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Proposed bond bill includes econ. dev. projects statewide

Katie Tabeling
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Riverside ARPA building web

REACH Riverside, which aims to transform the Wilmington neighborhood, could see additional support through the Fiscal Year 2024 bond bill. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

DOVER — Inside the Fiscal Year 2024 capital funding bill, Gov. John Carney has allocated millions for a myriad of projects targeted for economic development initiatives touching various corners of the state.

The governor has proposed a record-setting budget of a combined $7.1 billion in total spending authority, including $1.29 billion in bond-funded and multi-year capital improvement projects. 

Last month, the Capital Improvement Committee heard various department heads and entities discuss proposals for projects for about a week. In June, the committee will reconvene  to draft a final bill for the legislature to vote on – and all funding requests must be made before the close of that session.

The General Assembly can enact any budget they want, within constitutional and statutory structures, as the governor’s budget serves as a proposal. Some restrictions in the budget include the 98% rule, where annual appropriations are limited to 98% of estimated revenues and the unassigned funding in the general fund balance; the “rainy day” reserve fund that requires 5% of the general fund be set aside for emergencies; and the budget stabilization fund that can smooth one-time issues. 

Concerning economic development, the Carney administration has continued to propose funds for three hallmark programs that issue grants to businesses looking to expand or arrive in the first state: the Strategic Fund, the Graduated Lab Space Fund and the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Fund.

Of the three, the Strategic Fund is set to receive the top amount of $25 million, while the Lab Space Fund is slated for $10 million. Last year, the Lab Space Fund award amounts were adjusted to draw in more biopharma, medical technology and chemical engineering firms in light of rising construction costs. 

The Transportation Infrastructure Investment Fund, which backs changes to the state’s roads, railway and more to support large development projects, at $5 million.

REACH Riverside

REACH Riverside will eventually build 700 new units of public housing, transforming the northeast city community. | PHOTO COURTESY OF REACH RIVERSIDE

One of the top requests for a pass-through project includes $5 million for REACH Riverside, the purpose-built community envisioned for Northeast Wilmington. When complete, the project will include 700 high-quality, mixed-income rental and for-sale homes. 

The housing component of this project is moving quickly, as the second phase of the Imani Village is wrapping up. But other goals include buying 40 acres of blighted properties in the riverside to develop into other projects for the community, dubbed Real Estate Strategy to Obtain Racial Equity (RESTORE).

The state funding, if approved by the legislature, would significantly aid these goals, said Logan Herring Sr., CEO of the WRK Group, the parent entity of REACH Riverside.

“It’s a little early to say what exactly it will be used for,” Herring said. “But our goal is to work with the state and address blight through providing economic opportunities for all. We hope we can continue to bring the prosperity that the Riverfront has enjoyed to everyone.”

NIIMBL seeks additional funds

The National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL) is also suggested to receive $5 million in Carney’s proposed capital budget, although UD officials are hoping for $7 million.

UD President Dennis Assanis told the Capital Improvement Committee on March 24 that about 95% of the funding for NIIMBL came from the federal government and private funds.

“NIIMBL’s presence has encouraged many companies to locate or stay in Delaware, has led to the creation of more than 500 jobs already in this sector and the retention of hundreds more,” Assanis said.

Tower at STAR UD campus Newark NIIMBL

NIIMBL may continue to grow on the University of Delaware’s STAR campus thanks to the support of state bond funds. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS.

NIIMBL already operates research labs and offices out of the Ammon Pinizzotto Biopharmaceutical Innovation Center on the STAR Campus. In the past six years, NIIMBL has received $15 million from the state, and more than $90 million from the federal government.

Federal earmarks have already provided NIIMBL $15 million to build the SABRE Center, which is an acronym for Securing American Bio-Manufacturing Research and Education. UD is also seeking $15 million from the state as well for this project, which is not included in Carney’s proposed bond bill.

The SABRE Center would be built north of the Pinizzotto labs, and would support biopharmaceutical innovation for clinical research in preparation for future public health emergencies. SABRE is expected to bring 3,500 jobs to the state in the next 10 years, Assanis said.

In the past six years, NIIMBL has received $15 million from the state, and millions more from other partners, according to state officials.

“We are truly grateful for the governor’s support of NIIMBL,” NIIMBL Director Kelvin Lee told the Delaware Business Times.

Newport Train Station study

Carney has $3 million slated in pass-through funds to start a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) study on the impact of a potential Newport Train Station to allow SEPTA to improve service in the southern Wilmington corridor.

“This funding, if approved, is a first, necessary step to a project that will benefit the whole region,” Newport Vice Mayor Michael Spencer told DBT..

The Wilmington Area Planning Council (WILMAPCO) and Newport completed a feasibility study on a train station in 2013, suggesting that it could add at least 350 new riders without pulling from neighboring stops at Churchmans Crossing. However, WILMAPCO is currently updating those estimates in light of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact.

With weekday service, this train would likely serve commuters heading to or leaving Philadelphia, be it for work or college.

The proposal would also suggest adding a fourth track on the southside of the Northeast Corridor for SEPTA trains. The platform itself would be built facing the tracks at the corner of Water and South James streets. 

“Newport is landlocked, and when it comes to growing in the future, there’s limits. This could be a way to grow residents in the town in a viable way,” WILMAPCO Principal Planner Dave Gula said.

The NEPA study is a first step in a long process and a federal requirement to study any environmental, cultural and community impacts. Once complete, the project would require preliminary engineering work. 

Back in 2013, it was estimated that the Newport Train Station would cost around $20 million, and would require federal, state and grant funding to complete. It would also likely take years between the study and completion.

Seaford economic development

Finally, Carney proposed $1 million for “Seaford economic development” in the bond bill. His office told DBT that this funding would fund the Western Sussex Business Park. Last year, $1 million was appropriated by the state to match The Mill owner and developer Rob Hererra’s $2 million to buy and revive the struggling Nylon Capital Shopping Center.

Western Sussex Business Campus Park Seaford Delaware

The Western Sussex Business Park is envisioned to have at least 9 buildings and represents a total investment of $8 million. | PHOTO COURTESY THE CITY OF SEAFORD

The Western Sussex Business Park is Seaford’s other rising project, with its developer KRM Development aiming to bring 1,100 jobs to Seaford once fully built and leased out.

Seaford officials indicate if the funding is approved in the FY 24 bond bill, it will likely be used for infrastructure improvements. The project has already used city and county funds for infrastructure improvements back in 2020. Even earlier, the city received $500,000 from the state in 1995 to buy the 243 acres of land. Two years ago, the land was sold to KRM.

Seaford officials approved final site plans for two 70,250-square-foot buildings, each one-story tall with loading docks between them, on March 28.

“The city has been working on that piece of property for 25 years, and we’ve really picked up speed,” Seaford Mayor David Genshaw said that night. “We’ve been working really, really hard to make this happen, and we’re super excited about the jobs that will come to Seaford.”

 

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