Dover Mall expansion moves forward

DOVER — With seven bills now approved by the General Assembly and signed into law, work on the planned expansion of the Dover Mall is continuing.

Simon Property Group and Western Development Corp., the owners of the 35-year-old mall, are behind a proposal to dramatically grow the facility.

The goal is to bring more stores to the area and increase foot traffic.

“The Dover Mall is in jeopardy as it currently exists,” said John Paradee, a lawyer who represents the owners, said.

A new road would allow for direct access to the expanded mall complex — known in blueprints as a power center — from Del. 1. However, the Department of Transportation is not scheduled to begin work on the road for years, and so supporters have proposed a public-private partnership.

Vehicles head south in front of the Dover Mall on U.S. 13 in Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Under the partnership, the road would be built with money from newly constructed tolls and would then be turned over to the state. It carries an estimated cost of $31 million, according to DelDOT.

Expansion of the mall property is separate from the road and would be paid for by the mall owners.

In the vision of backers, the Dover Mall would start to resemble the Christiana Mall, which boasts of 175 stores.

Legislation paving the way for the project passed with relatively little objection in the legislature, and those behind the plan are now working to get bonds and draw up the details of the public-private partnership.

“Essentially, we’re doing all of the due diligence necessary to support the issuance of bonds, revenue bonds, to finance the process,” Mr. Paradee said Monday.

The details of the public-private partnership must be ironed out and approved in writing by DelDOT, the Dover/Kent County Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Council on Transportation and the two co-chairs of the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Capital Improvement.

Bonds will likely be granted by M&T Bank, with the city as the issuer, although Dover will not be responsible for repaying the bonds, Mr. Paradee said.

He is hoping bonds will be issued by January, at which point the yearlong design phase can start in earnest. Once that is done, construction, which will take about 18 months, can begin.

Mr. Paradee expects the construction of the access road to greatly enhance the mall’s profile, bringing more companies and shoppers.

“We’re already talking to people who have told us, ‘If you build it, we will come,’” he said, although he declined to name what businesses the mall’s owners have heard from.

While the tolls may provide all the money needed to cover the cost, two other methods exist to raise funding if necessary.

Tax-increment financing would use the funds generated from the mall’s new, greater assessed value as a result of the expansion to pay off the debt.
Additionally, the mall property can be designated a special development district, letting the county and city assess more taxes on it.

Dover and Kent County officials have offered “glowing support,” Mr. Paradee said. Like other supporters, he is confident the measure will benefit both private businesses and local governments.

“In these difficult budget times we have to look for creative solutions to move Delaware forward and bolster local economies,” Rep. William Carson, D-Smyrna, said in a statement. “This one-of-a-kind partnership could become a model for the state at a time where we need transportation projects funded, but our state revenues are lacking.”

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