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DDP launches property renovation, retention grants

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Downtown Dover Partnership has launched two new programs to incentivize redevelopment and support existing businesses.| DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

DOVER — The Downtown Dover Partnership (DDP) has launched two new grant programs, with eyes set on helping existing business owners and those looking to improve properties in the state capital’s downtown district.

The two programs backed by the DDP include the Retention/Expansion Assistance Program (REAP) which offers a grant of $2,000 to existing business owners looking to expand, and the Critical Improvements Program, which offers financial incentives to improve properties.

DDP Executive Director Diane Laird told the Delaware Business Times that both programs shared the same goal: to support thriving businesses and revive downtown Dover. But the Critical Improvement Program is specifically focused on updating vacant storefronts, which face many challenges to get up to code and even open for business.

“We need to get some of these historic buildings up to today’s standards, especially with ADA compliance and commercial-ready kitchens,” Laird said. “Potentially, there is some room for exterior renovation, but the focus is to get these properties ready and leasable for business and up to par with safety in mind.”

The DDP received $1.27 million from the Delaware Community Reinvestment Fund earlier this summer to establish the program. Applications approved would cover up to 75% of the renovation costs, and funds will be reimbursed once renovations are complete, a certificate of occupancy obtained and properties are leased and occupied for 30 days.

Eligible applicants must be property owners, and priority of funds will be awarded to those focused on improving safety of the building.There is no set cap on award amounts, as Laird hopes to judge each application on its merits and needs before stipulating a funding maximum.

However, the DDP is expected to contribute $100,000 and property owners are expected to contribute at least $300,000 in renovations through this program as well, according to officials.

Pre-applications for the Critical Improvements Program have been launched, and will be accepted until Nov. 30. From there, the DDP will have a review committee consider applications in December, then later reviewed by the executive committee of the DDP. The full board of the DDP will have final approval of the applicants.

Property owners who apply to this program will need to meet with the Dover city planning office to determine if projects are feasible and to complete the final application that will be available in December to be considered for a grant award.  

The DDP also started the REAP program this fall, with the goal of offering up to $10,000 in five small grants for the first round for existing businesses. If there is more interest, the DDP will explore additional funding options.

“Over time, we’ve had various recruitment programs to attract businesses to storefronts, and we wanted to offer a meaningful incentive to those businesses who have already made a meaningful investment in Dover,” Laird said.

REAP funds can be used to enlarge an existing footprint or relocation; expand a product line; start a new business; acquire equipment and technology; training and more. Eligible businesses must be in downtown Dover for at least a year and must be a business in good standing. Applications must also include a summary of what the grant would be used for.

One business so far has successfully used REAP: Otis Brooks, the owner of Caribbean Cuisine and Tastee’s Chicken and Seafood, which just opened for business on New Street.

Brooks’ business has been impacted by the fire on the corner of New and West Loockerman streets in March 2022, as people stay away from that corner and the sidewalk is closed.

“I used the funds to purchase food and even to pay salaries. The grant came at a good time,” he said in a statement.

For more information about REAP and the Critical Improvements Program, visit www.downtowndover.com

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