Brian Bushweller, State Senator

17th District of Delaware

October, 2016

A Public-Private Partnership That’s Going According To Plan

In 2010, I and several other Kent County Legislators advocated for a State appropriation to completely rebuild North Street in downtown Dover between Governor’s Avenue and South State Street.  The initiative was originally conceived by the Downtown Dover Partnership (DDP), 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 electric, 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 Governor’s 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 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 Governor 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. 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 is 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, walkthrough 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 believe, including me, 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 Governor Markell be commended for the leadership and vision that got all of this started in the first place.