Sheraton South

New Castle County Council unanimously voted to support an effort to bid for a hotel that could potentially become a homeless shelter.

The vote at its meeting Tuesday night gives the go-ahead to County Executive Matt Meyer to bid for the Sheraton South hotel, located at 365 Airport Road outside of New Castle. 

Money for the bid would come from the $322.8 million in federal CARES Act money the county received directly from the federal government. 

County Councilman Penrose Hollins called the project an opportunity to help the community without diving into the county taxpayers' pockets.

"The CARES Act does provide for New Castle County a golden opportunity and a transformational period for us to, really, seriously begin to address what we often call the vulnerable population. We know that we have an historic need to address the needs of the homeless population."

When the resolution was passed at around 7 p.m. Tuesday, the top bid for the property was $9.5 million. As of 1 a.m. Wednesday, the bid had increased to $10.5 million, according to an auction listing. It's unclear whose currently bidding on the property.

So far, bidding had not reached unspecified reserve, meaning the seller could pull the property off the market if that amount isn't reached by the bidding deadline of 1 p.m. Wednesday, October 28, 2020.

County council went into executive session to discuss its strategy on attempting to acquire the hotel, but other than a motion by Councilman George Smiley "to authorize the expenditure amount as discussed in executive session," it's unclear how much the county is willing to pay for the property.

Councilman Jea Street, who voted to support the attempt to acquire the Sheraton, voiced reservations that there are questions that still need to be answered on how the hotel would transition to become a place to house those experiencing homelessness.

"I don't know how you do this without being holistic in including a discussion about the cost of operations, including a discussion about the cost, where the services are going to come from and how they're going to be provided."

Street also pointed out that there is not currently a bus route that serves the hotel, which is the only property on the north side of Nonesuch Creek, which often floods with a light rain or even just a high astronomical tide. The nearest bus stop is along Route 141, at least a quarter-mile walk away.

Hollins said that potentially acquiring the hotel comes at nearly perfect timing, as COVID-19 restrictions going into the winter could prove problematic for programs that kick in when temperatures drop below 20 degrees.

"A lot of the Code Purple would not be able to be provided by a lot of our current providers, simply because they could not meet the distancing requirements during this pandemic."

While the short-term goal is to use the hotel as a homeless shelter, council also heard a presentation that California hotels similar to the Sheraton are being turned into long-term studio housing for those experiencing homelessness.

County Executive Meyer told WDEL's Rick Jensen Show that it could also serve a future as a social services hub.

"This could be a tremendous hub...for social service organizations that are on the front-lines of addressing issues of addiction and abuse, addressing issues of mental illness, addressing issues of domestic violence, sex trafficking, legal aid, even educational/academic tutoring needs," he told WDEL