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Seaford shopping center envisioned as innovation district

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The Nylon Capital Shopping Center, seen here in a rendering, is slated to have major aspects demolished this year, paving the way for redevelopment. | PHOTO COURTESY OF CITY OF SEAFORD

The Nylon Capital Shopping Center, seen here in a rendering, is slated to have major aspects demolished this year, paving the way for redevelopment. | PHOTO COURTESY OF CITY OF SEAFORD

SEAFORD —  While the Nylon Capital Shopping Center will be the home of The Mill’s first Sussex County location, developer Robert Herrerra sees research and medical institutions serving as its heart.

The shopping center on Stein Highway, a 243,000-square-foot space only about 20% currently occupied, is envisioned for a total transformation as a innovation district in the next four years. That means designing a space and atmosphere for driving innovations to one of western Sussex’s largest cities.

“It’s a manifestation of mega-trends that are altering the locations and preferences of people and firms, rethinking a link between the economy shaping to placemaking and social aspects,” Herrerra told the Seaford City Council on Jan. 10. “We’re looking at repurposing the site from just purely retail to bring institutions, start-ups and entrepreneurs focused on developing products, as well as highly specialized small-batch manufacturing.”

The entire redevelopment project at the struggling shopping center is estimated to cost $60 million, and while the project is still in the early stages, The Mill founder and partner at 9th Street Development Company (9SDC) outlined a high-level vision that would continue retail use with existing tenants and new ones, including communal space as well as walking and bike paths.

Herrerra, through 9SDC, bought the shopping center in early December for $5.4 million, though Seaford and the state granted him a combined $5.1 million for the land acquisition.

Another key anchor to the site will be Delaware Technical Community College, with plans to offer training programs specifically focused on Sussex County’s workforce development. Programs may include health care and industrial training tracks — like certified nursing assistants, clinical medical administration, welding and more.

“I can tell you, when site selectors are looking for locations and they see a two-year training program that’s ready to retool the workforce, it gets them going,” Herrerra said.

Nylon Capital Shopping Center rendering Jan. 10 2023

The early vision for the Nylon Capital Shopping Center includes demolishing many structures and paving the way for walking paths through the site. | PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CITY OF SEAFORD

The Mill itself may occupy 20,000 square feet in Seaford, offering conference rooms and workspace for start-up companies or existing companies looking to hotdesk. But there will be room to grow in the future, and possible opportunities to collaborate with Del Tech and other health care institutions.

While the occupancy at the Nylon Capital Shopping Center is low and some of the building structures are in a poor state, he also hoped to work with the existing, long-term tenants like Sal’s Italian Pizza and Great Wall chinese restaurant to remain or relocate on-site. The lease for Rite Aid, one of the shopping center’s main anchors today, expires this year, and 9SDC has started discussions on possibly renewal.

But Herrerra said he hopes to bring in more what he calls “neighborhood amenities,” to drive the community to come to the site. That includes potential medical offices, a coffee shop, a grocery story and other entertainment options. 

Reopening the closed Seaford Bowling Lanes, which were in business for more than a half a century and closed in October 2022, may be critical to bringing the community to the site.

“Given the former success of the Seaford bowling lanes, we would love to bring a new concept as an amenity to other institutions involved,” Herrerra said. “The bowling alleys are in surprisingly good condition.”

But many of the existing buildings in the Nylon Capital Shopping Center have been exposed to the elements, notably with the building east of the Great Wall Chinese having many holes in the roof. Demolition is expected to start within the next four to six months.

Plans include tearing down buildings in the back of the site, following much of the building east of Great Wall Chinese. Preliminary stage plans would have a walking lane cutting through the site from Sussex Avenue and Atlanta Road, with another walking path in the middle, facing Stein Highway. Three new buildings would be designed around those paths.

Construction on anchor buildings, including Del Tech, is anticipated for the end of 2023.

Herrerra and his partners plan on including community input for design of the site. But even after the major redevelopment for this innovation district is completed, he indicated there could be a second phase way off in the horizon.

“I do think these districts, when successful, have a mixed use presence [with potential apartments on the second floor of retail],” Herrerra said. “It gets that 24-hour lifespan of an area that’s desolate. I think housing can help.”

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