Rivertown Rebirth update heard by community

MILFORD — The Rivertown Rebirth continues to grow and evolve, according to Milford Mayor Bryan Shupe during a strategy update meeting Thursday, Sept. 29 at city hall.

Attendees from business owners to local residents to organizational and city leaders filled the hall.

“It’s really only been six months into this ten-year plan. We’ve proven, and the residents have proven, that we want a strong downtown,” he said.

City Manager Eric Norenberg touted businesses new to the area including Touch of Italy which recently bought the old M&T Bank building at Walnut and Front Streets, Cool Springs Cottage located next to The Tavern and Josephine Keir across the street.

Metro PCS and Billiards both recently opened next to Gigante to round out the new downtown businesses.

“I think that’s a great improvement in that area,” Mr. Norenberg said during the meeting. “It will be a positive influence hopefully for that whole block.”

To add to the success of the town, he said a “contract is underway for the purchase of Lou’s Bootery, a positive for Walnut Street.”

Another project currently underway that will have a “strong impact” on downtown, he added, is the relocation of the water treatment plant.

City Planner Rob Pierce continued the positive stream, announcing plans in the works to turn a vacant building formerly Capital Cleaners on N. Church and SW Front Streets into a daycare center.

More good news came from Mr. Norenberg who spoke of transportation improvements in progress with the state of Delaware such as more areas for bicyclist and pedestrian movements and future plans for bicycle paths to help bridge the gap between downtown and the southeast area of Milford.

Living shorelines was also mentioned by Mr. Pierce as a hopeful addition to Milford.

Mayor Shupe said although Rivertown Rebirth progress is where they expected it to be six months ago, “It can change from years to years and months to months to make sure this is what the residents wants.”

Downtown Development District

Delaware Housing Authority’s Director of Housing Development Susan Eliason was also present for the meeting to discuss what might be Milford’s biggest accomplishment to date, according to city of Milford officials.

The housing authority facilitates the Downtown Development District program, which now includes eight municipalities compared to just three last year.

Milford was awarded the designation this past August.

“A stable and vibrant downtown is key to [a municipality’s] economic success,” she told the group while detailing the reasoning behind the Downtown Development District act which was voted in unanimously by Delaware legislators effectively creating the program in 2014.

Although the Downtown Development District program includes a variety of grant and rebate programs within its structure, she spoke mainly of the rebate program offered to recipients to cover up to 20 percent of hard costs of an approved project.

Eligible projects must involve a capital investment that works to expand or rehabilitate a current structure or construct new commercial, industrial, residential or mixed-use buildings.

Projects must also be physically in the pre-determined Downtown Development District and be in conformance with the district plan, she added.

Building owners, co-owners, tenants and developers alike can seek out this rebate, however all projects should be approved in advance, according to Ms. Eliason.

A minimum investment of $15,000 for projects costing less than $250,000 or $25,000 for projects over $250,000 must be paid in order to be eligible.

“The only groups not eligible are state and local municipalities,” she said.

According to Ms. Eliason, the rebate can only cover hard costs. Smaller projects can apply after renovations, expansions or new construction has been completed, however, larger projects must apply in advance to maintain a “reservation” on the funds needed for the rebate.

Ineligible projects include those at adult entertainment establishments, check cashing businesses, pawn or gun shops, tattoo parlors and liquor stores that do not also serve food and liquor for immediate consumption.

To help divvy money between municipalities evenly, she said the money set aside for Downtown Development District projects was divided in half.

Half of the money was divided between the eight districts based on population and other factors. The other half of the money went into a general pool to be spent on a first come, first serve basis once the other funds have been depleted.

“Milford’s share of half of the pot is $334,550,” she said. “Whatever that’s 20 percent of, that’s how much investment can be made in Milford.”

Twenty percent of Milford’s share would mean $1,672,750 worth of projects utilizing the Downtown Development District rebates could be completed within the Milford district, with more money still available in the general fund.

Following the completion of projects and before funds are generated for the rebates, the Delaware State Housing Authority will visit the facility to do a physical inspection. Those wishing to cash in on Downtown Development District rebates also must have submitted all documentation necessary within 60 days of project completion.

According to Ms. Eliason, the housing authority is looking for projects mentioned specifically in a district’s plan, are ready to begin, creates permanent jobs and expands housing opportunities to name just a few.

Applications for larger projects are due by Dec. 10 by 4 p.m.

Jennifer Antonik can be reached at mc@newszap.com

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