Taskforce urging Milford to buy historic shipyard site

MILFORD — It’s full steam ahead for volunteers hoping to create another century of memories at the last surviving wooden shipbuilding facility on the Delaware Bay.

Located in the heart of Milford, Vinyard Shipard has had a storied past since Wilson M. Vinyard started the business in 1896.
It remains one of only 12 of its kind still in operation across the United States, according to local developer Dan Bond.

Mr. Bond, Sher Valenzuela of First State Manufacturing and several other volunteers are spearheading a taskforce to help ensure the preservation of the shipyard and add to the parklands already available in Milford.
Sudler and Joan Lofland, owners of the shipyard, are willing to sell their property to the city of Milford to see the project through to completion, Mr. Bond said. They have been willing to sell to the city since 2014 for preservation.

Although that didn’t happen, the Loflands have continued to restore the home, which now includes a shipbuilding museum, the shipyard itself, a boat house and several ships.

Five years later, the owners have the same resolve and focus on preservation — but now, they are joined by the taskforce which is working to involve local, state and federal entities to realize success for their project.
Together, they believe the city of Milford should purchase the property and have it operated by the Delaware Nature Society with a broader focus.

The original idea was to preserve Vinyard Shipyard for generations to come, but the Loflands have added to the scope of the project by offering a part of their front yard so that the taskforce can work to connect one end of the Mispillion Riverwalk that runs throughout downtown Milford to the other.

“The shipyard is the disconnect to being able to walk the Riverwalk properly,” volunteer SaraKate Hammer said during the Milford Conversation meeting held with local leaders Thursday, Sept. 19 at the Mispillion Art League.

The Mispillion Riverwalk is the largest municipal park in the state of Delaware, according to the city’s website. It is about a mile long with a pathway from Maple Avenue near God’s Way to Recovery all the way past the Milford Public Library and Bicentennial Park.

The Riverwalk actually extends out to Goat Island; however, the path splits off at Bicentennial Park and Memorial Park where Vinyard Shipyard rests. Visitors must walk around the property to connect to the other side of the Riverwalk.

“Connecting the Riverwalk would be the crown jewel to [former parks and recreation’s director] Gary Emory’s work. It would complete that part of the vision,” Ms. Hammer said.

To help gain traction, a $12,000 grant from the USDA so the taskforce can work to market their plan and speed up the process.
They also received $15,000 from the city of Milford and another $15,000 from the Kent County Levy Court to help fund a professional study through Architectural Alliance. More funds will be needed to cover the costs of the study itself, Mr. Bond added.

“We hope to have that plan ready by the end of the year. After that plan is ready with presentation materials of all types, maybe to include virtual reality, then we will go out to the public and gain public support for the plan,” Mr. Bond said.

In addition to the study and marketing work to be done, the taskforce must create an operational plan to be given to the Delaware Nature Society for them to fully consider the possibilities in Milford.

“It really is, I think, a historic gem to the city of Milford,” Parks and Recreations Director Brad Dennehy said at the Milford City Council meeting Monday, Sept. 9. “If this goes down the road to a commercial developer, it would get pieced out. I would dare say we wouldn’t get that easement [for the Riverwalk]. I think sometimes you’ve got to have a vision.”

Mr. Dennehy assured the council that work is being done to advance the projects at hand to offer a destination attraction in Milford thanks to the dedication of the taskforce.

“The true gem here is there’s enough land and property here to be able to put the boardwalk in front of the Lofland’s house. It’s a million-dollar view from their porch. Right now, Mr. and Mrs. Lofland get to enjoy that view. For the Lofland’s to want to gift that easement to the city is kind of huge,”

Mr. Dennehy said. “You have so many smart and committed people from the community who want to support this vision. I think we have to work together for the greater good, not just for our generations, but for the generations that come afte

Reach staff writer Jennifer Antonik at jantonik@newszap.com

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