ISSUES AND ANSWERS: ‘It is time to think and act positively’ about future of downtown Dover

What accomplishments have been made in Dover and specifically the downtown area in recent years?

Great strides have been made through the combined efforts of NCALL, Habitat for Humanity Milford Housing Corporation, MauTiste LLC, and others in addressing and removing blighted dwellings. Combined with more focused code enforcement by the city and both public, private and nonprofit funds, new owner-occupied homes are changing entire blocks bringing these neighborhoods back to life. Downtown, property owners and entrepreneurs are reinvesting, fixing up their properties and opening new shops. More are forthcoming. Programs such as Lights on Dover Strong and a soon to be started arts program are changing how the downtown looks and how residents and visitors feel about safety.
Efforts by the Downtown Dover Partnership (DDP) and Restoring Central Dover program have fostered a much more positive feeling and increased commitment to making the downtown to thrive.

What factors contributed to those successes?

In a word: collaboration. There is an unprecedented level of communication, coordination, cooperation and focus from all the stakeholders.

Dave Hugg

What are some of the biggest obstacles facing Dover — both actual and perceived problems to economic success?

Perceptions are hard to change. Downtown is slowly shaking off the belief that it is not safe, that there is no parking, and that there are no goods or services available; and at some level these are still reality. Downtown Dover still lacks a broad business base with increased hours of operation that is critical for sustainability.

What short-term programs are in the works that will help boost economic activity downtown?

Recent programs such as the Farmer’s Market and D3’s First Night events, along with “Lights On” and a new program, “Unlock the Block” are all working to boast economic activity downtown.

What long-term solutions do you see that will further spur and sustain growth in Dover and downtown?

Under DDP’s leadership, an expanded and focused marketing and promotion program is being developed. DDP and the city are working together to provide better information about downtown opportunities and guidance on opening a business, along with the city’s commitment to more efficient permitting and other services.

What can business owners and citizens do? What is their role in the city’s image?

Everyone has to be involved; all are partners in meeting and overcoming whatever challenges exist. It is time to think and act positively about the future of Dover’s historic downtown.

Do you think downtown Dover needs a parking garage? Why or why not?

Even though the recent parking study concluded that there is adequate parking in the downtown, existing options are not well organized, not easy to find and confusing in terms of how they are used. Parking is one of those issues that is driven more by perception than fact in most cases. But there are economic and marketing benefits that a garage could offer that could make the downtown more attractive.

How important is getting the Schwartz Center for the Arts re-opened in bringing a certain energy, vitality and culture to the area?

A community without the arts is not a desirable place to live. Arts and cultural facilities allow the soul of the community to be expressed and shared. The Capital Theater/Schwartz Center is an integral and critical part of creating a lively, vibrant city and deserves to be reopened in some form.

What other sectors of the community must be included in efforts to revitalize and continue improving Dover?

Revitalizing and promoting Dover, and not just the downtown, is everybody’s responsibility. It cannot happen without businesses willing to take a risk, without shoppers being willing to buy locally, without government being proactive and supportive, or without conditions of blight and poverty having been addressed.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dave Hugg is city planner for Dover.

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