City councilman takes to the streets to address downtown Dover business issues

 

City Councilman David Anderson (middle with tag around neck), gathers his group together at City Hall to talk to downtown business owners on Monday morning. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

DOVER — The best way to find out how local businesses in downtown Dover are doing, according to City Councilman David Anderson, is to put on those walking shoes and take to the streets.

That’s exactly what Mr. Anderson, Downtown Dover Partnership Executive Director Joan Cote, acting City Manager Donna Mitchell and others did on Monday morning.

Councilman Anderson, who represents the 4th District, took a tour through the downtown area with his group and presented business owners with a questionnaire.

“The big objective is to do a little bit of a listening tour,” Mr. Anderson said. “They’ve got some fine city leaders and we just want to make sure that they know we care and we’re connected and we get valuable feedback.

“We want to find out what we’re doing right and what needs to change. The only way you’re actually going to make that connection is to get out on the street and meet some of the people.”

The tour started at The Moving Experience on Loockerman Street and made its way west, branching off to some other roads along the way.

The group tried to speak with business owners, but it they were unavailable, they also heard concerns from employees.

Fishing for feedback

Mr. Anderson and members of the group handed out a “Business Climate Survey” with eight questions regarding concerns, including safety and parking, and also tried to find out what the city is doing correctly.

“I think what (Mr. Anderson’s) doing is very good because he’s getting some feedback and I think that’s always a good thing,” Ms. Mitchell said. “I think what he’s attempting to do is get some feedback on how things are going locally for them and where they see the obstacles and ask him so questions.”

Ra’Shin Akins, a barber at Shep’s House of Styles, said he was pleased that the city was out gathering information, but added that action is more important than words.

Dover City Councilman David Anderson (left) talks with Gary Knox, owner of Forney’s Too on Loockerman Street, about the pluses and minuses of having a business in downtown Dover. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

“I think it’s good to be concerned but once stuff actually happens then it will be a better place,” Mr. Akins said. “I like the things they’re doing as far as having events like First Fridays and having the Farmers’ Market just to bring people downtown.

“People then get the chance to see what we have to offer.”

Reality vs. perception

Ms. Cote believes many of downtown Dover’s obstacles have become a reality versus perspective problem — and those need to be addressed.

“So it doesn’t matter whether it’s us or someone in the city believes it’s a problem, it’s how the people down here feel, whether it’s a merchant or someone visiting,” she said.

“I really believe that the city is turning a corner to be more involved, collaborating amongst different departments and with organizations downtown, and actually listening to people.”

Todd Stonesifer, president of The Moving Experience, said it’s nice to see city officials reaching out to local businesses and finding out ways they might be able to help them.

“The challenges I think that we all face is the parking perception — and it’s just that, it’s a perception,” Mr. Stonesifer said. “So to change culture and to change people’s perception of where they can park and where they can’t park and how far it really is to walk from around the corner at Bradford Street where there’s a parking lot …

“You know, it’s closer to do that than it is to park and go to see the movies at the mall.”

He added the perception of crime in the business district downtown is also exaggerated. He said OktDoverFest attracted around 6,000 visitors last Saturday night and there was “zero crime.”

Mr. Stonesifer did admit the downtown area did have some issues it still needs to address.

“We do have a growing homeless problem that seems to have some effect on a few of the businesses downtown,” he said. “The police are doing a great job improving some the activities that are not legal, such as panhandling and drugs.”

Mr. Anderson gets a slice of information from an employee at Angelo’s Pizza Shop regarding downtown business on Loockerman Street. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

Parking questions persist

While the Dover/Kent County Metropolitan Planning Organization is in the final stages of its Downtown Dover Parking Study before presenting it to city council, it doesn’t appear as if it will be recommending a parking garage be built in the area.

Mr. Akins is one downtown employee who believes the addition of a parking garage would be a huge bonus to downtown businesses.

“The biggest challenge for us right now is the parking,” he said. “If we have something like a designated place like a parking garage, (customers will) be like, ‘Oh, we’ve got a parking garage over here so we can pay like a dollar or whatever and we can park and we don’t have to worry about it and it won’t be too far of a walk.’”

Ms. Cote pointed out there is around 1,800 parking spaces downtown, which she says is adequate for a city the size of Dover.

However, she added that better signage needs to be installed and the city needs to do a better job at letting people know more clearly where they can park, at what price, and at what hours.

“Safety is a big issue, too,” Ms. Cote said. “We’ve got a wonderful new police chief (Marvin Mailey) again collaborating with a lot of the organizations down here to address issues. We’re all applying for grants under NCALL and Restoring Central Dover to address lighting (downtown) better.

Ra’Shin Akins, a barber at Shep’s House of Styles, said a parking garage would be a nice addition for downtown businesses. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

“I think the good thing is that everybody realizes that we’re going to be better together. We have to address the issues together and everyone’s going to have a piece of that puzzle to figure out how to make Dover even better and more beautiful than it already is.”

Mr. Anderson took his first steps toward that goal on Monday.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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