COMMENTARY: One public-private partnership that’s going according to plan

In 2012, I and several other Kent County legislators advocated for a state appropriation to completely rebuild North Street in downtown Dover between Governors Avenue and South State Street. The initiative was originally conceived by the Downtown Dover Partnership, which led the way in moving it to fruition.

With the backing of the General Assembly’s Bond Bill Committee, we installed sidewalks and curbs, buried the electrical, telephone and cable wires, put in street lights, repaved the entire length of the street and reconfigured the parking, adding 85 spaces for downtown commerce.

A “pocket park” was created on the southeast corner of Governors and North, replacing an unsightly, badly deteriorating building at that site. We also added parking, sidewalks and landscaping to the vacant lots where the old Dover Hardware and Capital Office Supply buildings used to be. That space was renamed “Loockerman Plaza.”

The impetus for the idea was to make North Street, which runs parallel to Loockerman, much more desirable, attractive and accessible so as to encourage downtown development.

The first clear sign that the idea would work came when the company that runs Delaware’s EZ Pass system decided to locate downtown with entrances on both Loockerman and North. Today, the scores of employees and customers at EZ Pass add to the daily vitality of downtown.

More recently, in 2014, I was the Senate sponsor of a bill promoted by Gov. Jack Markell that created “Downtown Development Districts.” The goal is to provide state assistance to developers who want to build new buildings or start new businesses in Delaware’s downtowns. These projects could be any combination of residential and commercial, but they must be located in a Downtown District.

Brian Bushweller

Brian
Bushweller

With state participation, projects like these can become profitable, thus rejuvenating downtown areas. Without that participation, they are not profitable, so, they don’t happen and the downtowns continue to languish.

When the city of Dover decided to apply for this program, City Council approved a number of additional incentives, on top of the state’s participation, designed to make business creation downtown even more attractive. And Kent County Levy Court did the same thing with county incentives. The net result is a package of incentives that should get the attention of people with the vision, expertise and resources to help kick Dover’s downtown into high gear.

Now, all that planning and foresight are coming together exactly as hoped for. A developer is preparing to maximize the potential of the state, county, city and DDP efforts, combining the modernization of North Street with the Downtown Development District program, to build two new buildings.

They will be located along the sides of Loockerman Plaza, maintaining, between the two new buildings, the current, walk-through sidewalks and landscaping that connect Loockerman Street to North Street.

Each building will house street-level shops, offices and restaurants, while upper floors — perhaps three or four stories — will comprise tasteful and attractive apartments or condos.

Many people, including me, believe that more people downtown are the ultimate answer to the revitalization of the area. This project, and others like it, will bring more people. The cooperation leading to this project, among varying levels of government and the private sector, is to be commended. So, too, should the DDP and Gov. Markell be commended for the leadership and vision that got all of this started in the first place.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Brian J. Bushweller of Dover, a Democrat, is the state senator representing District 17.

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