Consultant: Bridgeville has a lot of room to expand economically
By Lynn R. Parks
A consultant hired by the town of Bridgeville to come up with a vision for the community had good news for its residents: Based on demographic information about the people who are a part of the community and their spending habits, Bridgeville could support several more businesses in its downtown.
The challenge, Ben Muldrow told more than 100 people last week, is to convince business owners to set up shop there.
" The good news is that there is money on the table that can support the businesses that you want to see on Market Street," Muldrow said. " The bad news is, you have to get information out to folks to convince them that it is worth it to take the risk."
Muldrow presented his analysis of Bridgeville - what it is and what it could be - at a public meeting Thursday evening at the Bridgeville Public Library. It followed an initial public meeting, held Tuesday, at which he asked residents what they like about the town and what vision they have for its future. During the week, Muldrow and his team also met with three focus groups and collected information from residents and property owners from throughout town.
On Thursday, he praised the town for its participation in the process.
" It is rare to get the support of the community like you have shown me this week," he said. "There are a lot of people here who are passionate about the future of this town." Muldrow is a partner with Arnette Muldrow & Associates, a planning and economic development consulting firm based in Greenville, S.C. His firm was hired by the town through a USDA grant administered by the Delaware Economic Development Office. The grant will pay $16,250 of the $20,250 cost of the firm's work. The town will pay the remaining $4,000.
Ruth Skala is chairwoman of the town's Economic Development Committee.
"This is an incredibly exciting time for Bridgeville," she said at the start of Thursday's meeting. " This report is just the beginning of the process. We need the whole community to be a part of this."
A little more than 9,200 people live in Bridgeville zip code area, making up 3,371 households. Muldrow told the group at the Thursday night meeting that those people buy about $137.5 million in merchandise and food every year, at gas stations, building supply stores, restaurants and department stores. Of that, only $115 million is spent in the 19933 zip code. " That means that you are seeing retail leakage of $22.5 million," he said. "That money already exists in Bridgeville, but is being spent elsewhere: Rehoboth Beach, Salisbury, Dover and Amazon."
It is unrealistic to think that Bridgeville can capture all $22.5 million, he said. " But you can tap into it to help develop new businesses in the community." Muldrow told the group that his analysis shows that the town could support a small department store, a store selling toys, sporting goods and hobby supplies, a couple of clothing boutiques and two or three additional restaurants.
The boutiques should be near each other: "Stores like that do better when they are clustered," he said. And the restaurants "should be located strategically to serve as catalysts for other growth."
Answering complaints that grocery shopping in Bridgeville isn't what it should be, Muldrow said that there is no "leakage" when it comes to food buying. He suggested that residents who feel underserved by current grocery stores could "support and cultivate markets outside of a traditional grocery store."
In one area, furniture and antique buying, Bridgeville is bringing in money - $2.5 million - from outside areas.
"With that, you have the opportunity to create a niche, by cultivating additional businesses in the same category," he said.
Muldrow's team had some advice for ways to make Market Street, Bridgeville's traditional shopping district, more attractive. Tom McGilloway, a principal with the Baltimore-based landscape architecture and urban planning firm Mahan Rykiel, suggested that the town paint lines to indicate where parking spaces are. Now, the single parking lane is delineated by just one line that runs parallel to the driving lane.
"People get confused and think that it's a driving lane, until all of a sudden there's a parked car in front of them," he said.
He also recommended "bump-outs," peninsulas of green that stick out in the parking lane that could be planted in trees. Bump-outs, in addition to making the street look better, serve to slow traffic down, he said.
McGilloway recommended that a parking lot that is planned for the vacant lot at Market and Mechanic streets be temporary. The lot was home to an old store that burned down in 2008. "Rather than for parking, it could be a future development site," he said. In the meantime, he said, the part of the lot that fronts Market Street should be set aside for a temporary vendor or pop-up store.
The team recommended that the town work with Dollar General to ensure that the fa�ade of the new store planned for the corner of Market and Main streets be compatible with the town's style. Dollar General wants to be in Bridgeville and that gives the town some leverage to demand something "other than the traditional Dollar General store."
As for the current Market Street Dollar General building, which originally housed an Acme grocery store, McGilloway said that it would make a great brew pub. His slide show included a picture of the building, complete with a large sign across the front announcing that it is the Bridgeville Brewhouse. The brewery could work with area farmers to obtain locally grown ingredients for its suds, he said. And the building's large windows "would be a great way to show off the brewery equipment." The slide showed tables with umbrellas set up in the area in front of the store and in the parking lot to the east.
Muldrow told attendees at Thursday night's meeting that Bridgeville already has a reputation among people who travel through the small town on their way to the beach. "You are integral to their vacations," he said. " With their simple entry into your town, people feel as though they have permission to start their vacations." Of course, it works the other way too, he added. People headed home from the beach feel that when they reach Bridgeville, their vacation is truly over. Beyond that, Bridgeville has a unique character that will serve it well.
"You are a community that is extremely inviting," Muldrow said. " You are caring, compassionate people. I have been blown away by the support that I have seen here." The town's challenge, he said, will be to unite Heritage Shores, the new golfing community on the south edge of town, and what has become known as Old Bridgeville. "You will have to work to preserve the uniqueness of both areas while creating an overall sense of pride that will bring people together," he said.
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