City Approves Downtown Designation Application

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22By Terry Rogers

On Monday, May 23, Milford City Council voted to approve the Delaware Downtown Designation application which included local incentives for residents and developers if the town is awarded the designation. The program was established by Governor Jack Markell in 2014 in an effort to revitalize downtowns throughout the state. During the inaugural round of the program, Wilmington, Dover and Seaford were selected for the designation. In March 2016, Governor Markell announced that the program would expand and that more downtown locations would be chosen for the program.

During the second phase of the program, just as it was in the first phase, one town from each county will be chosen to receive the designation.

Towns that are chosen for the program receive development incentives designed to encourage growth in the town, both residentially and commercially. The State is offering grants of up to 20 percent of the cost of investments in their property. In an effort to enhance the application, Milford also added local incentives to entice businesses to the city.

Rob Pierce, City Planner, presented details about the local incentives that would need to be passed by council if Milford was recognized as a Delaware Downtown. Some of the incentives included water, sewer and electric impact fee waivers along with waivers for other permits and fees for qualifying projects. Rebates would be available for real estate transfer taxes for certain buyers as well as streamlined permitting and approval processes. In addition, a tax abatement for up to ten years for both commercial and residential property was included in the application. Council decided to reduce the incentive to five years on new construction and ten years on rehabilitation projects when properties increase their value by over 50%.

“The Downtown Development District application process has been a great experience for the City of Milford,” said Mayor Bryan Shupe. “It has allowed us to explore and evaluate the public and private, commercial and residential assets within the district. Determining an overall economic development strategy that encourages private investment from existing businesses and home owners as well as prospective investors, the City of Milford has created a series of incentives that rewards individuals and businesses that enhance the quality of living within the district. The benefits created by the State of Delaware DDD program, including the potential for 20 percent grants of hard costs for private investments, will create a vibrant economic environment where public, private partnerships can create jobs and further economic opportunities.”

Delores Slatcher, Seaford City Manager, said that being chosen as a Delaware Downtown District was extremely beneficial to their town. She said they are in the second year of the program and feel that the designation brought a new sense of excitement to Seaford.

“We had a developer who was already somewhat interested in our downtown area,” Ms. Slatcher said. “The designation allowed that developer to receive a large rebate that encouraged him to build 16 apartments along the Nanticoke River. In addition, many developers and business owners took advantage of the incentives offered by the state. This led to downtown buildings being purchased, renovated and opening more retail locations downtown. This has stimulated a significant amount of change, encouraging people to invest in the area.”

Ms. Slatcher said that Seaford did not add additional incentives in their application, but decided to use incentives that were already in place that the city had not promoted previously. They did offer personnel to assist developers and residents with grant applications or other tasks.

Mayor Shupe said that moving forward, Milford hopes to place an emphasis on rehabilitation of existing properties, both commercial and residential. He said that the city planned to work with businesses, homeowners and investors to raise the quality and options of housing stock and commercial assets.

“Although the DDD program is capped at a region of 170 acres for the application, we hope that the success of this program will result in a desire to extend the incentives throughout the city to further encourage job creation and economic development opportunities,” Mayor Shupe said.

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