Downtown development investments make impact

HARRINGTON — More than $1.8 million has been invested in downtown Harrington to date thanks, in part, to funding made available through the state’s Downtown Development District program.

Gov. John Carney, Delaware State Housing Authority Director Anas Ben Addi and local leaders came together Wednesday morning at Main Street Café in Harrington for a roundtable discussion on the impact of those funds in the smallest municipality to take advantage of the Downtown Development District program.

“It started about three to six years back,” Mr. Ben Addi said. “And really, the purpose of the program is to power our local politicians . . . and to do what Delaware does best which is to enable private sectors and other partners to do their work and do their jobs in development.”

Seaford, Dover and Wilmington were chosen as designated towns when the program opened in 2015. Harrington was joined by Georgetown, Laurel, Milford and Smyrna when the next round of towns were announced in 2016.

It originally encompassed 33 acres of the downtown area, but recently doubled to include 72 acres in hopes of spurring more investments leading to quality housing and job opportunities for Harrington, according to City Planner Jeremy Rothwell.

“The domino effect this program has is just unreal,” State Planning Director Connie Holland said during the discussion. “It’s just the most positive thing I’ve seen in my 40 years of planning.”

For Harrington, the program has led to the completion of several projects that may not have happened if the DDD program was not involved.

“I’ve got, in the works or completed, seven [DDD] projects either for myself or other developers. I can tell you, from my perspective, the ones that I own would definitely not have happened without the DDD funding,” Blue Hen Construction Owner Darrin Simpson said.

In recent years, Mr. Simpson purchased a building in downtown Harrington many refer to as the Farrow building. Formerly the home of the Harrington Journal, the building sat vacant for many years and in need of more work than investors would like to provide.

Purchasing the building and offering the TLC it needed to survive saved it from pigeon infestation, major damages and ultimately, condemnation and demolition.

“It was not economically feasible for me to buy the building [before the DDD]. It’s one of the oldest buildings on the street. We lost one building next door to it already,” he said. “”Being from Harrington. . . I want to see the city grow. I like the heritage of the city; I don’t want to see that change. It was important to me that that building not be torn down.”

A total of two larger projects and four smaller projects have been completed using the DDD to spur their development. The program will cover up to 20 percent of the hard costs associated with construction projects within the pre-determined districts in the form of a rebate.

Connections benefited from the program in 2015 when it opened a withdrawal management clinic in the city’s first shopping center, the Quillen Shopping Center on East Street.

“The DDD helped us to leverage a $7 million rural development loan from the USDA and that allowed us to put together a program in Kent and Sussex County to help those with opioid disorder. We’ve been really grateful to the town of Harrington who helped us to get that off the ground in seven months,” Connections CEO and President Cathy McKay said.

She added that the development helped bring 70 new jobs to the area – some of which were professional jobs needed to support clients while other jobs were filled by those in recovery who can assist clients with a personal perspective.

“And a lot of them are working with DSHA to become homeowners to plan to stay here and work. I think you see a ripple effect in them being able to buy houses and be a part of the community as opposed to being a drain on the community,” Ms. McKay said.

According to the DSHA, a total of $29.3 million in rebates has spurred $551 million in private investments throughout the three Delaware counties.

“The DDD program has been a central part of our efforts to revitalize Delaware’s downtown business districts and drive private investment in our towns and cities. In just a few years, the DDD program has leveraged significant private investment in a wide variety of projects,” Gov. Carney said in a press release. “Encouraging private investment that also revitalizes our downtown business districts and surrounding neighborhoods is the goal of the DDD program, and we’re thrilled that it has been so successful.”

Eight more large projects rebates, reserved for a total of $4.6 million, were announced Wednesday afternoon.

The new projects stretch from Wilmington to Milford and include a variety of future retail, business and residential opportunities alike.

Dan Bond of Milford is one of several recipients as he works toward renovating the historic Wells Building in Milford. According to the DSHA, he is also working on nine new townhomes and the historic Pikus Building, previously known to many as Lou’s Bootery.

“I would not have taken on these projects if financial support from the DDD program had not been available. By combining financial support from the DD program with state and federal historic restoration tax credits, I plan to restore both of these historic buildings to their original glory,” he said.

NCALL is using funding to combine two properties in Dover to create a three-story office building. According to the DSHA, “NCALL’s proposed tenant, Delaware State University, plans to open a new small business incubator in this location. NCALL also plans to move their Restoring Central Dover staff to these offices.”

Among project opportunities in Wilmington are a multifamily development, a hotel with a restaurant and business center, apartments and an expansion of the Ministry of Caring’s St. Josephine Bakhita House.

“The DDD Program is doing exactly what we intended – attracting significant private investment to our downtowns,” Mr. Ben Addi said in a press release. “We’re excited to support new projects that are bringing businesses and jobs downtown, renovating vacant buildings, supporting historic preservation, and creating homes in Delaware’s towns and cities.”

 

Reach staff writer Jennifer Antonik at jantonik@newszap.com

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