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Consultant to help plan future for downtown Dover

Katie Tabeling

The Downtown Dover Partnership has signed a $200,000 contract with a firm to master plan the 250-acres of the heart of the city by 2030. | PHOTO BY ERIC CROSSAN

DOVER — The Downtown Dover Partnership has inked a deal with Mosaic Development Partners, a development firm focused on investing capital in distressed communities, to plan what the heart of Delaware’s capital will look like in the next decade.

The DDP board approved a $200,000 contract with Mosaic to write a 2030 master plan for the stores on Loockerman Street and the surrounding neighborhoods in the downtown area that spans 250 acres. Mosaic was one of three companies that were short-listed by the DDP, and ultimately chosen due to its track record of success with revitalizing neighborhoods through financing options.

“Mosaic not only brings their planning expertise with their team but also the possibility of investment immediately following their plans,” DDP Executive Director Diane Laird said. “They have amassed a team of architects and planners, and their leadership is more focused on challenging communities with a diverse population, much like Dover.”

Mosaic Development Partners Founders and Principles Leslie Smallwood-Lewis and Greg Reaves. | PHOTO COURTESY OF MOSAIC

Based in Philadelphia, Mosaic was founded in 2008 by Leslie Smallwood-Lewis and Greg Reaves as a commercial real estate development and project management firm. Most of its focus has been partnering with municipal and other government entities, other established developers, and not-for-profit organizations to target projects that can be sustainable, drive job creation and create a new community.

Since it opened for business, Mosaic and its partners have secured and invested more than $150 million in Philadelphia neighborhoods, Reaves estimated.

“The communities we work with face many hurdles to accessing capital, which as we all know is the biggest thing when it comes to revitalization. We wanted to focus on communities of color who face disparities in what they can access, whether it’s a grocery store in a food desert to mixed-use buildings for places with mixed income. When you have a diverse population, you need to have a diverse community in what you offer,” he said.

Mosaic’s portfolio includes condominiums near Temple University, a $13 million veterans housing development, a mixed-use development that features apartments, co-working and retail space, and more. Earlier this year, Mosaic was named one of the exclusive partners to develop 109 acres at the Navy Yard into lab space and offices in a $2.5 billion development plan.

But Reaves points to Mosaic’s success in the neighborhoods surrounding historically Black colleges and universities to understand how critical these institutions can be to a community’s success. Mosaic is currently contracted to work on a 200-acre, multi-phase master plan for Cheyney University and a 200-acre campus redevelopment for Wilberforce University.

As of July 1, Delaware State University has launched a tentative presence in downtown Dover, with select classes offered at its new Downtown Campus after the deal was finalized to acquire the former Wesley College.

“Years ago, we did spend some time in Dover, walking the streets and talking with previous city leadership, and it’s a beautiful and incredible city with a lot of character,” Reaves told the Delaware Business Times. “We understand student development, and how influential it can be in a community, how it shapes it and sets its future. But even if we think we have a sense of the community, we need to talk to those who live and work in this community first. They are the voices that need to be heard as we start our work.”

Laird also noted Mosaic’s record of working with various funding tools to complete projects, which was a highlight as downtown Dover has many county and city grant programs available for businesses and also lies in an federal Opportunity Zone, which can ease taxes on investments.

“Mosaic has a remarkable process of engaging the community in the investment as well, even if it’s something as much as $500. It really is an inclusive process that focuses on the community to build the vision as well as making the investment,” she said.

For years, Dover officials and state representatives have discussed the idea of master planning the downtown district and the need has become more urgent as the commercial space became 50% vacant or underutilized. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed the DDP board members to act after watching more businesses struggle and sometimes close their doors. A request for proposals was issued in June.

“Downtown Dover is not going to be as quiet as it is right now,” Laird said. “The vision has yet to be seen, but we want a thriving business district, with restaurants that welcome the state and legislative presence back and more market-rate residential opportunities. We believe this master plan would provide us the guidance to make this into a reality.”

The DDP and Mosaic anticipate a six- to eight-month long master planning process that will start with listening sessions with residents, property and business owners. The master planning effort is targeted to launch in January.

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