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What will finally become of what was the Dowling College campus in Oakdale?

What will become of the scenic and historic former Dowling College campus in Oakdale if the deed is taken away from tax delinquent Mercury International by the County of Suffolk as expected in January 2021. After buying the campus in 2017 for $26.1 million, Mercury International failed to pay the county taxes and had owed Suffolk County $4 million. They recently paid $2.2 million. Will they pay the unpaid balance of $1.8 million? If they don't within the next 6 months, they lose their deed to the County of Suffolk.


Many of Dowling alumni and especially Oakdale residents were hoping Mercury International LLC who bought the Dowling College 25-arce waterfront campus in Oakdale for $26.1 million in 2017 would lose its deed if they don't pay the County of Suffolk the $4,000,000 it owes in taxes.

However, Mercury has paid $2.2 million and has six months to come up with the $1.8 million balance. If not, they lose their deed to the County of Suffolk. I recently inquired and they still are the property owners and have apparently worked out a payment arrangement.

In addition to being tax delinquent, Mercury never doesn't kept up with the property. The grass is frequently overgrown, windows of the mansion (Fortunoff Hall) were broken, the property was vandalized, etc...

Being a former graduate of Dowling College from the 1980s, I was happy to learn that Mercury International of Delaware who is affiliated with the buyer of record, Hong Kong based NCF Capital Ltd which purchased Dowling's Oakdale campus in the Fall of 2017 for $26.1 million, had proposed to reopen the historic 25-arces 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 did absolutely nothing, but sit on the properly 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 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.

The campus was later renamed Rudolph Campus after another wealthy benefactor, Scott Rudolph. To think my college closed because it became saddled with too much debt, $65.8 million to be exact, is sad and shocking.

Why did Dowling close? Likely adding a second 105-acre campus in 1994 in Shirley on Long Island, who's education focus was National Aviation and Transportation was a huge and costly mistake. That campus sold at auction to Triple Five Aviation for $14 million in August of 2018.

In the 1980's when I was a student in Oakdale, Dowling was not able to expand their student dormitories since the Idle Hour historic community would not allow it. As a result, Dowling looked to expand and build that sports facility they didn't have at their campus in Oakdale elsewhere.

So the dormitories and sports facilities were built in Shirley and Dowling over expanded. I though the campus in Oakdale was appealing enough to attract students who had a genuine interest in the Arts, Sciences, Business, Teaching and Aviation. They already had a small fleet of planes, a Rowing, Flying, Tennis, Basketball, Baseball and Lacrosse team. Wasn't that enough? Apparently not.

To think the degree that sits below the workstation I write from is from a middle states accredited college that doesn't exist anymore is sad and downright depressing. To see online both campuses being made available in bankruptcy via separate sealed-bid sales was hard to believe.

I'm was hoping another college or university would buy the Oakdale campus and turn it into what it was meant to be; a college. Or somehow Dowling could have stayed opened if they were only able to find that financially healthy educational partner. Unfortunately, they weren't able to.

NCF Capital Ltd., which operates under the name Mercury International of Delaware had the 2nd highest bid at $26.1. They become the buyer in 2017 and were identified in court documents as "An educational end-user."

I'm was then somewhat relieved that Dowling would still possibly remain a place of learning of some kind and that parts of the prime property have been preserved as landmark preservations. 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. And also for keeping the pressure on Mercury to care for the property and to bring the neglect to the public's attention. Almes and the Oakdale Historical Society succeeded.

Both the landmark preservation as well as the possibility that the Oakdale campus could still possibly remain a place of learning, diminishes my sadness slightly.

However, myself, 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

Mercury has

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.

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