Buildings eyed for Dover’s Loockerman Way Plaza

Members of the city of Dover Historic District Commission viewed plans for the construction of a pair of new mixed-use buildings in the City Hall conference room on Thursday afternoon. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

Members of the city of Dover Historic District Commission viewed plans for the construction of a pair of new mixed-use buildings in the City Hall conference room on Thursday afternoon. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

DOVER — A new look for downtown Dover, the construction of a pair of mixed-use buildings that are planned to be built on what is known as Loockerman Way Plaza, took its first steps toward becoming a reality on Thursday.

The city of Dover Historic District Commission got a sneak peek at the large project planned for 126 W. Loockerman St., which is a part of the Downtown Development District program overseen by the Delaware State Housing Authority.

The Historic District Commission voted unanimously to approve the architectural designs — with two minor conditions — and now the project is headed to the city of Dover Planning Commission in September.

“I’m very excited,” said Bob MacLeish, president of Magnolia’s Lighthouse Construction Inc., which is developing the property registered as Loockerman Plaza LLC. “I’m looking forward to moving on to the next steps.

“We think it is [a good idea]. We’re very proactive and I think it’s very important. I think there are a lot of good things happening [downtown] and I don’t want to focus on the negative. I just try to focus on the positive.”

Mr. MacLeish hopes his company can begin construction on the project next spring and is able to complete the first building in 2018.

Investors are spending more than $3 million on the development and construction of the three-story building, which will be built on the east side of Loockerman Way Plaza and will stretch between Loockerman and North streets with parking in the back.

Once that building is filled, plans are in place to build a second building on the west side, similar to the first one, but one story higher.

Buildings on Loockerman Way Plaza with stores, restaurants and apartments are in the design stage. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

Buildings on Loockerman Way Plaza with stores, restaurants and apartments are in the design stage. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

In a break from Loockerman Street tradition, the new buildings will not front Loockerman Street, but will face each other with the plaza in the middle.

MacLeish and his architect, Jules Dingle from design firm DIGSAU out of Philadelphia, said they plan to have retail stores and restaurants on the first floors of the buildings. The apartments, which will make up the upper floors, will feature protruding small balconies that will overlook the plaza.

A couple of owners of neighboring businesses and city residents objected to the designs of the project that were presented to the Historic District Commission, saying the buildings were “very minimalist” and one person said “the windows remind me of a college dorm at the University of Delaware.”

Mr. Dingle was ready for the critique of the buildings, which will be built as Federal-style and be made out of bricks.

“It’s part of what you do when you build in the public realm and it’s part of why we like doing these projects because there are a lot of voices,” he said. “There were opinions that we agreed with and opinions that we didn’t, but I think that’s part of what’s rewarding about building in the public realm.”

Mr. Dingle added that sometimes drawings and renderings don’t show the potential and beauty of a project. He said the builders are vested in the success of the project, as is the community.

“It’s just a discussion and everybody has a stake in it, especially in cities,” Mr. Dingle said. “It’s something that’s important to them and they want to be proud of it. And we want to be a part of something that people are proud of.

“Sometimes it takes getting the building built for people to realize that it’s something they can be proud of, and that’s part of the process, too.”

Some people voiced concern that the project will cost the city the gathering space that Loockerman Way Plaza has become over recent years, hosting community events such as the Farmers Market every Wednesday throughout the summer.

Mr. Dingle said the paved center of the courtyard will remain, featuring a walkway and gathering space between the two buildings, shade trees and flowers.

Judy Diogo, president of the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, reminded those gathered that the project could provide a needed spark to downtown Dover business. She said the city should honor its traditions, while looking forward at the same time.

Joseph McDaniel, a member of the Historic District Commission, agreed with Ms. Diogo.

“I think [the project] will be a catalyst to make other things happen down there,” he said. “I liked the presentation. Obviously, I liked the project. I think I was more in favor of it than some of the other members were. I think a lot of thought went into it and someone’s going to make a tremendous capital investment.”

For Mr. Dingle, he said he realized that Thursday’s meeting was just the first of many hurdles that he will have to cross before construction begins.

“The ball’s rolling. It’s these first steps for people that are willing to make this kind of investment,” he said. “I believe the sort of groundswell of revitalized Main Streets across America and the logic of what we’ve learned from those is important.

“Could we fail? Sure. But the chances of succeeding totally outweigh the cost of failure.”

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

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