly remain a place of learning of some kind and that parts of the prime property have been preserved as landmarks. The mansion, performing arts center, the water well as well as what is known as the "Love Tree"; a mature weeping beech that is just east of Idle Hour House will remain.
Credit must be given for the preservation thanks to the efforts of Maryann Almes, President of the Oakdale Historical Society, and also to the Islip Town Board that voted in favor to preserve a part of Long Island history.
Also, credit must be given to the Dowling Neighborhood Watch group who have watched the property as if it was their own. I want to thank Mike Burke in particular. Mike is a member of the watch group as well as an Oakdale resident. I met Mike last Summer and thanked him myself. I know he's gone above and beyond to watch over the property. He's done a lot of boarding up of the property himself, at his own expense as well as responded to late-night text messages from the Police.
Both the landmark preservation as well as the slight possibility that the Oakdale campus could still possibly remain a place of learning if it's sold again, diminishes my sadness slightly.
Just maybe the new property owners will keep up with the property and restore the mansion's luster and the campus' buildings and grounds. However, that is not likely. More likely, the money shelter game will continue to the dismay of nearby Oakdale residents, Oakdale Historical Society staff and its members as well as Dowling College graduates.
There's still a chance the property is sold yet again. If so, just maybe an American-based organization that's familiar with the area or who knows and cares about the property's historic past, will care for it with pride and restore its beauty.
No matter who buys the property next, I and my fellow alumni will forever feel a sense of loss that Dowling College is no more.
Jack Tarantino on March 21, 2020:
It should be temporarily be taken over by Army Corps of Engineers and use it as a hospital for covid 19 patients
jameswritesbest (author) on October 21, 2019:
I'm sorry for those professors that lost their jobs. I know that pain being in marketing. I lost my job multiple times due to mergers as well as companies I worked for that went out of business.
philip abbate on October 21, 2019:
What about the professor who worked a very long time there ?
jameswritesbest (author) on October 06, 2019:
Irene, thank you for reading my article and for your informative comments. Myself and other alumni appreciate the information.
Irene Vertullo Gersch -Empowering You Marketing from Long Island New York on October 06, 2019:
They bought it for $26 million when it was valued at about $51 million
They bought with the intention to open another college
However it is zoned as residential use
Dowling operated as a private liberal arts school in an Oakdale in a residential zone with Islip Town special use permits.
Those permits were not transferrable in the property’s sale
applied in January of 2018 to change the zoning of the shuttered 25-acre campus from a residential use “to allow for other uses,”
For a college or educational center
That zoning has not been approved yet
That is why the company is sitting on it
They can’t do anything with it especially with a proposed at a town￼
It’s so wrong across Long Island there are terrible zoning regulations preventing economic growth this is one of them
jameswritesbest (author) on November 06, 2017:
Thank you for your comments. I remember and enjoyed the Lions Den. Agreed the environment was warm, welcoming and I'll add personal. It's sad Dowling is no more. I'm just hoping it remains a place of learning of some kind and doesn't become a country club or catering hall. That would upset me further.
E Mcconkey on November 06, 2017:
I was a student at Dowling in the mid to late 70,s . I just heard about the closing. It hurts. My father was a Dean, and I remember the extra hours and effort he put in to the school, as well as the professors, other administrators and the staff. They created a warm and welcoming environment. This was during the Robinson (1st) administration. The end of my tenure was during the beginning of the Meskill admin. My father soon left Dowling for a presidency. My father was even one of the originators of the Lions Den. I remember the change in the direction of DC. As with any business you must weigh your decisions carefully, or not. I saw the soul of DC fading away. As well as the potential for a solid bottom line. It pains me that DC went down as dad had built the night school so much and started the first in nation degree for the air traffic controllers. I still have MANY happy memories of DC. and I remember his warnings. I'm just glad that my father is not here to see this.
Dan on September 06, 2017:
I graduated from Dowling in the late 90's and at that time it was doing very well. They were making a lot of money with their education programs, training teachers but unfortunately those programs were largely a scam, not just at Dowling but at other colleges as well. There are very few teacher job openings for the graduates at nearby school systems and the ones faraway that do have openings, pay wages below the poverty level. This has become public knowledge now and fewer people are doing these educational programs that helped fund Dowling. Throw in the costly NAT center where you can only train a limited number of students due to the required resources for flying and you have created a recipe for going bankrupt. They also had a series of presidents in recent years that just seemed to milk the job and failed come up with any viable solutions before bankruptcy was left to be the only option. A very sad situation that it could not be saved. Make no mistake, by the 1990's, until it closed, it had extremely bright and talented professors and provided a top-notch private college education with small class sizes and amazing facilities. Unfortunately money is made by focusing on quantity over quality these days.
Joe 1dot0 on May 13, 2017:
I attended Dowling College for one academic year in the mid-1970's and could not wait to transfer out of that hole after one semester. Both dorm and academic administration were an incompetent joke.
They put a Linguistics teacher in charge of an Algebra class, who couldn't hack it. Complaints ended the class halfway through the semester and they distributed us to two other over loaded sections,or could take "Incompletes" and screw up our progression at no fault of our own .
The dorm was a ghettos. For the spring semester, we waited until mid-February to occupy our chosen apartment because Mike the dorm director would not evict a welfare occupant in time who had no affiliation with the college. The kitchen was crawling with roaches until we left in May, despite repeated visits by exterminated.
I am surprised D.C. lasted the decade, let only 40 more years. Their real purpose in life was to handle drop-downs from SUNY Stony Brook in Junior year when they could not hack their academics.
Consider this bankruptcy and closure a mercy killing and long overdue. Good riddance. There is a God.
Keith M. Dallas on January 30, 2017:
Moving article, James, and I definitely sympathize. It definitely sounds like Dowling's fatal error was "delusions of grandeur." I would be greatly surprised if someone bought the campuses to resurrect the college. As much as it pains me to say it, a catering hall or country club is going to be more profitable than an academic institution... or at least not as expensive to operate.