Seaford chosen to take part in state's downtown development program

By Lynn R. Parks

Seaford is among three municipalities selected to participate in the first round of the state's new Downtown Development District program. Gov. Jack Markell announced the selection Monday morning at city hall.

"Seaford is a beautiful town, but it's been through some challenging times," Markell said. "I'm hopeful that this will mean a surge in cultural, real estate and business opportunities."

Markell's proposed Downtown Development District program was approved by the General Assembly last year, and funded with $7 million. Its goal, Markell said, is to help municipalities boost their downtowns to make them attractive to businesses, non-profit organizations and residents.

"Across the nation, more people are moving into cities, and we want to see more of that in Delaware," Markell said. "We are giving incentives to spur downtown development, so more people move to where infrastructure already exists."

Nine municipalities applied to be part of the Downtown Development District program. In addition to Seaford, Dover and Wilmington were also selected. Fifteen towns will be selected in total, over a period of five years.

The selections were made by a committee made up of state cabinet members. Criteria included the need for investment, the quality of the municipality's plan and the degree to which the local community was willing to invest.

Markell praised Seaford's application. "These applications required a lot of work, and we did that for a reason," he said. "We wanted to be sure that we had districts with the greatest chance of success. You've got a great mayor here, a strong city council and a fantastic city manager. I've been very impressed by the effective leadership here in Seaford."

Developers in the districts can qualify for grants in the amount of 20 percent of their costs, after the first $25,000 of investment. Developers can be nonprofit organizations or for-profit companies.

In addition, Markell has also directed all state agencies to do whatever they can to help these districts. The agencies are to "look for opportunities to offer additional incentive and to prioritize work in downtowns," he said.

Seaford is also throwing some local money into the pot. Developers who commit to projects in the district will qualify for tax breaks, the city's economic developer Trisha Newcomer said.

The boundaries of the districts are laid out by the municipalities, in accordance with state guidelines. Seaford's 50-acre district will be the same area as its Riverfront Enterprise Zone, which is bounded by the Nanticoke River on the south and the east, King Street on the north and the railroad tracks on the west. Already in that zone are incentives and special provisions to encourage development.

City manager Dolores Slatcher said that she is eager to get going with applications for funding.

"We have some developers who are right ready to go," she said. The city is also working with Sussex County Habitat for Humanity to apply for funding for housing rehabilitation through the Delaware State Housing Authority's Strong Neighborhoods Housing Fund.

City councilman Dan Henderson is the owner of Henderson Mechanical, located on New Street in Seaford's downtown. "This is a great day," he told the people at Monday's announcement. "I am so excited for my business associates, and for the people who will be employed by other businesses in the downtown. I am so pleased to be a part of the downtown region, and to be around to see the rebirth of downtown."

State Rep. Dan Short was also at Monday's announcement. "This is a very proud moment for Seaford," he said. "A lot of work went into this, but now the hard work begins. We will be bringing developers to the table to show them what we have here. This will make a big difference in downtown Seaford."

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