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Downtown Dover seeks partner for redevelopment ‘pilot’ property

Katie Tabeling
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A recent request for qualifications seeks a partner in redeveloping 120 S. Govenors Avenue, but the Downtown Dover Partnership hopes it sparks more.

Downtown Dover | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

DOVER — Dover officials are looking to ignite their large-scale redevelopment plans for the downtown district, starting with a key property: 120 Governors Ave.

The Downtown Dover Partnership (DDP) is seeking a request for qualifications to find not only a team of developers that will not only reimagine the 1.7 acres of land, but a partner that would be invested in the city’s future. The DDP would retain ownership of the land and has already outlined early ideas in the Capital City 2030: Transforming Downtown Dover plan.

“The ideal vendor would share the same philosophy we have integrated in the master plan, which is equity for potential mixed-income housing as well as giving those from the marginalized in the community a chance to get housing that is of a higher caliber,” DDP Executive Director Diane Laird said. 

Within the vision of a $500 million, multi-year redevelopment plan of Dover’s downtown, 120 to 142 S. Governors Ave. has been named the highest priority for redevelopment. Part of that reason is the ease in which it can be done: the DDP has owned it for years and it is the closest ready for redevelopment. 

“We felt this would be a good pilot to get started on. We’re not looking for a price point, we are looking for a capital stack,” Laird added. “How would you build this? What funding would you look for?”

Another key component to the public-private partnership would be a vendor with experience engaging the community, Laird added. That could include a small amount of donations to give “the community investment” in the project. The DDP also prioritizes working with the local workforce and contractors on any redevelopment project moving forward.

In the 1970s, the property was an Acme grocery store. Since it moved out, it has been leased to an auto parts store and a day care in a 17,000-square-foot, one-story building. Both tenants operate on a month-to-month lease. The building would be demolished for new construction and is currently zoned Central Commercial (C-2).

The Transforming Downtown Dover plan sees 120 S. Governors Ave. as a potential six-story, mixed-use building with a small-scale grocery store and a parking garage. Highlighted is an apartment complex which would have a percentage of affordable units. This is not a final design, but the DDP believes the best outcome would be those that add residences.

The DDP is also working with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s consultant, Environmental Alliance, on examining any potential remediation needs of 120 S. Governors Ave. to further expedite the planning process.

In essence, 120 S. Governors Ave. will also serve as a window of opportunity to see what interest there would be on the developers side to invest in Dover’s future, Laird said.

“I do think this will be a catalyst to see who comes forward. I would say we do want broad investment, but more importantly, we need solid investment with a philosophy that we want to keep the community engaged and not marginalize people,” she said.

Downtown Dover and its neighborhoods have a nearly 50% vacancy rate in commercial properties in the business district and low local homeownership, according to the proposal documents. There are 38,000 people who live in the city, and another 16,000 who work there but live outside city limits.

The DDP hopes to announce a partner by the end of September. Development plans could take years, with theoretical construction complete in four years.

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