Milford developer sees 200-acre parcel as future medical campus
MILFORD — After years out of sight, the Key Properties Group put a 200-acre parcel of land off Route 1 back on the market, harboring grand dreams of transforming it into a medical campus called Innovation Park that would tie in with the Bayhealth Hospital, Sussex Campus.
Elmer Fannin, a Milford-area developer, bought the former farmland for $5.25 million in 2012, according to county land records. He envisions it becoming a cornerstone in southern Delaware’s exploding medical field in the hands of the right developer.
“I have always felt that Delaware could become the medical capital of the entire East Coast. It’s within driving distance from major cities in the area and Milford is right in the middle of it all,” Fannin told the Delaware Business Times. “With Bayhealth’s campus right there and Nemours bringing a children’s care facility soon, this could be the next phase of the growth, especially since the time is right.
Fannin is a Milford developer, notable for contributing to Milford’s residential building boom over the years with single-family homes, condominiums, and townhomes at Hearthstone Manor. In the very early days of this project, Fannin considered zoning the property Garden Apartment and Townhouse District (R-3), according to 2007 Milford Planning Commission meeting minutes. That hope would have allowed eight units per acre.
But then plans changed course for the Institutional Service District (I-S), a relatively new zone at the time and created specifically to meet the pressing need for medical providers nearby.
In I-S, the land can be used for hospitals, health care facilities and outpatient care, medical offices, medical laboratories, nursing facilities, a heliport, related housing and more. It also permits a broad range of non-medical uses like libraries and recreation facilities.
Back in 2007, Fannin found the market for medical and research park marketplace were encouraging. Judy McKinney-Cherry, the then-director of the now defunct Delaware Economic Development Office called the project a potential stimulus for the Sussex and Kent County economy that could add $748 million to the state’s gross domestic product.
“I am enthusiastic about the possibilities and synergies with existing Delaware businesses, healthcare providers and institutions of higher education,” McKinney-Cherry wrote in a letter to the Milford City Council back then. “A research park, in the style of a campus, could provide a setting of shared resources and facilities. If successful, this project could significantly impact the health science industry in Delaware.”
Milford annexed the 200 acres into city limits that year. One year later, there were talks between Key Property Group and Delaware State University and Bayhealth to start a partnership.
But Fannin said an economic slowdown hindered those plans. Eventually Bayhealth decided to locate on a 166-acre of land south of Route 1, but a four-minute drive from the hopeful Innovation Park.
“We have lost the manufacturing, but with Delaware becoming the biggest source of senior population due to its tax-friendly environment, it’s definitely the right time for this property,” Fannin said.
Meanwhile, Bayhealth President and CEO Terry Murphy said that his health care system focusing first on its own conveniently-located property for expansion.
“In fact, the Nemours Medical Office will open on the Sussex Campus later this year to provide high-quality pediatric and adult specialty healthcare services and complement the existing medical campus,” Murphy said. “Our current focus is on the continued development of Bayhealth’s Sussex Campus.”
By Katie Tabeling