by Terry Rogers
On Monday, February 14, Milford City Council agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Tsionas Management and Emory Hill to provide professional services for a new industrial park planned for the Fry Farm. The city purchased the farm, which is located on the corner of Milford Harrington Highway and Canterbury Road, in December.
“One of the things that has been talked about is the need to have a developer that can guide you along the way,” City Manager Mark Whitfield said. “Someone that has expertise in industrial developments as well as commercial properties. We reached out to a number of folks to discuss this, both other professionals and other cities and the one firm we kept coming back to was Emory Hill.”
Deborah Tomasi, Executive Managing Director of Tsionas, provided background on her company. She explained that Tsionas Management was founded in 1970 by Gus Tsionas with the mission of operating retail businesses.
“Under the leadership of his daughter, Angela, the firm has evolved into a well-established real estate investment and management company,” Tomasi said. “We currently own and operate over 700,000 square feet of commercial space in the state of Delaware, including Milford Plaza and we’ve acquired and developed an expansive portfolio that includes the University of Delaware. We are now actively developing a state of the art 200-student housing center that will be a campus within a campus.”
Tomasi stated that the goals for the Fry Farm were aligned with the investment objectives of Tsionas Management. They selected Emory Hill as a partner as they had been very successful developing industrial areas. Clay Hall, Property Management Director, and Neil Killian, Director of Brokerage, also spoke to council about Emory Hill’s qualifications.
“Clay Emory, one of our founding partners, was born and raised in Milford,” Hall said. “He graduated from Milford High School. He comes from a family of Milford dentists. Some of you may know Bob Emory, perhaps sat in his dentist chair. Carmen Facciolo is another of our founders. He and his family built the Mllford Post Office in the 1960s. We are Delaware developers and operators through and through. About 85 percent of our business and operations are in Delaware.”
Hall stated that Emory Hill had constructed a wide range of businesses, including Wawa’s, Goodwill’s, banks, research facilities, shopping centers and more. He stated that the company anticipated a high-end and attractive industrial park that will bring good companies and employers to Milford.
“One example of an industrial park, one most would consider the preeminent industrial park in Delaware, is Pencader Industrial Park in Newark,” Hall said. “It’s a 350-acre business park that we developed in the mid-80s. It has 43 parcels that we subdivided. We’ve been involved since the inception which makes it very parallel to what we’re speaking about tonight. We still own and manage ten of those buildings. The types of buildings constructed there range from heavy industrial to flex to offices and labs. It’s a very dynamic park, very well-run, high-class park. We envision the same for Milford.
Killian provided a list of buildings that Emory Hill had been involved in over the years, including J.C. Penney, Wilmington Trust and ChemLawn, Discover Card, Federal Express, TD Bank and more. Killian explained that the vision for the Fry Farm included high bay, modern warehouse space as well as single story offices and labs. Councilman Jason James thanked Hall, Killian and Tomasi for their presentation.
“You’ve shared some of the Delaware connections, even Milford connections,” Councilman James said. “That’s important because we know that they know the characteristics of the nature of desire of the town and what we are trying to accomplish. It is a very meaningful thing that’s very important. Milford may not have a lot of money, but the people of Milford spend money. It will present an excellent environment for our citizens and those that are coming. I did hear you say something about your approach to your investment in or your building of facilities, and I know we are not going to get very specific because we are at a very early stage, but what is your general plan for developing these sites?”
Killian stated that Emory Hill’s initial goal was to provide expertise in planning the industrial park because, in their experience, that was the critical part.
“Clay mentioned our Pencader Park and our involvement there,” Killian said. “The history of that park was we were hired, actually selected, by Shriner’s Hospital for Crippled Children when the land itself was raw. So, we were involved with the planning of that park from day one. And that is why we feel so passionate about it. We really believe that the success that has occurred there, and we think it is critical in this case, that the same type of thought go into planning of the overall park.”
Councilman Todd Culotta mentioned that the industrial park project has taken time, but proper planning was critical.
“I think this decision on a business park, first time we decided where to put it, finding a location, acquiring the land and getting to this point,” Councilman Culotta said. “My personal opinion, this is probably the biggest decision to see. I look forward to working with partners that help us get there. They are vital. I really want to commend Mark and his staff for getting us to this point.”
Councilman Dan Marabello stated that he felt unification and consistency were very important in creating a cohesive industrial park.
“This is why we feel strongly about being involved in these early stages,” Killian said. “What we believe has led to the overall success of Pencader is some of the restrictions and design elements that were put in place and have withstood the test of time. We use the park as an example because we really think it’s the most responsibly designed in our industry. There are design elements and architectural features that are required. Just to give you some examples, there’s limitation on outside storage, trailer parking, different types of uses, as well as landscaping and façade requirements so we don’t have buildings that age and weather over time. It just maintains an element and an. Aesthetic that encourages investment.”
Councilwoman Katrina Wilson also thanked the presenters for providing council with their Milford and Delaware connection.
“I remember Dr. Emory,” Councilwoman Wilson said. “My mom loved him as a person, so near and dear to my family. I’m sitting her thinking I have been here for a very long time. And the first thing that came to my mind is that we had to crawl before we could walk. And by saying that, we started with our first business park and there were a lot of hiccups along the way. Hearing your presentation, that’s how you know we’ve grown as a city and in this body that is here today. It will allow us to make the more wiser decision based on our past experiences. Now, saying all of that, we’re proud of what we’ve done for the last 30 years and how we have managed that growth. I do think it is awesome we have the expertise of all you guys, a different level of expertise so we can make a sound decision as we go forward.”
Mayor Archie Campbell stated that he felt neighbors surrounding the Fry Farm were concerned with heavy manufacturing versus distribution centers. Councilman Wilson felt that it would be a mistake to limit the city in any way.
“It’s an opportunity that we can take to that will benefit our city for years to come with an influx of businesses,” Councilwoman Wilson said. “I definitely want us to stay as you guys are exercising different styles and in types of businesses that might come in, so I’m just afraid whether it be the manufacturer or what it might be, because I don’t want to limit us. People are saying we have become a medical town and now this is an opportunity for us to be an industrial manufacturing town. We want it all as long as it is managed properly.”
Hall explained that the idea from the beginning was to be flexible with the design at this stage. He stated that Pencader has changed industrially over the past few years and no one foresaw the recent surge.
“Not only do we need to be flexible, we need to be open to Delaware businesses who may want to expand or relocate here, but also to east or west coast national companies who may want to expand or relocate,” Hall said. “There was a time when we were the largest landlord for DuPont and more recently, ChristianaCare before they moved into a consolidated campus. So when it comes to who wants to be in Milford, there’s not a type of organization or industry or size we haven’t worked with between Tsionas and Emory Hill, so we are comfortable working with everybody when they come here and presenting them to you as opportunities to consider.”
Council approved the MOU unanimously.
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