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Exclusive: Downtown Dover plan envisions $500M investment

Katie Tabeling
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Downtown Dover Plan rendering, Mosaic Jan 18 2023. | IMAGE COURTESY OF THE DOWNTOWN DOVER PARTNERSHIP

The Downtown Dover plan includes a rendering of Loockerman Way Plaza, looking west at South Bradford Street. Rough concepts have farmer’s market as well as apartments on the floor above. | IMAGE COURTESY OF THE DOWNTOWN DOVER PARTNERSHIP

DOVER — After more than a year of studying downtown Dover, consultant Mosaic Development Partners gave city businesses and leaders an early look at its roadmap to revitalize the downtown area.

The Downtown Dover Strategic Master Plan outlines a vision for roughly 15 acres of developable land throughout the city, which may include 97,700 square feet of commercial space, a 27,500-square-foot grocery store, a riverwalk that augment the 21 acres of open space, and more. 

While the plan offers concepts to city leadership and the Downtown Dover Partnership, not a specific design plan, it also signals the potential for an estimated $500 million investment in the city.

“We’re talking about real money coming into the community, invested in a strategic way that’s intentional and brings this community back to the place you remember. But also to a place that’s different than what it’s ever been,” Mosaic Founder Gregory Reaves said during a meeting of key stakeholders on Jan.18. “It’s really about honoring the past and moving to the future.”

Mosaic and its consultants Kimley-Horn, Econsult Solutions and Bernardon, spent the year interviewing 600 people in the community, as well as looking at zoning codes, demographics, and infrastructure. While the master plan is not intended to be a straight design plan for the city, it does highlight key ideas to guide redevelopment.

Concepts

One major suggestion is adding mixed-use buildings to downtown, with commercial space on the ground floor and apartments above it. In the master plan, Mosaic highlighted the potential to add about 927 residential units  — which could house a projected 2,000 residents — across six sites throughout the city.

Downtown Dover Plan rendering, map Mosaic Jan 18 2023. | IMAGE COURTESY OF THE DOWNTOWN DOVER PARTNERSHIP

Mosaic Development Partners studied ten sites in the city and identified suggested concepts to revitalize them for the future. | IMAGE COURTESY OF DOWNTOWN DOVER PARTNERSHIP

That also interlocks with another key suggestion: making downtown more pedestrian- and bike-friendly, as well as adding a transportation hub for a DART Transit bus stop. Not only would it entice more natural activity downtown, but it could serve as a way to attract people from anchor institutions like state government offices, Bayhealth, the Dover Air Force Base and Delaware State University.

“We know fewer people are going into offices five days a week, and so we have to realize communities are going to adapt,” Reaves said. “The reality is, everyone wants restaurants, but if you don’t have people living there it doesn’t happen. And people want a place where they can walk out of their apartment and go somewhere close.”

Ideal locations for mixed-use buildings, including potential parking garages, would be 120 and 129 Govenor’s Ave., with 129 Govenor’s Ave. envisioned as a transportation hub.

Another key aspect to the master plan would be a grocery store, which may suit 120 Governor’s Ave. It could have limited stock, but it would also keep people shopping closer to their homes rather than getting in their cars for every single grocery need. Loockerman Way Plaza would feature a “crown jewel” farmer’s market, as well as additional apartment spaces.

Mosaic and its partners also highlighted the need to create spaces, specifically reimaging Memorial Park and creating a riverwalk that would run along the Saint Jones River. 

The concept plan for Memorial Park includes an amphitheater for concerts, an art walk and a courtyard for festivals or food trucks. There is also land on the west side of the Saint Jones River that could create opportunities for a skate park or a youth center.

From street parking and parking garages in strategic places, there may be 792 parking spaces added.

Broad strokes

Looking broadly, the Downtown Dover plan also recommends keeping much architectural design in line with downtown Dover, with some new design elements breaking up the sight line. 

To make it a multi-modal community, Mosaic also recommends looking at augmenting transit services from DSU Downtown, Bayhealth, Loockerman Street and the DAFB. Bike share programs are also popular with younger people, and adding bike lanes could also incentivize drawing a younger crowd.

Streets could have more life by adding outdoor dining in one side of on-street parking on West Loockerman Street. Long-term, making sidewalks wider would give more space for pedestrians walking, and narrowed roads could serve as a “traffic calming” strategy.

Some safety improvements are also suggested, such as painting a crosswalk and introducing bollards at State Street and Kings Highway.

“There’s short-term and long-term opportunities here. When people start seeing that difference, they change their attitude,” Mosaic Vice President of Development and Special Projects John Childers said. “The mindset changes from ‘We used to have a really nice downtown,’ to ‘Let’s see what’s coming up.’ You have to take the short-term first. To get into the long-term, you have to build support, because it takes coordination.”

Public-private partnership?

Much of the big picture ideas cannot be achieved without a public-private partnership, Mosaic representatives acknowledged. In particular, the grocery store aspect may be challenging on its own to draw, but once it comes, it could lead to other businesses signing leases.

“Part of what we can do to bring a tenant in is public subsidy to offset the rent to start off,” Mosaic Chief Operating Officer Leslie Smallwood-Lewis proposed. “When you start off with a lower rental amount, it can grow over time as the density grows. There’s ways of creatively making that work for the tenant.”

Financing possibilities include leveraging private bonds and other public investment tools, tax increment financing to capture tax revenue and reinvesting into the area, maximizing the Opportunity Zone designation for the entire district, working closely with the Delaware State Housing Authority for low-income housing tax credits, and more.

Other suggestions in the Downtown Dover plan include hiring a consultant to pursue new market tax credits and hiring another DDP staff member to oversee the development plan.

“So many things in this plan are going to need public-private support, at least to get started,” Kent Economic Partnership Executive Director Linda Parkowski said. “Otherwise we will be in the same place where we started.”

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