Milford celebrates lucrative new deal as it leaves an old one behind

MILFORD — City Council on Monday celebrated a new agreement slated to bring 200 jobs to the city, while also backing out of a regional economic partnership.

Many council members were excited about Milford’s new economic incentive agreement with Nationwide Healthcare Services, which owns the former Bayhealth Hospital campus on West Clarke Avenue.

“The Nationwide organization and associated lessees in that facility will expect to invest at a bare minimum of $18 million, and they expect more than that, but that’s where they believe conservatively the investment will be to that property,” said Councilman Todd Culotta, who worked closely on the project.

“The economic incentive agreement provides support for Nationwide’s venture in the redevelopment of the former hospital,” said city manager Mark Whitfield, by providing “incentives for job creation (and) by providing a reduction in water and sewer impact fees, provided the construction is completed within three years.”

Mr. Whitfield noted that there is a clause in the agreement allowing the deadline to be extended if needed — something that may happen due to the pandemic.

“The economic incentive agreement includes a city real estate tax abatement for 10 years for all unleased, unused portions of the former hospital,” he said.

“The tax abatement for the entire hospital will be for a minimum of two years, commencing on the date of the acquisition, and any unused portions of the hospital will have an additional abatement for one year commencing on the date of the lease,” Mr. Whitfield said.

He added that the space is already about 26% leased and that Nationwide anticipated having another 50% leased before the end of the year.

“More than likely, within another year, we will be within the time period when they start paying taxes on those leased areas,” Mr. Whitfield said.

Councilman Jason James, who also had a big role in the project, said it will be a “win-win” for Nationwide and Milford.

“These short-term incentives are designed to allow Nationwide to limit their costs, so they can get tenants in there to occupy the space,” he said. “They’re doing a lot to try to enhance the job availability, the health care and the education to the degree that they can partner with those that can provide (certified nursing assistant) training and things of that nature,” Councilman James said.

As the council looked forward to this new arrangement, it also did away with an old one.

The council voted to leave the Kent Economic Partnership, an organization focused on economic development in central Delaware, in a 7-to-1 vote.

“When we first joined the KEP, we gave them $30,000,” said Mayor Archie Campbell. “We thought we’d get at least a couple of leads. In the first year, we got absolutely nothing. Not even a phone call.”

Mayor Campbell said that in the second year, the city only received one phone call from the KEP.

“I think we need to back off in my opinion,” he said.

Councilman Mike Boyle agreed, saying he believes the group is too centric to Dover.

“There was no interest in going any further toward Milford,” Councilman Boyle said. “The only business they brought to town, unfortunately, from what I understood, folded during the pandemic, so they’re at a net zero, and I don’t think there’s any real future in them for Milford.”

Councilman Doug Morrow, who currently serves as Milford’s representative for the KEP, was more sympathetic toward the organization.

“My two cents on it is for economic development, we’ve got to be involved in everything out there,” he said. “I feel if we don’t participate, we lose any opportunity.”

Linda Parkowski, the KEP’s executive director, also spoke at the meeting.

“I certainly understand all the comments that have been made this evening,” she said. “I do want to tell you that the KEP is the one that got the education portion with Nationwide. We set up all the meetings for that to go on.”

Ms. Parkowski also noted that the KEP provides an economic analysis for its member towns, so now that Milford has left the partnership, it will have to source that on its own.

Although business and the local economy were certainly a primary focus for Monday’s meeting, there were other items on the council’s agenda.

The council was formally introduced to Mike Svaby, the city’s new public works director.

“Today is the beginning of my third week trying to fill shoes that were well-filled by my predecessor” Mr. Whitfield, who is now the city manager, Mr. Svaby said. “I’m learning faces, names, functions and the go-to people.”

While he said his past work experience with large organizations has left him well-equipped for his current position, Mr. Svaby said he looks forward to the different work environment Milford provides.

“I was interested in working for the city of Milford because of the town’s size and what looks to me like a real need to be close to constituents and what their needs are,” he said.

Also during the meeting, a report was provided by Councilman Boyle and Milford police Chief Kenneth Brown, which showed increased law enforcement activity in Milford during August.

Chief Brown said this was more of a sign of the city returning to normal as fears surrounding COVID-19 subside.

“We’re slowly moving back to a normal operation,” he said. “We’re very close to being there. In fact, next month, I look for our numbers to be even closer to last year’s provided there’s no setbacks.”

Reach staff writer Noah Zucker at nzucker@newszap.com