Harrington growth on the rise: The future is bright for ‘Hub of Delaware’

 

Harrington City Planner Jeremy Rothwell talks about the recent business development in the town. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

HARRINGTON — It’s fitting that the city of Harrington, which has developed throughout the years at a railroad junction in central Delaware, is enjoying consistent growth as progress has chugged along steadily over the past year.

Harrington, which considers itself to be the “Hub of Delaware,” due to its location in the middle of the state, was named one of five cities and towns honored to be a part of the Governor’s Downtown Development District program in August 2016.

“In August of last year, we received our Downtown Development District designation, so we’re one of only a handful in the state,” said Jeremy Rothwell, who took over as Harrington’s city planner a year ago. “It certainly has appeared to have spurred some interest in some building projects downtown.”

That, along with an increase in new home construction and an influx of new businesses, is helping the city become known for more than hosting the annual Delaware State Fair every summer, the Harrington Raceway and Casino, and agricultural interests.

While the city is certainly proud of those things, it also is trying to attract new businesses in the hope of revitalizing the downtown area, and along the U.S. 13 corridor that runs through the east side of town.

Harrington Mayor Anthony R. Moyer, in his Annual Report to the Electors of the City, noted the growth that has been taking place over the past recent months in the city.

“It is with great pleasure that I am able to report to the electorate that the city is in a fiscally stable position and is starting to grow,” Mayor Moyer said. “There have been many decisions made in the last year that will put us on a sure footing for growth and prosperity.

“The city council has adopted both citywide and downtown specific incentives to encourage building and investing in our city. Reductions and waivers for various fees have been made along with changes to the Zoning Code. All while still protecting our character.”

Designation spurs growth

When Harrington was named as one of five cities named to the Downtown Development District program last year, joining Smyrna, Milford, Georgetown and Laurel, it ensured that the development of residential, commercial or industrial properties may now qualify for state and local development incentives, including 20 percent state grant rebates.

Kent County Levy Court is also offering some initiatives to spur development.

Dover, Seaford and Wilmington were selected in January 2015 as Delaware’s first DDD class. Since 2015, $14 million in DDD grant funding has leveraged $290 million of private investment in those cities.

Harrington, a city of around 3,500 residents, is hoping to follow the same path.

Connections Community Support Program, a detox center in the city, received $195,000 in funding from the state as it prepares to double the size of its facility in the old Spartan Station shopping center.

“They are currently using about half of (the shopping center) right now,” Mr. Rothwell said, of Connections. “So, they are doubling the size of their facility, going from 10 beds to 28 beds. They’re going to be using the entire shopping center and they’re going to be doing a complete renovation of that building.”

Stone’s Bar & Grill, a fixture for many years downtown, will also be the focus of DDD funds as it is in the process of completing rehabilitation of 11 second-story apartments above the business.

Stone’s was the scene of an electrical fire in February 2015 which closed the business and displaced many tenants.

With the facility’s future in doubt, Rich and Gina Kratsas bought Stone’s in January 2016 and immediately began construction to give the local bar and restaurant new life as it reopened on Sept. 17, 2016.

“They completely renovated and gutted the first floor,” said Mr. Rothwell. “If you haven’t been in there it’s gorgeous, especially compared to what it used to look like.

“Unfortunately, that work was done just prior to the Downtown Development designation, so they weren’t eligible.”

The good news is, the rehab for the apartments above Stone’s will be eligible for DDD funding.

Downtown Junction, located adjacent to Stone’s, has a $200,000 project in the works to add four apartments to the second floor of its building.

“They initially were going to put in an adult day care center on the first floor,” Mr. Rothwell said. “They decided against it because they couldn’t get a tenant to do that, so they’re going to keep the (convenience) store on the first floor but they are going to add four apartments on the second floor.”

In other DDD projects, Mr. Rothwell said that WSFS has put a “few hundred thousand dollars” into renovating its building at 7 Commerce Street.

“You really can’t tell it because it’s a lot more structural stuff,” he said. “It’s not something that you can actually see, but they did get back around $15,000 in state funding.”

Mr. Rothwell also said that Bill Staples took over Curt Conley’s business at the intersection of Dorman and Commerce Street and renovated that building, also receiving funding.

“We have a couple of other DDD projects coming up,” Mr. Rothwell said. “One of the largest houses in town, the Franklin Mansion, is being renovated.”

Business, residential
pace starting to quicken

Even outside of the downtown district, the pulse of new businesses and homes being built and locating to Harrington appears to be picking up.

A brand-new 6,778-square-foot Advance Auto Parts store, located at 1049 Midway Drive, will be hosting a ribbon-cutting for its grand opening on Tuesday.

The one-story steel and masonry building includes a glass storefront and a new entrance to the shopping center — which includes a Food Lion grocery store — on northbound U.S. 13.

Jeffery Phillips, developer and owner of the auto parts store, was pleased his contractor, Gillis Gilkerson, was able to complete construction by the new year.

“From start to finish, Gillis Gilkerson was phenomenal to work with,” Mr. Phillips said. “Through the bid process they were completely on target and with the timeline of the project.”

Those who enjoy a quick meal will also be pleased to know that Taco Bell will be opening a new restaurant on the northern border of Harrington’s city limits at 16680 S. DuPont Highway, in early 2018. It will be at the site of the former American Legion building.

“Taco Bell is coming,” said Mr. Rothwell. “They’re waiting on their final approvals from (the Delaware Department of Transportation) and Kent Conservation District. I expect them to get their final approval here in the next month and I think by February they’re going to have construction started, depending on weather, of course.”

Mr. Rothwell added that he expects the construction of the Taco Bell to bring another project back on the northbound side of the U.S. 13 corridor.

“Bryan Lessard, of Lessard Builders, obtained preliminary plan approval years and years ago to construct what was called the Harrington Retail Center along Route 13,” he said. “If you go north to Dover right as you’re leaving town, there’s a big sign that says ‘Harrington Retail Center.’

“With Taco Bell coming, Bryan Lessard is working out a deal together, so they are going to be putting in a very large water and sewer line (together) to actually be able to accommodate the Harrington Retail Center, and then he’s going to resubmit (plans) I expect over the new few months.”

As far as housing, permits have been issued for the construction of 10 new homes in Harrington so far in 2017, with some being complete teardowns and rebuilds in the downtown area.

The city has two contractors actively building houses, Darren Simpson of Blue Hen Construction and Henry Mast of Friendship Builders.

Future appears bright

Xergy Inc., which moved from Seaford to a small segment of the former Color-Box manufacturing site on the east side of Harrington, is a cutting-edge company in terms of technology.

XERGY moved from Seaford to Harrington. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

It very well could be leading the city into the future when it comes to businesses.

“They have at least 20 employees and I’m not 100 percent sure exactly what they do, but they have (around) seven patents and they design and test and manufacture component parts for really high-tech HVAC systems,” Mr. Rothwell said. “Some of it goes on satellites and is even used on the (International) Space Station.”

As for now, some other potential future business projects for Harrington include the construction of a new public library by the Lake Forest South Elementary School, located at 301 Dorman Street.

“In June the city purchased a 4.2-acre parcel right next to the elementary school,” said Mr. Rothwell. “The city is working with Becker Morgan to design it right now. Once it’s designed we’ll go out to reapply for state funding, foundation funding, and then actually construct it. It’s probably another year off before we even do construction.”

Meanwhile, Bridle Bit Liquors, at 17384 S. DuPont Highway, just received approval from the city to do a complete teardown and rebuild of its store.

A 296-apartment complex known as Harrington Gardens received preliminary site plan approval from the Planning Commission back in 2008, but it has expired.

Mr. Rothwell said the developer has a contract purchaser who wants to develop the property. To do so, they had to go back through the process, which they recently did.

“Whether that (project) happens, I don’t know,” he said. “So, the approvals are done. It’s a matter of are they going to take that big leap and put boots on the ground?”

One organization making sure that Harrington’s future tips its hat to the past is Delmarva Central Railroad — a subsidiary of Carload Express — which is headquartered in Harrington and operates the Delmarva Central short line.

“This is an exciting opportunity for Carload Express to develop and enhance efficient, safe and customer-focused freight rail service on the Delmarva Peninsula,” said Carload Express CEO Russell Peterson, before his company begin operating in Delaware last December. “Our team is eager to serve our new customers, create new jobs for local residents and support the economic development of the region.

“Carload is ideally positioned to serve Delmarva’s agricultural and aggregate industries. The growth of these stable commodities suit our overall corporate growth strategy of carefully selecting stand-alone rail networks with a diversity of freight traffic.”

It’s another part of what Mayor Moyer envisions as a promising future for the city of Harrington.

“The future of Harrington is bright,” the mayor said. “While the word family is tossed around to describe communities, I can think of no better way to describe this city.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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