Lawyer seeks Levy Court support for ‘funding tool’: Mall access road projected at $31M

DOVER — John Paradee is on a whirlwind tour as he tries to ensure a financing plan that will pay for a direct-access road from Del. 1 to the Dover Mall, which he believes will not only protect its future, but will help it double in size.

Mr. Paradee, a lawyer who represents the mall’s owners, Simon Property Group and Western Development Corp., made the first of his tour stops before the Kent County Levy Court Administrative Committee at the Kent County Administrative Complex Tuesday night.

Mr. Paradee was seeking the approval of Levy Court to support legislation that will allow for tax increment financing and special development districts as he tries to ensure the estimated cost of the $31 million access road project will be covered and the project can proceed quickly.

After listening to a brief presentation by Mr. Paradee, six Levy Court commissioners decided to prepare a resolution and will then vote on it at its next business meeting on Feb. 14.

“This is a very important step,” Mr. Paradee said. “Without the Levy Court’s blessing to proceed with tax increment financing it would be very difficult to offer assurances that the financing for the entire budget would be in place.”

Mr. Paradee said he hopes toll funds will cover the majority of the work, but if they don’t, the owners could turn to tax increment financing.
Tax increment financing allows the owners to use the difference between the current tax assessment and the assessment after the improvements — millions, in this case — to pay off bonds used to construct the road.

Currently, only Wilmington is allowed to use tax increment financing, meaning the General Assembly would have to pass legislation specifically authorizing Dover and Kent County.

Commissioner Allan F. Angel seemed to support the idea.

“This makes more sense and is a common sense idea,” he said. “I think this is overdue … long overdue.”

Commissioner Eric Buckson said he doesn’t see any harm in supporting the draft legislation that will allow for tax increment financing in Kent County.
“I’m not afraid to move forward with this and vote yes,” Mr. Buckson said. “If they’re asking me to put another tool in the toolbox with something that’s being utilized by all 50 states then I see no harm in that.”

The stop at Levy Court was just the first in seeking support for the draft legislation.

“We will be asking the city of Dover to authorize similar legislation for the city (on Feb. 14) and we also would expect to have conversations with the Capital School District to ensure that they would be comfortable following along with this process,” Mr. Paradee said.

“Assuming that everyone is on board we would hope to get the legislation introduced (by Sen. Brian Bushweller-D) and passed in the General Assembly very quickly and then we would be back here sometime in the next couple of months with actual projections and numbers and a solid proposal about exactly what we would need in terms of bond financing.”

Mr. Paradee said that he fears if it takes too long to build the service road that the future of the 35-year-old Dover Mall is bleak at best.

“The concern is that if we wait until 2021 to design, assuming that we come up with the money to fund the construction by then, which is not guaranteed, that the Dover Mall as is currently sits will no longer exist and it will shutter and become a dead mall essentially,” he said.

“So we’re trying to accelerate the process with a public-private initiative that would allow us commence design of the project as early as July 1 of this year, start construction as early as January 2019 with construction completed at the end of 2020.”

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

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