Developers pitch big ideas in Little Creek

Tom Antoniou plans to demolish the old Cavaliers East Restaurant in Little Creek and redevelop the lot to include a three-story, 30,000-square-foot mixed use building. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

LITTLE CREEK — Little Creek’s mayor and two developers claim the small town’s long-vacant commercial property is about to “wake up” in a big way.

To a large extent, the interest in the town’s commercial property is a product of the new DNREC-built pier just officially opened on Tuesday, says Mayor Glenn Gauvry.

“The town is loving the pier — just the other day I was walking by and there was a guy fishing off it talking to two other people in kayaks on the river,” he said. “Ever since it was announced it has caused a lot of interest in the town’s economic zone. I think the state’s project, as part of the Rt. 9 Bayshore Byway Initiative, is really helping Little Creek come into its own.”

The $1.9 million pier project was paid for by federal, state and local funds and it includes a single-lane boat ramp, floating 80-foot aluminum dock, kayak launch and dock for a DNREC enforcement boat.

For Little Creek resident and Realtor Tom Antoniou the pier is what’s driving him to pursue his plan for “Little River Landing,” a proposed three-story mixed use building on the site of the old Cavaliers East Restaurant on 63 Main Street.

A concept sketch of Mr. Antoniou’s proposed residential/commercial building in Little Creek. (Submitted)

“The property has been for sale for about 30 years, back in its heyday it was The Coral Reef Restaurant — I actually took my wife there on our first date,” he said. “The boat launch and pier were the impetus for our project, but I’ve always thought this area was going to make a comeback. I hate to say it, but a lot of people actually turn their noses up at these small towns like Little Creek and Leipsic. They used to be really prosperous though, I think they can be that way again.”

Working with Mayor Gauvry and the town council, Mr. Antoniou has obtained approval to zone the property as mixed use — both residential and commercial. Currently in the process of completing his purchase, he plans to demolish the debilitated 10,000-square-foot building but rebuild a 3-story, 30,000-square-foot building in its place.

“We’d plan on having the two upper floors for residential space and the ground floor would be commercial space,” he added. “We’ve already gotten some commitments from a restaurant, outdoor sporting goods store and convenience store. If you look down the coast, these mixed use places where small commercial spaces are integrated with living spaces, they’re currently the most popular development zoning because they create walkable, livable communities.”

A couple fish on the pier at the Little Creek Boating and Fishing Access Area. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Hoping to finalize the purchase in the coming days, Mr. Antoniou says he hopes to break ground on the project — which could cost and estimated $4 million — in late June.

“It would be a big project, the whole parking lot would have to be elevated too because it’s in the floodplain,” he says. “I really am a believer in this area though, it’s not just talk. Delaware’s scenic Rt. 9 byway is a great little drive, but you can leave from Delaware City and drive all the way down without hitting a single commercial location like a gas station, liquor store or restaurant until you get to Little Heaven 50 miles away. It’s the longest stretch of Delaware paved road that doesn’t have any stores along it.”

Also drawn to the area, Middletown resident Joe Petroulis sees the area as ripe with opportunity.

“We used to run Joey O’s in Wilmington — a pizza, subs and ice cream place,” he said. “We closed it down though because of all the shooting a violence. But the building of the pier really brought my attention to Little Creek and I see a lot of potential for the area. There are a lot of tourists that pass through, and I think things are going to start brightening up.”

Mr. Petroulis claims he’s in the process of closing on the old Little Creek Deli & Market — half a block north of the Mr. Antoniou’s proposed project. He says he plans on renovating the building and offering pizza, subs and ice cream there. He also believes there is an opportunity to rent canoes and kayaks there for use at the new pier.

One thing both men agree on is the level of excitement and cooperation they’ve seen from local residents, the town council and the mayor.

“The conversations we’ve had with the town have been great — they’re very receptive to the idea,” said Mr. Antoniou. “They fast-tracked the approval of the zoning change and have just been great to work with. They really want to see their town come back.”

Mayor Gauvry said the zoning change is contingent upon Mr. Antoniou breaking ground by this fall.

“It’s an ambitious project, but if it’s done, it’ll bring new life to that entire area of town — we’re really excited about the idea,” said Mayor Gauvry.

Although high on enthusiasm, the big ideas remain on the drawing board at the moment. Kent County Planning director Sarah Keifer notes that she’s not yet seen any development plans for either project. The projects would be subject to county site plan approvals and building regulations that govern new construction in the floodplain.

Staff writer Ian Gronau can be reached at 741-8272 or igronau@newszap.com

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