Downtown Dover gets boost from new projects

One of four large buildings located at the corners of Loockerman and State streets, the Priscilla Block Building serves as almost a gateway to downtown Dover. Constructed in 1896, the building has seen a large number of surrounding businesses come and go. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

One of four large buildings located at the corners of Loockerman and State streets, the Priscilla Block Building serves as almost a gateway to downtown Dover. Constructed in 1896, the building has seen a large number of surrounding businesses come and go. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — Nine months after Dover was selected as one of three Downtown Development Districts, officials and investors say the program has benefited the city.

Four projects spurred by grants are underway or already have been completed, with several more to come.

The program is focused on increasing business development, with the goal of ultimately improving the downtown areas in three of Delaware’s biggest and most important cities: Wilmington, Seaford and Dover.
Businesses, nonprofits or individuals can receive state grants, and participating municipalities are encouraged to provide resources.

In Dover, officials have embraced the program. Investors sponsoring construction work that exceeds $25,000 can see a rebate of 20 percent as a result.

Projects are designated as either large or small, depending on whether builders are spending more or less than $250,000.

The state provided about $5.6 million for 13 large projects, 10 of which are located in Wilmington. One million dollars per city has been set aside from small grants.

For Dover construction, Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity was given a state grant of $75,150 to build five homes on Kirkwood Street. Two of those houses are finished, while one more is nearly done and the other two are yet to come, said Ann Marie Townshend, director of Dover’s Planning and Inspections.

G & J Holdings LLC also received $88,918 from the state to renovate the Priscilla Block Building.

One of four large buildings located at the corners of Loockerman and State streets, the Priscilla Block Building serves as almost a gateway to downtown Dover. Constructed in 1896, the building has seen a large number of surrounding businesses come and go.

Work is underway to turn the bottom floor into a restaurant and the top floor into office space.

Near the end of last month, the first two recipients of small awards were named. John and Karen Marble built a new house on Mary Street; Carmen Hardcastle rehabilitated an existing home on North Kirkwood Street. The Marbles received $28,578 and Ms. Hardcastle $7,187.

“We are really excited that the first three projects in Dover address three different goals of our district: new housing stock, renovation of existing housing stock and restoration of an historic building for a new business,” Dover City Council President Tim Slavin said in a statement.

“And we know this is just the beginning. With the DDD program and the commitment of the city and its partners, we know we have a recipe for long-term success.”

Dover has worked to coordinate with applicants, Ms. Townshend said, and has crafted brochures touting its commitment to development. The city has waived permit and license fees and provided tax breaks for investors in the projects.

“We have people who are initiating projects that, without the Downtown Development District, they have told us they would not have necessarily initiated,” she said.

And others are on the way. Three investors have almost finished applying for grants, while about four or five are earlier in the process, Ms. Townshend said.

The owners of the new Grey Fox Grille and Public House on South State Street relied on the Downtown Development District program. Grants have helped with the renovation costs, co-owners Ryan Weber and Diana Welch said in July.

Across the street from the Priscilla Block Building, the Barros, McNamara, Malkiewicz and Taylor law firm will see some work soon as well, Ms. Townshend said.

In a news release, the Marbles also spoke kindly of the initiative.

“Downtown Dover has always had a special place in our hearts,” Mr. Marble said. “Whether it be our leadership and participation in Sidewalk Sunday School or the board of directors for Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity, we feel that participation in these various groups is an excellent way to turn the tide downtown.

“But most of all, it all boils down to the private sector investing and engaging with the various conflicts and challenges posed.”

A list of the 13 large projects awarded grants through the Downtown Development District program. (Delaware State Housing Authority)

A list of the 13 large projects awarded grants through the Downtown Development District program. (Delaware State Housing Authority)

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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