MIDDLETOWN — In Delaware, names like Buccini/Pollin Group loom large among construction firms developing and revitalizing Wilmington. But south of the C&D Canal, Clark Construction has been quietly focused on […]
MIDDLETOWN — In Delaware, names like Buccini/Pollin Group loom large among construction firms developing and revitalizing Wilmington. But south of the C&D Canal, Clark Construction has been quietly focused on acquiring property and breathing new life into booming Middletown.In the town square where Route 299 and Broad Street meet in a one-light intersection, a restaurant and boutique shops run out of properties with a long history on each corner.
[caption id="attachment_212921" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] The historic firehouse on 15 S. Broad St. and other neighboring properties was among the most recent acquisitions by Clark Construction. The hope is to renovate the building into retail and office space. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING[/caption]
Clark Construction and its sister organization Broad Street Leasing own three of the four structures. That includes a row of shops from 2 to 10 W. Main St. and the historic firehouse on 1 Broad St. the company bought for $1.5 million in 2019, according to New Castle County land records.“The plan is to start renovations on the old firehouse next, a total overhaul,” said Rick Clark, the owner of Clark Construction. “We want to make it a combination of retail and office space. The more foot traffic, the better.”The town square properties represent one-third of Clark Construction’s land acquisitions in Middletown. Over the last decade, the company has spent $6.9 million in acquiring 14 properties downtown and on land for at least three business and industrial complexes.“I would say that we made a major commitment to Middletown. We believe in it, and we invested in it. Somebody had to do it,” Clark said. “There’s so much potential here, and I will say we’re starting to see other people realize it now.”A graduate of Delcastle Technical High School, Clark first started working as a mason in Wilmington in 1987 before branching out to general contracting, primarily in the residential sector and remodeling in the Mid-Atlantic region. Middletown first came on his radar in 1997, when Clark Construction started developing Bohemia Mill Pond. Drawn by the quieter way of life and small-town feel, Clark and his family moved from Newark to the town.
[caption id="attachment_212922" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Clark Construction subsidiaries first started developing Middletown around 2015, and soon expanded to building more retail and office space like Main Street Station on Route 299. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING[/caption]
“It was a quaint little town, and we loved the feel of the Main Street. But there wasn’t anything there at the time, the McDonald’s was just being built,” Clark told the Delaware Business Times. “There wasn’t anywhere to go for a decent wine selection, so my wife and I kept going to Wilmington and Philadelphia for restaurants,” he continued. “We kept running into people we knew from Middletown, and that got me thinking.”In 2011, Clark Construction bought its first investment: the old Shone Lumber Mill on Wood Street. It became Peachtree Station, with 25,000 square feet of office and retail space. The company’s anchor establishment, American-fare Metro Pub & Grill, opened in 2015.The acquisition came at an auspicious time, because Middletown was predicting a population boom with Capano building apartments and townhomes off then-U.S. Route 301 corridor, anchored by the developing Westown shopping centers. The population swelled to 18,970 in 2010, more than doubling what it was at the turn of the century. With a highly-ranked local school district and more room in the suburbs, the Delaware Population Consortium projects the Middletown area is on track to grow around another 2,000 people in the next decade.“It might have been a little crazy buying land off the beaten path. But once we announced Metro, people started coming and asking to lease. If you build it they will come,” Clark said. “Thanks to Middletown, it’s almost fully leased out now.”Peachtree Station’s success fueled Clark Construction to buy its next cornerstone property, the former Delaware Trust building at 1 W. Main St. and its neighboring structure for $498,000. After focusing on getting Metro Pub & Grill off the ground, Clark’s firm focused on extensively renovating the structures. In the end, the former bank became La Banca, a two-story restaurant that offered a twist on modern Italian cuisine. Next door, 7 and 9 W. Main St. became mixed-use with law offices on the first floor and two luxury apartments on the second floor. Clark said that model is something he would like to see in future projects in downtown Middletown.
[caption id="attachment_212919" align="aligncenter" width="1080"] Clark Construction subsidiaries bought 1 E. Main St. and the neighboring structure and renovated them over the course of years. The corner building reopened as restaurant La Banca in late 2019, while the company has leased out apartments and offices next door. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING[/caption]
“We prefer mixed-use when we renovate, because the more people who live downtown, the more activity and the more things you have happen,” Clark said.Six years ago, Clark Construction started buying more downtown properties: including 1 to 5 E. Main St., 139 E. Main St. and 13, 19, 27, 39, and 41 W. Main St.In its next chapter, Clark Construction is turning its attention to its business and industrial centers. The company bought adjacent land from the Peachtree Station and built the Main Street Station and started to lease it out, and since 2018 the company has bought land on Industrial Drive — near the newly announced WuXi STA manufacturing plant — and started to attract tenants. One building is leased out, but Clark said plans are in the works to build two other structures with 25,000 square footage each.Looking back on Clark Construction’s investment in the past decade, Clark said his hope in the next 10 years that Middletown continues to grow as Delaware’s quintessential small town, with more hustle and bustle.“We’re well on our way, and the word is getting out. We’re still getting lots of interest for our Main Street retail locations and a potential buyer recently approached me looking to make a deal on Main Street Station,” Clark said, noting that a deal was not reached. “I hope that in the next few years, people will be able to walk through a thriving downtown and visit different shops. Everyone wins and benefits from it.”