By Terry Rogers
On Tuesday, January 10, Governor Jack Markell, local legislators and City of Milford officials gathered in the former M&T Bank Building which will soon be home to Touch of Italy restaurant. After Milford received the Downtown Development District designation, the property was eligible for State and local incentives that helped the owners finalize their decision to open a location in Milford.
“The DDD program has been a central part of our efforts to revitalize Delaware’s downtown business districts and drive private investment in our towns and cities,” Governor Markell said. “In just two years, the DDD program has leveraged dramatic private investment in a wide variety of projects. Encouraging private investment that also revitalizes our downtown business districts and surrounding neighborhoods is the goal of the DDD program and we’re thrilled it has been so successful.”
Three projects in Milford were recipients of DDD grants. Downtown Properties of Milford, LLC, owned by Dan Bond, received a grant of $135,554 toward the complete renovation and historic preservation of the Lou’s Bootery building, a project that will cost $872,764. Mr. Bond plans to return the building, which was built in the 1840s, to its original state, creating retail on the first floor and high-end apartments on the upper floors.
The former Milford Skating Rink is being renovated by owner, Dennis Silicato, to create office space for Davis, Bowen & Friedel, an architectural firm. The building, which was the site of W.T. Grant Department Store for many years, will now house offices, meeting space and storage space. The façade of the building is being completely renovated along with the interior. The office space will be one of the largest outside of Wilmington, according to the Delaware State Housing Authority which controls the grant process. Greater Milford Development, LLC, the listed owner of the building, received a grant of $195,000 for the project which will cost $975,000.
Under the small project awards, Touch of Italy received a grant of $50,000 towards the renovation for the M&T Bank Building. “We are excited about renovating this building,” Joseph Curzi, co-owner of Touch of Italy, said. “This building had so much potential and we feel it will be an excellent addition to downtown Milford. We are putting a bar in the vault while the area where the teller windows used to be will be our retail space. We will also have two pizza ovens and we are trying to keep as much of the character of the bank as we possibly can. We think we will be very successful here.”
According to Mayor Bryan Shupe, the opening of the Milford location was made possible through several partnerships including the City of Milford, as he and City Planner Rob Pierce held continued discussions with the owners of Touch of Italy about the Rivertown Rebirth Plan and the business’ investment in downtown Milford.
“We knew from the day M&T announced the closing of the downtown branch that we had an opportunity to help create a corner in downtown that would support economic development and historic preservation,” Mayor Shupe said. “The corner is a historically important corner in downtown and we understood that the actions taken on the property would set a precedent for the downtown revitalization efforts.”
The DDD began as a challenge from Governor Markell who tasked governmental agencies with finding a way to grow the state’s downtown area. Anas Ben Addi, Director of the DSHA, said that his agency began searching for programs throughout the country and found one in Virginia that seemed to meet all the requirements Delaware was looking for. They brought the program to the Governor who also agreed it would be perfect for Delaware. The program was edited somewhat to meet Delaware’s needs and passed by the legislature in 2014. In April 2015, three towns were awarded in the first round of designations – Wilmington, Dover and Seaford. All three towns had projects implemented due to the DDD. In the second round, Milford, Georgetown, Laurel, Smyrna and Harrington were awarded the designation in August 2016. Mr. Addi said that another round will begin in the spring so that even more downtown areas can begin taking steps for improvement.
“When this came before us in the legislature, I was skeptical that it would work,” Senator Gary Simpson said. “I honestly thought this would only benefit New Castle County and Wilmington. So far, the DDD has used $17 million in state funding to bring $300 million in private investment in all three counties. I think that is pretty good return on our investment.”
Governor Markell said that he is thrilled that the DDD is helping to grow downtown areas throughout Delaware. He said that many of the projects could not have happened without the DDD.
“I am standing in a bank with a rich history in this town that is being repurposed for a new use,” Governor Markell said. “I am looking across the street to the building where I used to stop in and see Skip and know that it will be put to good use because of this funding. I am excited about where Milford is going. There are fantastic things happening in this town and that was what I envisioned when the DDD was created.”
Sign up for you free digital subscription of The Weekly Review, delivered directly to your email every Tuesday morning. A quick cover-to-cover read to catch up on the news of the week and experience great stories about our local communities. Sign up for your free email subscription below.