$1 million funding boost for Dover parking garage

Rep. Sean Lynn

Sean Lynn

DOVER — Reps. Sean Lynn and Trey Paradee share an affinity for downtown Dover, having grown up in the city before deciding to operate their businesses in the downtown Dover corridor.

They both agree with city of Dover officials that the addition of a parking garage near Loockerman Street is something that will spur investment and help revitalize the city’s downtown area.

That was the catalyst for Reps. Lynn and Paradee, along with Reps. Andria Bennett, Willam Carson and Sens. Brian Bushweller and Bruce Ennis, to lead the charge last week to secure $1 million in Bond Bill funding for the city of Dover for the construction of a parking garage in the downtown area.

Rep. Trey Paradee

Trey Paradee

The fiscal 2019 Bond Bill was finalized last week by a bipartisan, bicameral committee and will be introduced in the House this week. The General Assembly is to vote on the $769 million capital improvement plan before the legislative session ends on Saturday.

While $1 million in funding will not fully pay for the parking structure, Rep. Lynn said it will certainly get the ball rolling on the project. Dover officials hope to attain additional funding possibly through a private-public partnership.

Reps. Lynn and Paradee are natives of Dover and said they fondly recall childhoods spent in and around the Loockerman Street corridor.
“We believe in Dover, and one of our collective legislative priorities is the restoration and revitalization of the downtown,” the representatives said in a statement. “The solution to the parking woes of the center city are integral to that effort.

“We are proud and grateful that our colleagues joined us in this effort to invest in the future of the city of Dover.”

Dover City Council President Timothy Slavin and Mayor Robin Christiansen have pushed a city-driven initiative to construct a vertical parking structure.

President Slavin was pleased to know that if the city receives the $1 million in funding this week, the parking garage could finally become a reality.

“This funding is a game-changer for the downtown Dover revitalization efforts,” he said. “Improved parking is the infrastructure improvement which citizens want and asked for.”

Dover City Manager Donna Mitchell made a request to Rep. Lynn in May for $1 million that would go toward the construction of a 400-plus vehicle parking garage in the central downtown area.

Ms. Mitchell wrote, “This project will increase parking availability, allow reuse of existing surface parking lots for more economically viable uses and send a signal to potential investors and entrepreneurs that the downtown is open for business.

“We conservatively expect that redevelopment could generate upwards of $25 million in new construction.”

Mr. Slavin has promoted the push for safe, secure parking downtown for several years. Dover’s parking situation is currently a hodgepodge of lots scattered around the city that tend to create confusion more than confidence.

“A visitor may arrive at Disney World 20 miles before they park their car, but the signage is designed to create confidence that they do not have to worry anymore, and the signs will take them exactly where they need to go,” Mr. Slavin said, at a city council meeting last year.

Mr. Slavin added that a vertical parking garage in Dover would go a long way toward establishing that kind of confidence for visitors in knowing where they could park.

“What is different now than it was 10 years ago is that the (Downtown Dover Partnership) has a number of ground surface areas that could be built upon,” he said.

That includes the current parking lot on Bradford Street that many believe would be an ideal location for such a structure.

The potential of a parking garage has downtown merchants feeling more optimistic about the future.

Todd Stonesifer, a downtown Dover merchant, realtor and founding member of Destination Downtown Dover, said the addition of a vertical parking structure could breathe new life into the effort to reopen the Schwartz Center for the Arts, which closed its doors last summer.

“While there is currently enough parking, we will certainly be chasing our tails if two or three more small businesses open,” Mr. Stonesifer said, “and we have a gem in the Schwartz Center for the Arts that cannot operate during normal business hours because there is definitely not enough parking for its patrons until after 5 p.m.

“In order to attract more activity downtown, we definitely need to address parking, and a vertical structure is definitely the way to do that. If you build it, they will come.”

Gary Knox, owner of Forney’s Too off Loockerman Street, said he believes a parking structure could make potential shoppers feel safer.
“A properly maintained, safe and secure parking garage, with reasonable fees, would be a draw for new customers who haven’t visited downtown yet,” Mr. Knox said.

Dover City Councilman Tanner Polce is thrilled that so many area legislators got together to make the push for the parking garage funding.

“For far too long have we heard about the parking concerns in our downtown,” Councilman Polce said. “I am pleased that the state, under the leadership of Reps. Lynn, Paradee, Bennett and Carson, and Sens. Ennis and Bushweller, has taken action and have requested a financial commitment to making a parking gaage a reality.

“The city and the folks that call it home are calling for bold change. I’m thrilled to be part of this movement.”

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

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