Loockerman Way Plaza redevelopment coming, just at a slower pace

DOVER — A meeting of the Downtown Dover Partnership board of directors in Dover’s City Hall Conference room on Tuesday morning revealed many parts that continue to move forward slowly but promise to eventually have a major impact on the city’s landscape.

Grace Mullen, 8 of Felton shows off ears of corn for sale at a previous Loockerman Way Farmers Market on Dover’s Loockerman Way Plaza. (Delaware State News file photo)

Among those key parts is the eventual construction of a pair of mixed-use buildings by Magnolia’s Lighthouse Construction Inc. that are planned for 126 W. Loockerman St. That area is currently home to the Loockerman Way Plaza, which hosts several downtown events, including the Capital City Farmers Market on Wednesdays throughout the summer.

A delay in the plans for those mixed-use buildings will allow the Capital City Farmers Market to return to its traditional location downtown for one last season of selling fresh fruits and vegetables, providing free lunches to children, hosting programs and food trucks this summer. The Farmers Market is scheduled to return on June 19.

“The farmers market is not changing locations this year. It will be business as usual,” said Diane Laird, executive director of the Downtown Dover Partnership (DDP). “The plans had always been in place for redevelopment of that property and we’re excited about it. It’s a real nice opportunity for the downtown area.”

The redevelopment appears to be moving forward slowly as Lighthouse Construction requested an extension on its site plan last fall before moving forward and buying the Loockerman Way Plaza property from the DDP in early April for $150,000, including a parking lot that contains more than 30 public parking spaces off North Street, according to Ms. Laird.

“Basically, (the city’s Planning Commission) haven’t approved the site plan that they extended last year that runs out in September or October,” said Dave Hugg, Dover’s city planner. “They’re working on that plan and in order to keep that plan alive they have to start construction sometime by the end of September.”

When Bob MacLeish, president of Lighthouse Construction, unveiled his vision of the Loockerman Way Plaza project to the city of Dover’s Historic District Commission in July 2016, he did so with an optimistic vision of the city’s future.

“I’m very excited,” Mr. MacLeish said after that meeting a couple of years ago. “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.”

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

Mr. MacLeish and his architect, Jules Dingle from design firm DIGSAU of Philadelphia, originally said they planned to have retail stores and restaurants on the first floor of the buildings. They also envisioned that apartments would make up the upper floors, featuring protruding small balconies that would overlook the plaza.

“The original plan was two buildings, with a three-story and a four-story,” Mr. Hugg said. “I don’t think they’re going to do apartments now. That’s the one thing that they’ve indicated to me is that they may do all office and retail. I think they’re planning to build the four-story building first and then come back with the three-story. (The plan is) still alive.”

Mr. Dingle was ready for the critique of the buildings two years ago, which were planned to 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.

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

Mr. Dingle said the paved center of the courtyard is expected to 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 at that Historic District Commission meeting two years ago that the project could provide a much-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.”

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