Georgetown project on state’s list for downtown development revitalization

LAUREL – Property in the “Kimmeytown” section of Georgetown is among 10 revitalization projects selected statewide for Delaware’s Downtown Development District program.

Besides the town of Georgetown, projects in Laurel, Dover and Wilmington have been selected for Downtown Development District rebates, with $4.3 million in rebates leveraging $53 million in total investment, Gov. John Carney announced Monday.

State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn speaks about the importance of the Downtown Development District program. In background: Delaware State Housing Authority Director Anas Ben Addi.

Seaford, Milford, Harrington and Smyrna have also shared in the DDD.

The Georgetown project – Jaelen LLC – entails expanding and rehabbing a mixed-use building on East Laurel Street to include a laundry facility, coffee shop, beauty salon, second-floor apartments and office space.

“As part of the designation when we made our application, the town has a slew of different incentives, from property taxes, business licensing, reductions on impact fees, reductions on building permit fees to entice private developers to come to the town,” said Georgetown Town Manager Eugene Dvornick.

Georgetown Mayor Bill West is hopeful this project will spur others.

“We’ve got a project we’re going to start. I think that is what it is going to take; one starting and then everybody else will get into it,” Mayor West said. “We’re going to revitalize Georgetown.”

Designated in2016, Georgetown’s downtown development district encompasses 84 acres, including two main business corridors:  East Market Street and North Race Street.

Launched in 2014 under Gov. Jack Markell, the DDD rebate program is a strong catalyst for private investment in Delaware’s downtowns. Over the last three years, $21 million in rebates issued or allocated have leveraged $371 million in total investment in eight districts.

Chief among program incentives is the grant money, which guarantees investors up to 20-percent grant rebate on their investment that they are making in capital funding.

“We are not taking this project to the finish line. We are not the bus drivers, but we are relying on our partners, the for-profit and non-profit to do so with our assistance,” said Delaware State Housing Authority Director Anas Ben Addi. “We are pleased to support new projects that are creating homes, renovating empty buildings, leading to new construction, and bringing businesses and jobs to our downtowns. Community development is central to our mission, and we are encouraged by the continued strong interest in the Downtown Development District rebates in all eight districts.”

Laurel Mayor John Shwed shares the history of the Broad Creek area.

“The downtowns are the hearts of our communities,” said State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown. “For too long development pressures … are taking the businesses, taking the residences out of the centers of towns into the outlying areas. This is going to bring money into the downtowns to help revitalize them … so we can have downtowns that we are proud of, once again.”

“That is the key to this entire program, building up our downtowns again; building up areas where people will want to live, want to work, want to come and shop, have dinner, spend some time and money in our towns and our downtowns,” Sen. Pettyjohn added.

Monday, Governor John Carney toured several downtown development district sites, including one in Laurel at the townhome community of the Villas on Broad Creek. It was the stage for a press conference.

“This is my second tour of sites,” said Gov. Carney. “I’ve been incredibly impressed with what I have seen.”

Gov. Carney noted all of the projects are exciting and “very different in each case but obviously revitalizing each of those downtowns and making each of those towns stronger and those communities stronger. And that is the intent. It is a way the government, the state government can put money into these projects to incentivize the private sector to do the bulk of the financing.”

Governor John Carney speaks at the Villas on Broad Creek in a stop in Laurel.

The Carney Administration’s proposed 2019 fiscal year budget includes $8.5 million for the DDD program.

“I applaud the Governor for putting the additional funding in his recommended budget; dully noted,” said Sen. Pettyjohn. “Hopefully, with my colleagues in the General Assembly we are going to fully fund this. This seems like is one of these years where we can do a lot of these things. I’m not sure if subsequent budget years are going to be the same but at least this year it looks like we might be able to do it.”

“I remember when this proposal came through the General Assembly last year,” said Sen. Pettyjohn. “It did go through unanimously, but it wasn’t a slam dunk. I had a lot of selling to do to my caucus in order to have full bipartisan support. Being one of only two former mayors now that are in the General Assembly, when it comes to issues with towns, Rep. (Danny) Short and I are usually the ones that are tapped to provide some leadership and some guidance and some suggestions on what’s best for our cities and towns here in Delaware.”

Sussex County Economic Development Director Bill Pfaff, left, chats with Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson.

Sen. Pettyjohn acknowledged the private sector factor in this equation.

“This couldn’t happen without the private money coming into it. One of first things that the Governor said when he was elected even before he was sworn in was these public/private partnerships,” said Sen. Pettyjohn. “That is what we need. We need to help the private sector do what they do best, and that is create opportunity. If we can do that using state money, leveraging state resources, that’s a win-win for everybody.”

DSHA also announced the launch of the DDD StoryMap, an online tool developed with the University of Delaware that showcases projects in all eight districts. A link to the StoryMap is online at destatehousing.com/ddd.

Investments eligible for Downtown Development District rebate funds include capital investments on rehabilitation, expansion or new construction for commercial, industrial, residential or mixed-use buildings within the district boundaries.

Rebates are issued after the project is completed. Qualified applicants include property owners, tenants, for-profit developers, nonprofit organizations, businesses and homeowners.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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