Eric Norenberg began his second year as the City of Milford City Manager in November and says that he sees Milford as a great location in Delaware for businesses and residents. He points to the growing economy, with businesses like the new Bayhealth Sussex Campus, Nemours, the purchase of the old hospital campus by Nationwide Health along with growth in other industries like Perdue and First State Manufacturing as evidence of how Milford is growing.
“In December, we had several new businesses that celebrated grand openings in Milford,” Mr. Norenberg said. “I believe there is more to come in 2018, thanks in part to the major investment commitments by Bayhealth, Perdue Farms, Columbia Care, Nationwide Healthcare, Nemours and others in Milford, the success of the Downtown Development District, and the improving economy. I am excited about the number of contacts we have had in recent months form businesses that are interested in opening in Milford. This has been the result of proactive recruitment by Mayor Shupe, Downtown Milford, Inc. and City staff, as well as current property owners seeking to reenergize the use of their properties. We have also had unsolicited interest from businesses with other locations in Delaware looking to expand into the Milford market, one of whom cited the City’s “business-friendly” reputation. This all bodes well for a growing Milford economy in 2018.
Mr. Norenberg pointed to the investments by Bayhealth, Nemours and Nationwide as ones that will have a ripple effect throughout the community and he expects them to have an impact on the local economy. Milford also has a prime location with three busy roads that bring visitors, consumers and employees and others into the community. He said that this is what is prompting business growth along Coastal Highway (Route 1), Dupont Highway (Route 113 and Milford-Harrington Highway (Route 14). Mr. Norenberg said that these factors are combining to stimulate the residential housing market again.
“Northeast and Northwest Front Streets are maintained by DelDOT and we are currently working with DelDOT on a Transportation Alternative Project for these streets that would involve pedestrian and bicycling improvements, traffic calming and streetscape improvements in conjunction with DelDOT’s planned pavement improvements,” Mr. Norenberg said. “In addition, DelDOT has plans to construct the SR1/NE Front Street Grade Separated Interchange (GSI) which will improve the safety and maneuvering of traffic coming from Route 1 into Milford. North and South Walnut Streets are also DelDOT maintained streets, but we don’t have information about their plans for resurfacing those routes.”
Mr. Norenberg said that the City conducted a pavement condition index analysis of all City-maintained streets last summer which determined that North and South Washington Streets, which are City maintained, ranged from good to poor, while most of the street falls in the good to fair category. The City is currently working on a five-year Capital Improvement Program and the Public Works Department is working to prioritize all of the street segments that were either poor, very poor or serious for maintenance or rehabilitation during the next five fiscal years, contingent on funding.
The lack of transit service in Milford may be limiting economic development in Milford, however, Mr. Norenberg said.“Our major employers and their employees regularly ask for more public transit options to support employment need, as well as access to the new Bayhealth Campus and other healthcare,” he said. “There is also a need for transportation to access other commercial activity centers, like the downtown area. During 2018, we plan to continue our conversations with DART about local and regional transit services for Milford.”
In a recent survey of residents conducted by the City, residents pointed to code enforcement as one of the things that needed improvement in Milford. Mr. Norenberg said that three initiatives should help improve neighborhoods in 2018. The City plans to reactivate the sidewalk repair program and assess the City’s public infrastructure to do their part in making neighborhoods safe and attractive for travel by any mode. Next, the City plans to steadily increase proactive and responsive code enforcement activity. Mr. Norenberg says that combining that with a proactive rental inspection program, there will be more eyes on more properties throughout the City to help improve both owner-occupied and rented properties. The final initiative is occurring through increasing interest in the Downtown Development District which pay great dividends to those who invest in properties located within the district. These dividends benefit investors, property owners and surrounding properties.
When asked about infrastructure that would still be needed to serve the new Bayhealth campus in southeast Milford, Mr. Norenberg pointed out that the City had added a new water tower, wells and electric distribution infrastructure to serve the new hospital and neighborhoods who were growing in the area. “In 2017, we began work on the first stage of wastewater improvements for the area,” Mr. Norenberg said. “A new sewage pumping station across the street from the Bayhealth campus will support the hospital and development in the surrounding area. It should be completed by the end of this winter. The second stage of wastewater improvements will be an upgrade to the Shawnee Acres Pump Station, anticipated to be later in 2018.”
Another issue that residents asked about is the future of the Old Armory building which the City purchased from the State of Delaware for one dollar several years ago. Many options have been discussed for the building and Mr. Norenberg said that parts of the property are being used by Milford Parks and Recreation.
“The Armory site has four buildings,” Mr. Norenberg said. “The three buildings at the rear of the site are being used by the Parks and Recreation Department for storage and maintenance of ground equipment. Eventually, this location will be the hub of operations for the parks maintenance team. Meanwhile, a new community garden is taking shape on the northeast side of the property. This project will be the first of its kind in the area and will, hopefully, lead to more interest in the community. Lastly, we have had discussions with several potential partners about using the main building. Given the deed restrictions that require the building to be for public use and the Armory’s location in a neighborhood, we have to focus on partnering with possible tenants that qualify and are compatible with the surrounding area.”
The City is also being proactive with the homeless population in Milford, Mr. Norenberg said, partnering with Code Purple and other agencies that support the end to homelessness. Milford Police Department has been included in conversations about dealing with Milford’s homeless. The City provides referral information to individuals who might be in contact with the homeless and posted documents online for easy access. Milford Parks & Recreation maintenance crews have cut back shrubs and other landscaping to eliminate areas where homeless may hide in the parks after they have closed for the night. Milford Police regularly patrol the areas to deter and enforce prohibited activities, like alcohol and drug use as well as smoking. The City tries to take a compassionate approach to helping the homeless get to a safe, appropriate shelter and move risky, inappropriate behavior from the downtown area, Mr. Norenberg said.
One of the projects currently underway in Milford is to promote walking and bicycle traffic in the downtown area. One way the City wants to do that is to install additional bicycle racks throughout downtown. “I am pleased that Downtown Milford, Inc. is taking the lead on adding bike racks to downtown in collaboration with Lifecycle and the City of Milford,” Mr. Norenberg said. “There is a crowd funding campaign to raise $10,000 for bicycle racks that the public can support.” The link to the crowd funding site is https://www.ioby.org/project/accessible-artistic-secure-bicycle-parking.
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