Laurel Library parking lot is dedicated to Lee

By Tony E. Windsor

On a very rainy Thursday morning last week the Laurel Public Library was filled with citizens and dignitaries, all in attendance to honor a retiring public servant. Clifford "Biff" Lee, Jr., has spent 22 years as a state legislator. A former Delaware State trooper, Lee took his father's place in the Delaware House after the elder Lee was killed in a traffic crash in 1990.

On Thursday Lee was recognized as the new Laurel Library parking lot was dedicated in his honor. Librarian Wendy Roberts said when she came to take over the reins at the library, she was told the vision for the newly renovated and expanded facility was to be "the community's living room."

She told the audience that she believes that vision has been fulfilled; however, one of the issues that has plagued the library for years is the lack of parking. Now, thanks to efforts by Lee and his colleague in the Senate, Bob Venables, there is a new parking lot with two handicap access and eight standard parking spots.

In recent years a block of buildings located at the intersection of Market Street and Central Avenue, known as the Bacon Block, were deemed in serious deterioration. The most concerning problem focused around the failing foundation. Owned by the Laurel Redevelopment Corporation (LRC), the group decided that attempting to repair the buildings and bring up to necessary code compliance would be extraordinarily expensive and a potential public safety hazard.

Brian Shannon, representative of the LRC said being faced with demolishing the Bacon Block, which was built in 1899, was troubling to the organization, but there was little option. He said the LRC preserved the building for about 20 years after taking ownership back from an owner who could no longer keep up with its obligation to maintain it. During the years the LRC owned the building it housed several start-up businesses, most of which moved on to other LRC properties due to the need for additional space.

Shannon said that many of Laurel's longtime residents may recall the businesses which operated out of the building when they were growing up. He said the three most familiar are the Elizabeth Shop (a ladies clothing boutique), Connor's Drug Store (pharmacy and soda fountain), and Bata Shoes. The second floor of the corner shop was also a canteen and dance hall for many years.

"We were sad to see the building go after being such a focal point and landmark of downtown Laurel for so long. But the overall condition brought about the change that can be seen today. The Laurel Library's parking problem is well-known among library users. Therefore the LRC is pleased to gift this parking lot to the Laurel Public Library. The library essentially has little safe off street parking. This parking will help them," he said.

During the ceremonies last week LRC Board President, former Laurel Mayor, Richard Small, said when the LRC approached the library about taking the Bacon Block buildings and having them demolished to make room for a parking lot, the library board expressed appreciation, but said it would be unable to afford such a project.

Small said this is where a combined effort between the LRC, Rep. Lee and Sen. Venables paved the way for the demolition of the buildings and the construction of the new library parking lot. "The LRC has always tried to do whatever it can to help improve the community; and we knew this was an important opportunity. When it comes to working together to help Laurel, there is no partisan politics. We worked with Bob [Sen. Venables], a Democrat, and Biff [Rep. Lee], a Republican, and with their help we got this project done," he said.

Town Mayor John Shwed said Laurel is a community in transition and Lee has been instrumental over the years in helping to "move our community to a new level." He lauded the efforts that brought the library's new parking lot and said it has helped to address a long-time problem. "There have always been concerns about the tight parking situation in the area of the library," he said "We are all creatures of habit and when people go to the library they want to get as close as possible. This new parking lot will help to alleviate some of these parking issues."

Shwed said he was particularly happy to be a part of Thursday's ceremonies because of how much Lee has done to help Laurel. "It is special when citizens revere someone so highly that they put their name on a project like this," he said. Biff Lee has been a real helper for the community. Laurel has a lot of infrastructure improvements thanks to Biff Lee. Our community has received several hundred thousands of dollars in various infrastructures in the last year alone. I am happy to be a part of this celebration."

In accepting the honors, Lee joked with the crowd. He said that he had hoped to have the ceremonies outside. "I have had a lot of people tell me that I don't have the sense to get in out of the rain," he said smiling. "I really appreciate this honor. As I always remember my good friend Bobby Quillen saying during a dedication in his honor, 'I would much rather have something dedicated in honor of me, than in memory of me.' This way I can see it and enjoy it."

Lee expressed his appreciation for the honors and commented that he was pleased to have the opportunity to use the new parking lot in a time of such bad weather. "I thank the LRC for all they do for Laurel. The folks in the LRC have a true spirit of community. They have done an outstanding job in Laurel. My thanks to both the LRC and the library," he said.

Lee said he has always been happy to do whatever he could as a legislator to help Laurel. "I did what I thought I had to do for Laurel," he said. "I did the same for Bethel and Delmar." He lightheartedly cautioned his predecessor, Rep. Tim Dukes, who was in the audience about the fact that due to redistricting, parts of Georgetown are now also in his legislative district. "They have added Georgetown to the list of communities you will be serving," he said. "I suggest you take care of them all."

Because of the heavy rain and cold temperatures, a stone in front of the library with a formal dedication to Rep. Lee was not unveiled on Thursday. In November, the LRC dedicated a park in downtown Laurel Towne to Sen. Venables for his years of service to the community.

News tips wanted
Call us with ideas for news and features. We're always looking for good stories to share with readers. Call Bryant Richardson at 629-9788.