CHESTERTOWN — Once the ink dried, Washington College on Tuesday morning announced in a news release that it had been “gifted” the 800 High St. property that currently houses The Dixon Group headquarters and manufacturing plant — an 11-acre site with an assessed value of $3.35 million, according to online records of the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation.
Longtime residents of Chestertown will remember the property as a former Vita Food pickle plant.
Dixon Valve and Coupling Co., which celebrated its centennial in 2016, moved there from Philadelphia in 1976.
The college quietly took ownership Monday.
“This has been in the planing stages for a while, and we decided to wait until it was fully completed before making an announcement,” Kate Gray, president of KRM Development Corp., said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
KRM Development is the real estate division of Chestertown-based The Dixon Group.
There was “zero ceremony” Monday, Gray said. The occasion was marked by the signing of legal documents.
“Dixon and KRM have been consistent supporters of the College, by hiring our alumni, creating terrific internships for our students, and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with us on so many of the challenging issues which face Chestertown and Kent County,” college President Kurt Landgraf said in Tuesday’s news release. “Our gratitude is deep and heartfelt for this remarkable donation, and for all of their continued and many-faceted contributions to Washington College.”
Gray said Dixon Valve and Coupling Co. and KRM Development Corp. — companies of The Dixon Group — will continue to operate out of 800 High St. until they move to their new facilities under construction at the northern end of town.
What has been loosely referred to as the Dixon Campus, accessed from Scheeler Road off state Route 213, is being built in phases.
Phase I is a 180,000-square-foot distribution center that has been completed, “though it is not fully operational yet,” Gray said in a follow-up email Tuesday.
Phase II is the office headquarters (60,000 square feet) and Phase III is the manufacturing plant (100,000 square feet). The office building is under construction and should be completed by mid-2020, Gray said.
Site work has started at what will be the manufacturing plant, but the Chestertown Planning Commission still needs to grant a final building permit.
All manufacturing will continue at 800 High St. until Phase III is completed, Gray said.
The 800 High St. property also includes Kent Athletic and Wellness Center.
The Dixon Group and the YMCA of the Chesapeake announced in October that the Kent County Family YMCA will take over operations of KAWC beginning Jan. 1. There are plans for a full-facility YMCA on the corner of Haacke Drive and Scheeler Road. Construction should begin sometime next year, Gray said.
The 800 High St. property is currently on the town’s tax rolls and will continue to be as long as it is being used by The Dixon Group, Gray confirmed Tuesday.
Once the college takes occupancy, it would file for an exemption, Wendy Clarke, director of college communications, said in an email Wednesday.
The college has not said what use it would make of the gifted property, which Landgraf in the news release described as “extremely important.”
Its proximity — a portion of the property sits across the rail trail from the college’s Office of Buildings and Grounds and the Johnson Fitness Center — “gives us the potential for a range of options,” Landgraf said in the news release.
The gift of 800 High St. comes at a time when Washington College is trying to unload property.
The college’s vice president of finance announced at a March 4 Chestertown council meeting that six properties were to be placed on the market that week. The most pricey was a 13-acre lot on Morgnec Road near the LaMotte Company.
The college had purchased substantial real estate over the last 10 to 20 years as investments and potential sites for expansion.
“After a thorough review of the college’s current real estate holdings, we determined that much of this real estate does not contribute to the strategy or core mission of the college,” Clarke said in an email Wednesday.
She said selling off the property allowed the college to shed the substantial carrying costs and redirect funds to support its central operation.
Clarke said five residential properties have been sold: 102, 134 and 148 Prospect St., 310 College Ave. and 301 Washington Ave.
The 13-acre lot is still on the market. It is not under contract, Clarke said, dispelling rumors. She said in an email that the property “is well situated for commercial development and was purchased for investment purposes.”
The college has owned the 13-acre lot on the northwest corner of state Routes 213 and 291 since 2006. The property was purchased from the County Commissioners of Kent County for $1.5 million, according to online SDAT records.
Two additional properties recently were put on the market: 309 and 500 Washington Ave. Clarke said the expectation is that they will be sold “within the next year.”
There has been widely circulated scuttlebutt in Chestertown about the financial challenges that Washington College is facing.
Clarke was asked why at this juncture the college would take on more property — especially one as large as 800 Hight St.
“The college considers its options on each property on a case by case basis. In this case, the benefits of accepting the gift, especially considering its location contiguous to the main campus, outweigh the costs,” Clarke said in an email.
“If the college receives a gift of property, as is the case with 800 High St., we engage in a process of determining the best use, so we would be quite a long way from any decision about what to do with it,” she said.
Gray described the transfer of property as “a win for the college and the community.”