Seaford works with county, state, developer to build business park

The conceptual plan for the city of Seaford’s Western Sussex Business Campus, along Ross Station Road and Herring Road. (Submitted photo)

SEAFORD — The city is partnering with Sussex County, the state of Delaware and a private developer to plant seeds of economic potential in a swath of open land on Seaford’s northern edge.

The four entities are coming together to create a business campus that could bring dozens of new jobs to the local economy.

At its Tuesday meeting, Sussex County Council voted to partner with the city in the development of the new Western Sussex Business Campus, a proposed complex for commercial, industrial and manufacturing activity on a plot of more than 100 acres off Herring Road and Ross Station Road.

Under the approved proposal, Sussex County will assist Seaford in funding the necessary infrastructure improvements to the property, which will lay the foundation for companies to move to the park, bringing with them new jobs, increased property values and direct and indirect economic effects to the area.

“The city of Seaford has had a clear vision on the possibilities of this property. We knew that without infrastructure, this would be slow-going to attract businesses to consider us,” Seaford Mayor David Genshaw said. “Partnering with the county adds velocity to this vision of bringing good-paying jobs to Seaford and western Sussex.”

The property, adjacent to the Ross Mansion and in proximity to the Seaford Industrial Park, was purchased by the city as part of a larger tract of land for commercial/industrial development in the mid-1990s. The Ross Business Park was carved out of and later developed from that initial purchase.

Sussex officials have pledged county funding, not to exceed $1.88 million, as its portion of the investment, with the city, which presently owns the land, contributing $600,000 to the project. There are additional funds under consideration in Seaford’s fiscal year 2022 budget.

County Council’s vote was 4-1 to allocate funding for infrastructure in Phase 1A of the business campus project. Council members Doug Hudson, John Rieley, Michael Vincent and Irwin “I.G.” Burton supported the partnership with the city. Samuel Wilson Jr. opposed it.

“So, in essence, between the county and city’s partnership, we’re attracting this business into this park by making the investment in the infrastructure, and they, in turn, are making the investment into the facility,” said Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson. “We are a partner. But Seaford, they are going to control the construction of the project. We are in a reimbursement position. All invoices will come to the Finance Department.”

Invoices will be reviewed and approved by Sussex County Finance Director Gina Jennings and staff, then reimbursed as they are paid, Mr. Lawson said.
Meanwhile, the city of Seaford is working on an agreement of sale with a private developer, who is slated to buy about half the acreage of the complex.

The yet-to-be-identified developer, in turn, will construct a 50,000-square-foot commercial building within 18 months following contract approval. This investment is estimated between $4 million to $5 million, and the developer will market the new facility to prospective tenants.

Overall, the city’s plan is to develop the 100 acres with infrastructure, ultimately creating shovel-ready parcels in three phases — 1A, 1B and 2.

City and county officials hailed the arrangement as a prime example of a public-private partnership that has a singular goal: to advance economic development opportunities in Seaford and the surrounding areas.

County officials lauded the proposal and the opportunity to work with Seaford on a project that is collaborative, rather than competitive.

“We know that western Sussex needs a boost when it comes to economic development, and people want to see results. They need jobs. They want opportunity. A project like this has a lot of promise to deliver on those expectations for many years to come,” said Council President Vincent. “We believe a joint effort, such as the Western Sussex Business Campus, is a perfect way for the city, the county, the state and the private sector to marshal their resources and work together, rather than in separate silos, to achieve the same goal.”

Councilman Burton agreed.

“I think this is a great example of us following our comprehensive land use plan and producing some really good economic development,” he said.

County officials said the venture dovetails with one of the economic development strategies in the 2018 Sussex County comprehensive plan, which calls for the exploration of public-private partnerships for the development of additional industrial parks within the county.

Sussex County already has more than $1 million set aside in the fiscal year 2021 budget for the development of a western Sussex business park.

Mr. Lawson said the County Council “has been very bullish” in trying to seek and find opportunities on the western side of the county.

In mid-November, Seaford officials pitched the business park proposal to council, spurred by developer interest in undeveloped city-owned land along Herring Road and Ross Station Road.

In addition to Sussex County’s assistance, the city has worked with the state, dating back to the earliest days of the property acquisition, first with the initial appropriation of $500,000 in the 1995 state bond bill to purchase approximately 243 acres.

Some portions of that acreage look very different today, having been developed in the past quarter-century as the home of the Western Sussex Boys & Girls Club, the Seaford Sports Complex and Jay’s Nest, the Seaford District Library and many new businesses, including FedEx, Polytechnic Resources, Ditch Witch and more.

Even with those additions and development during the past 25 years, more than 100 acres of the original property purchased remains ready as prime real estate for commercial/industrial development.

In 2019, the city received additional state bond bill funding in the amount of $350,000 to begin the engineering design and construction of a commercial entrance and utilities. Having sites that are truly shovel-ready is much more attractive to developers, as it significantly shortens the time from start of construction to open of business.

State Rep. Daniel Short, R-Seaford, was on Seaford City Council at the time of the land acquisition in 1995.

“Seaford has always maintained a steadfast focus on growth, as evident by the council’s decisions in the early 1990s. Now more than ever, our community and the surrounding region greatly need job opportunities,” said Rep. Short. “This collaboration is yet another good example of how we can work collectively to provide the right environment, primed for business development and job growth.”

Rep. Short added that he “looks forward to seeing the Western Sussex Business Campus prosper and Seaford and Sussex County benefiting from its growth and success.”