[caption id="attachment_227102" align="aligncenter" width="1020"] Leslie Smallwood-Lewis and Gregory Reaves are the co-founders of Mosaic Development Partners, and they bring years of experience in drafting Downtown Dover's Master Plan | PHOTO COURTESY OF MOSAIC DEVELOPMENT[/caption]
DOVER — When it comes to its portfolio, Mosaic Development Partnershas a guiding principle that has worked well from its earlier projects like a Save-a-Lot to Cheyney University’s reimagined campus: How will this project validate the community and set it on the right track?The Downtown Dover Master Planning project is no different. Mosaic was contracted by the Downtown Dover Partnership in 2021 to create an actionable plan for redevelopment and investment by the end of this year. The draft plan includes the studies and work of consultants KimleyHorn, Econsult Solutions and Bernadon, as well as interviews with about 600 people, ranging from residents, business owners, city leaders and others.“Reclamation of a neighborhood can’t be just about a single site,” Mosaic co-founder Gregory Reaves said. “We’ve spent quite a bit of time planning large parcels of land, and we’ve seen the benefit of it. It brings disparate groups together, and forces them to think about priorities and issues they may have grown to accept, or maybe haven’t thought about.”Who is Mosaic?Mosaic was formed in 2008, after Reaves and co-founder Leslie Smallwood-Lewis left the Goldenberg Group in Philadelphia. Both wanted to focus on working on neighborhoods that needed redevelopment and capital investment. “We kept seeing all this wealth being created and nobody who looked like us had an opportunity to do it,” he said. “We felt we needed to work in neighborhoods who needed us, that really needed a community of people who understood what they were dealing with.”Over time, Mosaic has worked on notable projects like student housing for Temple University; the Golaski Lab apartments in a former factory in Germantown; a retail and public housing complex in North Philadelphia and more.More recently, Mosaic was one of two firms selected for the redevelopment of the South Philadelphia Navy Yard as well as a $1.3 billion arena for the Philadelphia 76ers in Center City. Earlier this year Josh Harris, managing partner of the basketball team, invested $10 million in Mosaic to diversify the real estate work force and to fund existing projects.But what really resonated with Reaves is one of the earlier projects: turning the former Edison High School into a Save-a-Lot in Edison Square on a crime-ridden block.“There were people paying $6 for a quart of milk at a bodega because there wasn’t a grocery store around. It created jobs, excellent food options and it’s walkable,” he said. “All those things combined mattered to people on the ground level, and that’s when we realized we were on the right path of our mission.”Edison High School also had the most graduates who died in the Vietnam War than any other high school in the nation. To pay tribute to that, Mosaic and their partners built an annex building for a homeless veterans project.A new viewDover is the second-largest city in Delaware, with a population of about 38,000 residents. The downtown district covers a mile radius in each direction, with much of the business success east of South Govenor’s Avenue. Residents have taken to shopping along the U.S. Route 13 corridor, driving traffic away from downtown.While Reaves did not disclose specific findings in the master plan, he generally acknowledged the long-raised issues of crime and lack of parking in Dover were universal with every city. What also was universal: needing to find new attractions. Specific to Dover, Mosaic found that living density is low and many employees from “anchor” institutions — like Bayhealth, Delaware State University and various government agencies — don’t travel that way. “They ask, ‘Why should I come here?’ That’s the issue, and the reality is we have to create the physical conditions and physical uses that will want people to come,” Reaves said. “There’s some downtown communities that have done different things, creating a more authentic offering to be that draw.”Surprisingly, Reaves said that about 20% state government employees do live in Downtown Dover. And Mosaic found a disconnect between those who live and work in Dover. There may be a need for more housing options — rental and ownership — which could include multifamily. Ground floors in mixed-use projects could be leased out to a restaurant to capture more interest from renters and customers. Making the community more walkable and bikeable may also facilitate more foot traffic.Through Reaves' eyes, he sees a beautiful city where the historic character of some of the buildings' architecture shines through. But there’s obvious challenges it faces; some, he says, are universal with cities like the perception of crime and limited parking. “We hear a lot [about crime] in every city, and what I always add is that parking is an issue that needs to be planned for,” he said. “But what’s unique about Dover is when they talk about parking, it’s because of the crime — you see people want to pull up to the store they want, and being able to walk in and out. And that’s not the problem. The problem is you want people to stay.”To create that vibrant community to make people want to explore and stay in Downtown Dover, may involve creating destinations. That means activating ground floor storefronts to serve as both an attraction and to support public safety.“You have to bring it to life, because without it you won’t have vibrancy in the community. You have to think about what are those amenity anchors on the ground floor that will bring other new amenities as well,” he said.Programs may also need to be created to tie into existing assets, creating destinations out of some of the cultural arts and outdoor spaces.“We’re looking to tie into the historic community with a more contemporary approach that will honor Dover’s history but also bring people forward. But we also want to bring new ideas to make it interesting,” Reaves said. “The key is to drive investment, and there are multiple levers to pull for it.”Once the Downtown Dover Master Plan is presented, the next steps could be identifying incentive programs for new investors in the community as well as recommendations in streamlining the license and permitting process.Mosaic has not been formally invited by Dover officials to potentially invest in the city’s future. But Reaves said the firm has not ruled out any future involvement.“We think Dover is a terrific community,” he said. “Given the opportunity, we would certainly consider seriously staying in the community and working with the folks in Dover to get projects moving forward.”
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