Downtown Development Program in Dover Sees Some Successes - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Downtown Development Program in Dover Sees Some Successes

Posted: 10/23/2017 19:24:00 -04:00 Updated:
A vacant storefront advertises the Downtown Development District program in Dover. (Nick Layman/WBOC) A vacant storefront advertises the Downtown Development District program in Dover. (Nick Layman/WBOC)

DOVER, Del. -- Carolyn Davidson moved around the Grey Fox Grille and Public House on Monday afternoon as lunch was served at the restaurant, a beneficiary of Delaware's Downtown Development District Program.

Davidson, a co-owner of the Grey Fox, said the cost of renovating the historic building was not unsubstantial, but the restaurant's initial months could have looked a little leaner had more than $25,000 in grant money not been approved to offset the cost of rehabbing the structure and rooms.

"It might have affected how we opened the restaurant, what types of food or services we provided, or the food that we were able to prepare," she said.

The Grey Fox served as the host for a luncheon in Dover on Monday involving Gov. John Carney, state and city officials, and business owners and stakeholders. The session focused on efforts to spur redevelopment, like the DDD program, which offers grant money intended to offset up to 20 percent of the cost to redevelop, renovate, or build in specific downtown areas of some cities and towns in Delaware.

The Delaware State Housing Authority has credited the program with leveraging hundreds of millions of dollars of investment into downtowns across the state after it was approved by the legislature in 2014. The agency says Dover has reserved or granted $1.1 million in rebates that will leverage $8.7 million in total planned investments.

Many of the grants have been approved for small projects, which involve $15,000 to $250,000 of investment and are approved on a rolling basis, while larger projects require more than $250,000 of investment and different approvals. 

A number of empty storefronts and buildings in Downtown Dover had signs in their windows advertising the DDD program and its incentives, though Phil McGinnis, a commercial realtor in Dover, said many property owners may find it difficult to be eligible for grants because of the fact that money has to be spent upfront.

The situation can be especially difficult when business or property owners are interested in applying for rebates on larger projects, which are not approved on a rolling basis.

"Timing is an issue. The size of the grant is an issue. It's a complicated process all the way around," he said.

Acting Dover Planning Director Dave Hugg said a number of businesses and property owners have taken advantage of the local incentives from the city through the DDD program, though he believes overall interest has decreased after it started. 

Hugg said he wants to see the city's website for the program re-tooled and focus on making the program and incentives more accessible.

"[We want to be] re-focusing and making it more intuitive for people who are using the funds---and frankly---making it easier to administer," he said.

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