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Seaford aims to develop $8M business park

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SEAFORD — The time could be right to develop 100 acres into a $8 million business park, revitalizing a once-booming Sussex County city.

Seaford officials are reportedly in discussions with an unnamed developer to break ground on the Western Sussex Business Campus in phases, starting on 50 acres south of Herring Road east of Ross Station Road. The hope is to break ground on the first phase, a 50,000 square-foot building, in the first quarter of 2021.

“This project has been the hope of Seaford leadership for years and years, ever since they bought the land once DuPont pulled out, but it just never happened,” Mayor David Genshaw told the Delaware Business Times. “But the great gift of COVID has been time, and we’ve had more time to chat with other partners on this, with the hope of making a public-private partnership to revitalize the city, which is an exciting prospect.”

Although there is a signed letter of intent between Seaford and a developer, Genshaw declined to name the partner because final details have yet to be worked out. The developer specializes in “high-end covenants” with tenants with brick or tilt-up construction and curb appeal, compared to the Seaford Industrial Park and the Ross Business Park, he said. 

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

“Our hope is that they build a park that is similar to one fairly close to us, in Stevensville [Maryland], with 85 acres. In the past 15 years, that park employs 1,100 people, and this park could have the same opportunity, with possibly a lower cost of land,” Genshaw said.

In August, city officials received an offer to buy half the land in exchange for laying infrastructure to the site. The cost per land is roughly $12,000 per acre, and the park would be built out in phases. The first phase would include a $4 million to $5 million building, within 18 months following contract approval. To get the site shovel ready would cost $1.9 million.

Around the time DuPont started to pull out of Seaford, eventually shutting its nylon plant in 2004, city officials approved purchasing large swaths of land in the hopes of improving its marketability. The property for the proposed Western Sussex Business Campus, then 243 acres at the time, was first bought with $500,000 allocated in Delaware’s Bond Bill in 1995.

The Ross Business Park was later carved out of the property and other tracts have been developed for the Western Sussex Boys & Girls Club, the Seaford Sports Complex and Jay’s Nest, the Seaford District Library, and more.

Right now, the biggest hurdle for development is infrastructure. Seaford officials started to invest in it years ago, mainly focusing on an entrance on the north side of the parcel. But interest has spurred city officials to reach out to state and county partners to help accelerate infrastructure expansion. 

The Sussex County Council voted Tuesday to approve funding for the Western Sussex Business Campus of no more than $1.88 million to lay infrastructure, $1 million of which was already set aside in the county’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget. Seaford will also allocate $600,000 to the project, with additional funds under consideration in the the city’s upcoming FY 2022 Budget.

“We know that Western Sussex needs a boost when it comes to economic development, and people want to see results. They need jobs. They want opportunity. A project like this has a lot of promise to deliver on those expectations for many years to come,” County Council President Michael H. Vincent said in a prepared statement. “We believe a joint effort, such as the Western Sussex Business Campus, is a perfect way for the City, the County, the State, and the private sector to marshal their resources and work together, rather than in separate silos, to achieve the same goal.”

Genshaw told DBT he has spoken with Gov. John Carney about this, and the hope is to apply to the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Fund (TIIF) to receive state funding for further road improvements. In 2019, Seaford received an additional $350,000 in the State Bond Bill  to begin the engineering design and construction of a commercial entrance and utilities. The Delaware Prosperity Partnership, the state’s economic egnine, fully support the measure, and has been on many strategy and planning sessions with Seaford officials.

“We are pleased that Sussex County is committing resources toward helping these plans come together. Creating capacity for companies to be able to locate  in a proactive community is a great step that offers DPP, as the state’s lead economic development resource, additional attributes that we can help Seaford promote,” said DPP President and CEO Kurt Foreman.

While Seaford has been working to find a new cultural and business identity outside of the “Nylon Capital of the World”, the mayor believes that recent trends in the commercial real estate market proves that the city is on the verge of something momentous.

“The beaches are fantastic, but it’s very crowded,” Genshaw said. “The opportunity is here, and it’s only 30 minutes away from the beach for very affordable land costs.”

By Katie Tabeling

[email protected]

Editor’s note: This article incorrectly stated that the first phase of this project would cost $1.9 million, not $4 to $5 million. It will be $1.9 million to get the site shovel-ready.

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