Millsboro not applying for Downtown Development District designation

MILLSBORO — The town of Millsboro this year will not seek the Downtown Development District designation provided through an incentive-based state program that offers grant rebates to private developers.

Following a presentation by AECOM consultant Kyle Gulbronson, town council voted unanimously May 6 to not apply in the upcoming grant cycle. The application deadline is May 15.

“So, the bottom line is staff is not recommending that we move forward,” said Millsboro Town Manager Sheldon Hudson. “And from a philosophical perspective, as I told Kyle, my concern is that it gets the state in the municipality’s business. I think you could make an argument that indirectly it erodes some local control over development decisions. Some of that is speculation.”

Millsboro Assistant Town Manager Jamie Burk added the program requires dedication of an employee to the program, and this year applications are to include a “pet project.”

“I can’t think of a ‘pet project,’” Mr. Burk said.

“There’s a lot of stipulations, for what you get out it,” said Millsboro Mayor John Thoroughgood.

Earlier this year, Gov. John Carney announced the expansion of the Downtown Development Districts Program, which is geared toward urban revitalization.

Millsboro’s southern neighbor, the town of Dagsboro is among the municipalities that are applying for the designation. Dagsboro’s council voted to move forward with its application at its April meeting.

In January 2015, downtown areas in Seaford, Dover, and Wilmington were designated as Delaware’s first three DDDs.

In August 2016, five new Districts were announced: Georgetown, Laurel, Smyrna, Milford and Harrington.

“There were communities that applied last year that didn’t get approval and they have all been invited to reapply this year. New Castle, Delaware city, Middletown, New Castle and Kent County (unincorporated towns) and Dagsboro,” Mr. Gulbronson said. “So, all six of those communities have been highly encouraged and invited to reapply for this grant cycle.”

For this year those of us that went to the cabinet meeting – sort of a workshop for communities – it seemed to me that they (state) are highly encouraging the communities who have already applied to reapply. It wasn’t stated that they would all get approved, but it was highly encouraged for them to apply,” Mr. Gulbronson said. “So, I am assuming that they are going to have priority over anyone new who applies.”

The Downtown Development Districts Act of 2014 was enacted by the General Assembly to leverage the resources of state government in a limited number of designated areas in Delaware’s cities, towns and unincorporated areas in a multifaceted effort to:

• Spur private capital investment in commercial business districts and other neighborhoods;

• Stimulate job growth and improve the commercial vitality of such districts and neighborhoods;

• Help build a stable community of long term residents by improving housing opportunities; and

• Assist municipalities in strengthening neighborhoods while harnessing the attraction that vibrant downtowns hold for talented people, innovative small businesses and residents from all walks of life.

Selection as a Downtown Development District entitles private construction projects within the identified district to receive grants to offset up to 20 percent of their capital construction costs.

“There should be another grant cycle next year so we can reevaluate and go forward with an application next year,” should the town decide to do so, Mr. Gulbronson said.

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