LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Public, private sector add to Dover ‘decay’

The Dover Comprehensive Plan, like the many Downtown Dover Committee reports and city government-sponsored “public input” meetings is essentially “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Dover has a serious and apparently unsolvable public and private sector management problem, a condition that has existed for all of the 25-plus years I’ve lived here and, in all likelihood, for many years before that.

Local Public Sector:

1. There is no long-term “vision” of what Dover should economically look like (eight to 10 years out) that addresses the decaying economics and socio-demographics of the city. Put bluntly, there are no significant-sized “information economy” enterprises nor any coherent plans to attract such.

This is a problem that a public parking garage is not going to solve. Indeed, it is a big part of why Central Delaware’s recent college graduates have to leave to find employment.

2. Dover has a significant public safety problem which city management fails to acknowledge, let alone resolve. Who feels safe enough to walk downtown (or around town) after 5:30 p.m.? This is not an “affordable housing” problem, or a problem that is going to be solved by additional Habitat for Humanity housing rehabilitation projects.

And a new parking garage may well turn out to be the next public building, together with the public library, where Dover’s homeless population can be found.

3. A related problem is the appearance of much of the housing stock in the older downtown neighborhoods (New Street, Kirkwood, Governors, etc.). Imagine how this looks to the parents of prospective Wesley students who come for a visit. It is an open question why the owners and/or landlords responsible for dilapidated conditions are not aggressively pursued by the city.

Private Sector:

1. Loockerman Street building owners apparently have little or insufficient economic incentive to get their empty street-level properties rented or otherwise occupied, and city management has done nothing concrete to address this problem. Is there a longer-term “vision” (Arts and dining? Craft businesses? A mini Williamsburg?) defining what Loockerman Street will look like five to eight years out and a specific action plan to get there (tasks, assigned responsibilities to identified individuals, public status reporting)? Not to my knowledge.

2. The private sector participants in the many, many committees created by city management to address these problems are, in many instances, the same people who are property owners and create or perpetuate the problems these committees are purportedly created to address. Thus, the probability of useful, actionable output is limited at best.

State-level Public Sector:

The references to how Wilmington is “turning around” its riverfront area all miss the most important fact: a “river” of state-level and federal funding ($100 million-plus) have been poured into cleaning up the various messes, rebuilding the local infrastructure and attracting significant new business entries into this zone.

By contrast, downtown Dover got about $2 million several years ago for work done on North Street for street improvements and parking which, parenthetically, is now largely taken up by E-ZPass administration reserved spaces.

The hard bottom line is that until state-level government executives accept the continuing decay and deterioration of Dover, Delaware’s state capital, as a problem that they are individually and collectively responsible for, this problem will only get worse. Local public sector management are incapable (and probably simply incompetent) of turning Dover around.

Is it a surprise that the governor lives in Wilmington rather than the Governor’s Mansion in Dover?

David M. Partridge

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