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Commercial Real Estate Economic Development Kent County News

Milford signs partners for new industrial park

Katie Tabeling

The future Milford Indutrial Park is 128 acres of farmland along Route 14. The city hopes to change that with a new deal in place. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

MILFORD — Developer NAI Emory Hill and management firm Tsionas Management have inked a deal with the city of Milford to consult on planning and marketing more than 1 million square feet of commercial space in the making.

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) will shape 1.6 million square feet on what now is a wheat field on the Milford-Harrington Highway. With NAI Emory Hill and Tsionas’s decades of experience in building and selling space in Delaware, Milford officials hope the two firms can guide the best use of the future Milford Industrial Park.

Both Tsionas and NAI Emory Hill, in essence, will serve as investors in Milford’s future, as the firms now have the right to develop and buy the lots and spec buildings, as outlined in the agreement.

“This decision on the business park, from finding a location and getting to this point, is probably going to be the biggest decision the City Council will have to make for a long time,” Milford Councilman Todd Culotta said during the Feb. 14 meeting. “And the partners that help us get there will be vital.”

The deal

Under the MOU, Tsionas and NAI Emory Hill will provide consulting services, including but not limited to market research, pre-construction and construction services, brokerage, legal support, marketing and maintenance. The city retains ownership of the land, but both firms retain exclusive rights to broker deals and market the land.

The deal is structured in two phases. Phase one includes evaluation of off-site improvements, working with city planners to maximize the land development and construction process. 

After phase one, NAI Emory Hill, Tsionas and Milford may proceed with construction. If the developers opt to move forward, the consulting fee of $225 per 15 minutes will be waived — but both have the option to buy any lot and the right of first refusal.

The lot price will be determined based on evaluations reached at the end of phase one, beginning when the lot becomes permit-ready. If the developers decline the option of buying at that time, Milford may sell the lots to a third party, with the possibility of the profits to be divided between the municipality and the developers.

If Milford is unable or uninterested to continue developing the business park, Tsionas and NAI Emory Hill still maintain the right of first refusal to buy the remaining lots.

A familiar name & a heavyweight

When Milford officials bought the 182-acre Fry Farm in December 2021, they were also looking into several commercial real estate developers and brokers that could assist with master planning the industrial park.

Milford already has a history with Tsionas Management, as it owns the Milford Plaza, and thought the firm’s knowledge of the city and its values would be a strong asset.

Tsionas Management was founded in 1970 by Gus Tsionas to operate retail. His daughter, Angela, evolved the firm to a real estate investment and management company. Tsionas Management owns and operates 700,000 square feet of commercial space in Delaware and a 200-student housing center near the University of Delaware.

Tsionas recently completed the $75 million mixed-use development in Wilmington and plans to start a new multifamily project in Georgetown this summer. The company is  reportedly in the process of acquiring other projects outside the state and is concentrating on turn-key capabilities.

“We are focused on continued growth and diversification of the portfolio within Delaware, but we also remain focused on enhancing value and holding their assets for the long-term,” Tsionas Executive Managing Director Deborah Tomasi said.

Milford City Manager Mark Whitefield noted that in the months of conversations with various firms and municipalities, he and his staff heard one name repeatedly: NAI Emory Hill.

“And that was the one firm we continuously kept coming back to,” Whitefield told the commissioners on Feb. 14.

NAI Emory Hill, created from NAI Global and local firm Emory Hill, maintains 85% of its business operations in Delaware. As a full-service commercial real estate firm, NAI Emory Hill has developed and built 15 million square feet over the years, ranging from industrial space between 20,000 square feet and 600,000 square feet.

“We’ve done banks, Goodwills, large Class A office buildings, shopping centers, and we have a 650-unit multifamily complex in Bear. But first and foremost, we are industrial and industrial spec,” Emory Hill Director of Property Management Clay Hill said.

In terms of property management, NAI Emory Hill manages 4.4 million square feet of commercial buildings, with 75% in Delaware and has 425 tenants. On the brokerage side, NAI Emory Hill closed $135 million in sales and leases last year.

Notable clients include Chase Bank, Wilmington Trust, JCPenney, ChemLawn, Discover, FedEx, TD Bank and more. 

The market meets Milford

What may also be key to NAI Emory Hill’s involvement in the Milford Industrial Park may be a similar success story 60 miles north.

The firm built 20 buildings in the 350-acre Pencader Industrial Park in Glasgow, and was involved in its development from day one. NAI Emory Hill still manages 10 buildings in that industrial park today.

“We envision a high-end, attractive industrial park that will bring great companies and employers,” Hill said. “If you look at the buildings constructed there, it ranges from heavy industrial to flex to office and lab space. It’s very dynamic, and we envision the same for Milford.”

When it comes to the market demand, NAI Emory Hill Brokerage Director Neil Kilian said that modern warehouses, with many truck bays, is the best bet.

“Given everything we’ve seen in today’s industrial market, and the need for last-mile distribution to move goods faster, this is an exciting project to be in,” he said.

Construction on the Milford Industrial Park is set to begin in roughly 18 months, according to city officials.

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