by Terry Rogers
Trish Gerken, who took over as the director of Downtown Milford, Inc., in 2019, believes that Milford offers great opportunities for businesses to open or expand. She points to a growing population, the new Bayhealth Sussex Campus, Nemours and the Nationwide Wellness Village as evidence that Milford is a place where people want to live, work and play. However, she also believes that for Milford to grow, there is a need for activities which include recreational and historical attractions along with delicious restaurants, shops to peruse and expansion of Milford’s wonderful art scene.
“There are many opportunities for businesses in Milford or room for businesses to expand in downtown,” Gerken said. “A healthy downtown signifies a healthy and vibrant community. Many people may not know, but there are numerous incentives offered by the city and state for new businesses. Milford has been designated an Opportunity Zone and Downtown Development District (DDD) which translates to incentives for businesses, investors and owners. Already, we see the benefits of these incentives with Benvenuto scheduled to open in the old Abbott’s Grill location, Fur Baby Pet Resort expanding to a new location and the Well Coffeehouse planning to open along the Riverwalk.”
DMI is an accredited Main Street program which means the organization uses a 4-point approach transformation strategy. This includes committees like Economic Vitality, Organization, Promotions and Design. Each committee has its own focus for making downtown a thriving location. In addition, several popular events will return to downtown for 2020, including the Ladybug Music Festival, 10th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Pub Crawl, 3rd Thursday, Bug and Bud Festival, the Farmer’s Market, Santa House and the Holiday Stroll.
“We also began work on a new painted utility box program to help beautify the downtown area,” Gerken said. “With Council’s approval this year, we can begin to expand the program for 2020. We are targeting two utility boxes for this year. Our Economic Vitality Committee is working hard on maintaining a list of occupied buildings and vacancies, which are very useful for potential businesses. We have also been working to develop partnerships to promote recreational activities along the Riverwalk and historic preservation at the Vinyard Shipyard. Downtown Milford has awarded two sign, façade and awning matching awards, one ‘5-for-free’ paint incentive, two small business loans and offered several free workshops for business owners.”
Gerken believes that Milford is set up for success with room for growth and many opportunities for businesses. As a Main Street program, DMI builds on historic preservation-based economic development. Historic preservation means more than museums, Gerken explained. It also means using infrastructure that is already in place which is crucial for downtown areas.
“I hope to help people see the same vision I have for our downtown in utilizing the beautiful buildings Milford already has,” Gerken said. “These include the recently restored Pikus Building or the old M&T Bank on the corner of Front and Walnut Streets. This means partnering with building and property owners to help them find the right business for the building and the area. One of my goals as Director of DMI is to provide more educational opportunities for current and potential businesses. This could be in the form of workshops, being a point of contact for potential proprietors and serving as a liaison between business owners and the community.”
Gerken believes that Rob Pierce, Planning & Economic Development Director for the City of Milford, has done a great job in creating an online mapping portal and guidelines for opening a business whether from the ground up or buying an already existing business. Gerken feels the goal now is to make sure that information is accessible and that people know about the resources that are available.
Gerken also praised the volunteers at DMI for helping to achieve the vision of the organization. Joe Phillips, Design Committee Chairperson and former Interim Director of DMI, was named Certified Tourism Ambassador of the Year for Kent County. Sara Pletcher, past DMI president and current volunteer, was honored with the Governor’s Outstanding Volunteer Award. DMI was recently awarded $30,000 from the City of Milford for the Ladybug Music Festival which drew huge crowds from people across Delaware and neighboring states.
“DMI takes pride in our efforts to help promote a vibrant downtown and we couldn’t do it without the support of our volunteers,” Gerken said. “In addition, we are greatly appreciative of the support of the community and business owners. We are looking forward to a great 2020.”