Unlocking the Block: Dover offers incentives to attract new businesses

Dover is unlocking the potential of its historic downtown wht a new marketing campaign highlighting opportunities for small business owners ready to take their business ideas to the next level. Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

DOVER — A collaboration of state and local entities are starting out small in hopes of fulfilling larger goals of getting storefronts occupied in the historic downtown Dover office, restaurant and shopping district.

A new “Unlock the Block” initiative aimed at the Loockerman Street corridor was unveiled on Monday.

Its goal is to assist landlords in finding tenants for those empty properties and also directing property owners to incentives that are available for redeveloping their properties.

Governor John Carney arriving for the Unlock The Block campaign kickoff event Monday. Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

Tenants for an initial group of four vacant properties will be selected through a pitch competition judged by local experts.

Those selected for the program will receive a combination of incentives and assistance, including fee waivers, free business consulting services, technical assistance and cash incentives.

“It’s an exciting program called ‘Unlock the Block’ and they’re really trying to highlight some of the business owners that have invested in their property and letting people know that these properties are available,” said Linda Parkowski, acting director of the Delaware Division of Small Business.

“It’s a really cool marketing program that will, hopefully, energize downtown Dover. It’s a great time to be in downtown Dover. It’s fabulous with everybody working together to re-energize it and making it a special place to be.”

Dover City Planner Dave Hugg said partnership among several organizations has been paramount in creating the program — including the Downtown Dover Partnership, city of Dover, Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, Kent Economic Partnership, First State Community Loan Fund, NCALL and the Division of Small Business.

“If there’s one word that’s really important, it’s collaboration,” Mr. Hugg said. “It’s probably one of the few times in my career — which is a pretty long one now — where state, county and local governments, private-property owners, everybody is sitting around the table talking to each other sharing their experiences and their problems and working together to find solutions.

Governor John Carney with realtor Mike Harrington touring some of the buildings available under the Unlock The Block program Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

“‘Unlock the Block’ is probably the finest example of all of us working together.”

So far, four commercial properties have been identified and are participating in the program, all of which are available for lease.

The properties include:

•1 West Loockerman Street: Located at the prominent corner of State and Loockerman streets, the 6,000 square-foot space, which is sub-dividable, includes a commercial kitchen and bar area.

•155 S. Bradford Street: The newly renovated office space on the second floor above 33 West offers five flexible office suites and a shared conference room.

•204 Loockerman Street: The 1,200 square-foot space is on the ground floor of a four-story apartment building next to Bayard Pharmacy, at the corner of Loockerman and South Governors. It is suitable for retail or office space.

•147 S. Governors Avenue: This space was formerly occupied by a bakery, so its ideal use would be as a bakery or could be reconfigured for retail or office use.

Applications from prospective tenants will be accepted through July 9. The pitch competition will take place in late July/early August and the winners will be announced by Aug. 15.

Governor John Carney talking with Wesley College president Robert Clark II at the Unlock The Block campaign kickoff event Monday. Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

Individuals interested in seeking more information or for applying for the “Unlock the Block” initiative should visit www.DowntownDoverPartnership.com.

“Downtown Dover has a lot to offer anyone who is considering starting or expanding a business,” Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen said. “From financial incentives to accessible government officials, we are big enough to be a city but small enough to be a hometown.

“Through the city of Dover, Kent County and state of Delaware, there are many incentives and grants available to help pave the way. With so many people living, working and playing in and around the downtown Dover area, it is a formula for success.”

A centerpiece of the marketing campaign is a video produced by downtown Dover-based Big River Film Co. which showcases several businesses also located downtown that are already experiencing success.

Gov. John Carney said that Dover’s “Unlock the Block” program could become a model that other cities and towns throughout Delaware could eventually emulate if it is successful.

Linda Parkowski, acting director of the Delaware Division of Small Business. Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

“Delaware’s small cities and towns offer an exceptional quality of life and an authentic experience to those who live, work or shop there,” Gov. Carney said. “They are one of the reasons tourists choose to come to Delaware.

“Small business is a crucial part of Delaware’s economy. Some 96 percent of businesses in the state have 50 employees or fewer, so an initiative like ‘Unlock the Block’ is key to keeping our downtowns filled with strong small businesses that make those downtowns the kind of place people want to live and visit.”

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen unveiling the “Unlock The Block” campaign Monday. Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

Tina Bradbury, operations manager for the Downtown Dover Partnership, took a walk down Loockerman Street with Gov. Carney and other state and local officials and visited businesses such as the newly opened House of Coffi, The Moving Experience real estate office, and The Loocke, a women’s apparel shop, among others.

She said it’s important to have a vibrant downtown district, adding that the downtown area currently has around 86 active storefronts and businesses.
“We are here to make sure we get small businesses back in the heart of our city,” Ms. Bradbury said. “This is the heartbeat (of the city) — downtown. We’re not calling them vacancies, they are ‘opportunities’ waiting to happen.

“We are interested in getting new entrepreneurs down here in our Loockerman/Main Street corridor to really be a catalyst to drive economic development.”

Ms. Parkowski said she can see a lot of potential in the “Unlock the Block” initiative.

“I don’t think anybody in Dover would be any happier if the (former) Loockerman Exchange (building) actually opened up as something new and revitalized,” she said. “I think that would be a real symbol of what downtown Dover could be.”

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

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