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Development in spotlight at NCC’s State of the County

Katie Tabeling

MRA Group CEO Larry Stuardi, right, speaks before business leaders at the State of the County, and event that highlights development projects throughout New Castle County. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

NEWARK — Business growth and attracting a workforce were key themes central to the inaugural State of New Castle County event on Wednesday, and speakers shared how it touches the future warehouses in Claymont to the explosive growth in Middletown.

Hosted by the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce, attendees heard several private and public officials outline major development projects in the works that touch all corners of Delaware’s most populous county. Introduction speaker and gubernatorial hopeful County Executive Matt Meyer offered a confident outlook for the future ahead.

“The state of the county is strong, and our financial picture is stronger than it has been in a long time,” he said to scores of attendees at the University of Delaware Clayton Hall. “When your property taxes come, there will be a reduction, marking a first time in county history that happened. And even with opportunities with Avelo Airlines, they came here in part because of the booming real estate market here.”

New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer highlights administration efforts to lift businesses up, such as working on an ordinance that would lower county bid thresholds to open up opportunities for other contractors. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

New Castle County, like everywhere else in the country, still faces issues like record inflation and wage stagnation that impact longstanding businesses and entrepreneurs today. To aid that, the county has partnered with Discover Bank to offer low-interest loans with the Grow NCC Fund. The Meyer administration is working to lower the threshold for county bids to open more opportunities for firms owned by people of color and women.

“We’re doing whatever we can to take that small business and provide them some scale moving forward in our county,” Meyer said.

Macroeconomics are playing out when it comes to the Buccini/Pollin Group’s projections when it comes to office space. BPG Vice President of Business Development Michael Hare said that the developer’s attention has focused on residential rather than office space. Of the nine projects shared with those assembled, three were commercial and office space. 

In all, BPG has 2,186 units built or managed with a 97% occupancy rate. The Standard, a $95 million project that is a mixed office and residential complex, and the recently opened Crosby Hill add another 295 units to the portfolio.

“Multi-family has really become the core business, because even though the Great Resignation may be over, we have yet to see that in the office market,” Hare said. “People still prefer working from home, and trying to recruit people to come to the office is still a great unknown in the real estate world. We have 650,000 square feet in buildings we’ve converted to 360 apartments, and we’re doing it incrementally.”

However, a key multi-family BPG project on the rise is the UD Star Campus complex, which will include 219 units and retail space, though Hare said the planned retail space size was in flux at the moment. 

Meanwhile in Claymont, affordable housing and rehab projects were most of the focus. The Claymont Renaissance Development Corporation has worked more residences through Darley Green, a combination of rental and for-sale units to attract a diverse group of workers. Overlook Colony, a former 330-home neighborhood with many as small as 900 square feet, were renovated and sold. Another proposal for Riverfront Park plans on adding more units to the market.

“When you get to some of the bigger projects that we need to tackle, you cannot have a healthy, vibrant community if some places are left behind,” said Brett Saddler, executive director at Claymont Renaissance Development Corp.

Looking ahead, 1.25 million square feet in warehouse space is in the works, with projects at the former Tri-State Mall and a potential 300,000-square-foot cold storage facility at the former Claymont steel mill.

Michael Hare, BPG executive vice president for development, details the firm’s focus on residential and multi-family projects. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

MRA Group CEO Larry Stuardi, however, stressed that even with plans for the $500 million Chestnut Run Innovation & Science Park (CRISP) off Route 141, his mind was still on attracting workers.

“We’re very happy to be here in Delaware, but one concern I do have is workforce development. Not just here, but overall. We have to concentrate on it, or we won’t be able to have the companies we want here,” Stuardi said. 

One advantage that CRISP offers is 780,000 square feet of lab space on the East Coast, particularly in a low cost-of-living environment. 

“People are looking from Boston to North Carolina for a location, and we’re providing that,” Stuardi said. 

In addition to Prelude Therapeutics, Solenis and DuPont, Stuardi envisions bringing amenities to draw higher interest in the campus. That includes a potential amphitheater, a restaurant, daycare services, recreational services as well as a hotel. MRA recently received commitment from Residence Inn for a 127-room hotel.

“It’s our goal to open up the campus once the tenants start to move in so that they can gauge the effectiveness on an open campus,” he said.

Editor’s Note: This story originally reported that half of the Riverfront Park housing in Claymont would be workforce housing. That is incorrect. We regret the error.

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