Commentary: Downtown Development District program benefits all of Del.

Earlier this month, Gov. Carney and the Delaware State Housing Authority announced the latest round of large project funding in the Downtown Development District program. The announcement was made in what will be the new home of Smyrna’s iconic Dairy Sweet restaurant and ice cream shop. The owner of the building, Bob Johnson, received a project rebate to help offset construction costs.

Established in 2014, the Downtown Development District program was created to spur private capital investment in commercial business districts and other connecting neighborhoods; stimulate job growth and improve the commercial vitality of our cities and towns; and help build a stable community of long-term residents in our downtowns and other neighborhoods.

Anas Ben Addi

The Downtown Development District program is currently available in eight designated districts: Dover, Georgetown, Harrington, Laurel, Milford, Seaford, Smyrna and Wilmington. Projects in these designated districts have access to numerous local and state incentives, most prominently the Downtown Development District rebate administered by Delaware State Housing Authority.

We know that a relatively small amount of state investment can help generate and support significant private investment in our downtown areas. To date, the state has invested a total of $29.3 million in Downtown Development District project rebates and spurred $551 million in private investments.

Success stories like Bob Johnson’s prove that the Downtown Development District program is working. Funding from the program is being used to renovate vacant buildings, support historic preservation and create homes in Delaware’s towns and cities.

From the renovation of Bardea Food & Drink in Wilmington, The House of Coffi in Dover and Blue Hen Dental in Smyrna to one of the newest projects in Georgetown bringing a laundromat, café, coffee shop and hair salon to a once derelict building, the Downtown Development District program is benefiting residents up and down our state. Larger projects throughout the state are also providing homeownership opportunities, including the construction of five new duplexes at the Villas on Broad Creek in Laurel and several new affordable homes on New Street and Kirkwood Street in Dover.

Many of the business owners, nonprofit organizations and investors who receive funding tell us that their projects would not have gotten off the ground without Downtown Development District funding.

The program is designed to assist not only the large, mixed-use projects but also small business owners, entrepreneurs and homeowners in downtown areas. Resources are available for the restaurant that needs to renovate to remain competitive, a property owner looking to upgrade office space or the homeowner undergoing an extensive residential rehab project.

In addition to the large project funding announcement made earlier this month, Gov. Carney also announced the opening of new Downtown Development District designations. City and town officials across the state are invited to submit a designation application. Existing districts can also apply to have the designated area of their district expanded, increasing the opportunity for Downtown Development District-funded projects within these cities and towns.

I encourage cities and towns across the state to take advantage of this great opportunity to revitalize downtown areas. The application form, program guidelines booklet and other materials are available by contacting the Delaware Office of State Planning Coordination or Delaware State Housing Authority. The deadline for submission of completed applications is May 15.

With the support of the legislature, city and town officials, investors, and business owners, the Downtown Development District program can continue its success in even more areas of our state.

Anas Ben Addi is director of the Delaware State Housing Authority.

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