Seaford proposes business park, asks county for help

GEORGETOWN — Seaford officials say interest in undeveloped city-owned land has spurred an initiative that includes a partnership pitch to Sussex County.

“Seaford has always been a draw for jobs for western Sussex dating all the way back to the river and then the railroad and then DuPont. We have great belief that this opportunity in Seaford is great, and this company that is wishing to build these buildings is going to be very successful,” said Seaford Mayor David Genshaw. “So we’re looking and seeking a partnership with Sussex County.”

David Genshaw

Mayor Genshaw and Seaford City Manager Charles Anderson presented the city’s Western Sussex Business Campus proposal to county officials during Tuesday’s County Council meeting.

Overall, the plan is to develop the 100 acres of land off Herring Run Road in three phases.

“We have tried to market this property for years with no luck,” said Mayor Genshaw. “What really happened was a developer that I have known for 25 years and builds industrial parks, we met back in March to look at that property. A few months ago, they made us an offer on half of it.

“We have a letter of intent, that is what we are calling it,” he said. “In essence, what the agreement is going to say is they wish to purchase the first 50 acres. And the deal is we need to put in the infrastructure. Once the infrastructure is in place, they have a commitment to build a building. They are in the business of leasing out buildings. They typically build a 50,000-square-foot or 60,000-square-foot warehouse-type of building, with office space upfront and a warehouse in the back, with dock-high doors on the back.”

Phase 1 would encompass the first four lots.

“That cost for Phase 1 to develop those four lots and make them shovel-ready would be about $1.9 million,” Mr. Anderson said. “Right now, we are going through the final phases of project approval, planned development with our engineers, which we have already been in process for about 18 to 24 months. Our plan … right now is to start construction in early spring of 2021. And if things … move forward, we should be ready with those first four lots to accommodate the developer’s request in the fall of 2021.”

Mr. Anderson said a Department of Transportation traffic study is complete and the entrance design off Herring Run Road has been finalized.

The proposed Western Sussex Business Campus would be in the general vicinity of Seaford’s existing two business grounds — the Ross Business Park and the Seaford Industrial Park. All lots in those parks have been sold, Mayor Genshaw said.

City officials at this point decline to identify the U.S.-based developer, but Mayor Genshaw said it has a history of highly successful business park ventures that are upscale.

“This developer, their intent is to build a campus with very high-end covenants. It will be a high-end park people will be very proud of,” he said. “Curbing will be completely different than our other two parks. This will have a theme and attract high-end. This company has done a very good job at what they do. They have been very successful. That’s why we are excited that they are here.”

County Councilman Samuel Wilson Jr. asked the Seaford officials about job potential.

“What kind of jobs are you talking about?” he asked.

“Well, I can only go on what this customer has done in other locations, and it’s really a mix — manufacturing, distribution, all sorts of different companies, large and small,” said Mayor Genshaw. “Typically, they build a building that is made up of suites. What they are proposing on this site is a 50,000-square-foot building. I believe they have eight suites. We’d like to get the first four sites ready in Phase 1. To be honest, they wanted to purchase the entire park. We sort of held back and said we’ll sell half.”

The cost is $12,000 per acre, Mr. Anderson said. The estimated total cost for the complete 100-acre infrastructure buildout is around $8 million, although Mayor Genshaw suspects it may prove to be higher.

City officials learned that Sussex County also “has a desire, as part of their plans, to grow business in western Sussex. The conversation became, would it be of interest to maybe join forces? Seaford already has the land, already has it zoned for M-1 industrial,” said Mayor Genshaw. “We’re all set to go. We just don’t have the infrastructure in place. To be honest, Seaford could muster the money up over years, but with the county joining forces, that would add a lot of velocity to this project.”

County Councilman John Rieley requested more information.

“Who is going to build and own buildings … developer, city?” he asked.

Mr. Anderson explained: “Our traditional model is we sell the land to developers. So they own the building. We then own the infrastructure — water, sewer, stormwater. We would sell lots for development.”

Councilman Doug Hudson asked if the developer has given the city any indication at this point as to “who might be interested in coming in.”

“We tend to believe that people that are going to invest $4 million to $6 million in building either have something up their sleeve or know something or see the potential,” said Mayor Genshaw. “I have known of this developer for many years, and they are very successful. The last park I saw them build out took about 15 years, and it is completely full now, and it is a very diverse group of businesses.”

Bill Pfaff, Sussex County’s economic development director, declined specific comment, saying only: “Today was just the beginning. We don’t know a whole lot. I think it’s premature. They were just floating it out.”

In light of this presentation, Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson asked council to give him the signal “when you are ready to bring this back for consideration related to the proposal … we’ll move forward.”

Mayor Genshaw said the city’s hope is it can make something happen with the county.

“We’re pursuing state money on all kinds of different levels, as well. That will help either offset what we need to partner with the county or offset our cost, as well,” he said. “Money adds velocity. It takes a ton of money. I talk to somebody in the state almost every week about funding of this park. They are very much aware of what we are trying to do. But we need more than just a pat on the back, saying, ‘We’re here for you.’ We need someone to write a check. It just costs so much money.

“Seaford has been a one-horse town. We’ve been down that road. It’s great when it’s great, and it’s really bad when it is not. I would love to see us attract a lot of different businesses,” added Mayor Genshaw. “We’re believing that this is a great opportunity to bring jobs to Seaford. This company runs a park nearby, and they have the inner circle of a park that is about 85 acres. And on that 85 acres, they calculate about 1,100 jobs.

“We’re not looking for any kind of overnight, slam-bam success, but it’s a step in a great direction — and hopefully for Seaford’s future, for our children and grandchildren, so they’ll have a place to have employment right here in Seaford.”