Milford vies for Downtown Development District designation

MILFORD — City officials again hope Milford will become a Downtown Development District through the state of Delaware after Governor Jack Markell opened the program to additional applications in March.

“Delaware’s downtowns are drivers of economic growth and prosperity, and this program has proven that a small amount of state support can catalyze major private investment to energize these key areas,” Gov. Markell said. “We look forward to building on the program’s success, and supporting more investment.”

Areas in Seaford, Dover and Wilmington were selected last year for the first designations and have already realized $9.7 million in grant funding and more than $160 million of private investment, according to the governor.

Milford Mayor Bryan Shupe said although the city unsuccessfully applied last year, he still hopes adding Downtown Development District to Milford’s growth chart will help with goals created by public interest during the Rivertown Rebirth process such as additional restaurants, shopping opportunities and housing options.

“I am encouraged to see Governor Markell expand the Downtown Development District designation to include more towns across Delaware,” he said. “We have already been approached by several investors, after they heard the news of the DDD expansion from Governor Markell, that would like to develop mixed used buildings downtown to serve as locations for commercial and residential use.”

Planning & Economic Activities Coordinator Rob Pierce said incentives are built into the program to draw investors into Downtown Development Districts, such as a grant offering developers up to 20 percent of hard costs within the district boundaries.

Milford city officials offered this view of the proposed Downtown Development District to councilmembers Monday night, anticipating additional comments or suggestions of how the city can best use a DDD designation. Special to The Chronicle

Milford city officials offered this view of the proposed Downtown Development District to councilmembers Monday night, anticipating additional comments or suggestions of how the city can best use a DDD designation. Special to The Chronicle

The city can include more than 170 contiguous acres within city limits in the application.  Boundaries drawn in preparation of the council meeting held April 11 involve about 169 acres including residential and commercial zonings in the downtown area.

“73 percent of the downtown area was built prior to 1950,” he said, adding that additional funding opportunities could be helpful in repairing the older structures and convincing others to repair homes based on neighboring updates.

Mayor Shupe said he thinks a Downtown Development District designation would help bring life to Milford residences without affecting the city budget.

“Through the DDD we will work with the State Housing Authority to offer incentives for home ownership and property improvements. The city of Milford Planning Office and the Economic Development Committee are currently constructing commercial and residential incentives that will be a part of the overall application,” he said.

“The City of Milford also hopes to use this partnership with the State of Delaware as a pilot program to analyze and explore additional economic development incentives and opportunities throughout the city.”

The application is due by June 1. Mr. Pierce said the city plans to discuss the application further at upcoming council meetings.

Comprehensive plan update scheduled

Although the city is required to update its comprehensive plan every ten years, officials hope starting now will give them a head start.

“Our plan was certified by the state in July of 2009. Which means we’re slowly approaching our mandated update,” Mr. Pierce said during the council meeting.

He hopes to have a draft developed by September. Public workshops will then be scheduled for October through March, according to his schedule.

By March or April of next year, he added, a final draft will hopefully be prepared and ready for council approval shortly after.

“This is a pretty key project for us to make happen over the next year,” he said.

Jennifer Antonik can be reached at mc@newszap.com

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