by Terry Rogers
Two downtown revitalization projects in Milford are among those chosen throughout the state to receive Delaware’s Downtown Development Districts (DDD) grants. The grant awards were announced in July 2019 and include Mispillion Street Partners LLC as well as Benvenuto, the new restaurant in progress owned by Poncho and Lisa Johnson.
Mispillion Street Partners, owned by Don Lockwood, plans to construct four 12-unit condominium buildings at 401 Mispillion Street on vacant land located between Columbia and Marshall Street. This project was originally presented to City Council as the Fisherhawke project and the first plan included retail space on the first floor. The Planning Commission denied the request, determining that the application did not meet the requirements of a Planned Unit Development and the application was withdrawn. A second application presented in 2015 did not include a retail aspect and that application was approved in 2016.
The project will consist of two- and three-bedroom options that may be purchased for owner-occupancy or as an investment for those who want to offer the apartments for renters. Each unit will have a panoramic view of the Mispillion River. The apartments and townhomes are close enough to downtown, residents will be able to walk to dining, retail and entertainment venues.
Benvenuto, which means “Welcome” in Italian, will be located in the previous Abbott’s Grill location at 249 N.E. Front Street. Currently, the Johnson’s own a private events company. They have hired a chef who will offer a wide range of menu options. The interior of the restaurant as well as the patio will be focused on the Tuscany region of Italy, an area the Johnson’s love to visit. Mrs. Johnson explained that the new interior will not look anything like previous restaurants that have been housed in the location and that she is very excited for it to open.
“We are honored and humbled to receive the grant,” Mr. Johnson said. “It is apparent the state feels we have the quality and character to create jobs and bring community back to Milford. That is our goal with this new restaurant, to make it the people’s place in Milford.”
Since the DDD program was established in 2014, it has helped leverage over $597 million in private investment throughout the state by providing $31.6 million in grant funding. This year’s award will leverage $103 million in private investment with grants totaling $5.5 million.
“DSHA is pleased to support these new projects that will renovate empty buildings, create homes and bring businesses and jobs to downtown areas,” Anas Ben Addi, Director of the Delaware State Housing Authority, said.
Several other Milford projects have benefitted from the DDD program. Dan Bond has been the recipient of three grants from the project, one for the Pikus Building which is currently under renovation and the other for the Wells Building, located next door to the Pikus Building, which he will begin renovating soon. The third project are townhomes along Northwest Front Street.
“I would not have taken on these projects if financial support from the DDD program had not been available,” Bond said. “By combining financial support from the DDD program with state and federal historic restoration in tax credits, I plan to restore both of these historic buildings to their original glory.”
At a recent meeting, Milford City Council voted to expand the DDD area in the town. The state allowed the City to increase the District by 15 acres. After much discussion, an area in the northern section of town just south of Benjamin Banneker Elementary School was added to the District.
“The DDD focuses on low-income, blighted areas and the grants are intended to promote home ownership,” City Planner Rob Pierce said. “It is designed to provide grant money to fix structures that had degraded. We looked at areas with high code violations and vacancies. The current area is centered around our central business district, but keeps City owned property like City Hall from being included. This is because City and State-owned properties are not eligible for the grant monies and would have taken up an acre or two that we could use elsewhere. The state requires that the work be done before any grant money is expended, so the applicant does not receive funds unless they do what they say they will do.”
City Manager Eric Norenberg explained that they were only permitted to expand the DDD by 15 acres and should the state allow the City to expand it farther, they will look at other areas of town, including South Walnut and South Washington Streets.