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Delaware ‘downtown’ program expands

New apartments inside this former bank building on Market St. were funded in part through the state's Downtown Development District program. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

New apartments inside this former bank building on Market St. were funded in part through the state's Downtown Development District program. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

The state of Delaware is expanding a popular program in an effort to continue building downtown districts statewide.

“Bringing activity back downtown increases vitality, creates jobs and builds community pride – strengthening a whole community,” said Mayor of Rehoboth Beach Sam Cooper.

Delaware Governor Jack Markell announced the expansion of the Downtown Development District Program on Wednesday. He initially proposed the DDD program in his 2014 State of the State address, and it took off from there.

Last year, Wilmington, Seaford and Dover were among the first cities to be selected as Downtown Development Districts.

“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,” Markell said at today’s 2016 Downtown Delaware “Revitalize!” Conference in Wilmington.

The Delaware Office of State Planning Coordination will handle applications which are currently available now. To date, $9.7 million in grant funding has helped create more than $160 million of private investment in districts previously selected through the DDD program.

“I sincerely believe that the Downtown Development District program is the backbone for the revitalization of downtowns throughout Delaware,” said State Planning Director at the Office of State Planning Coordination Constance Holland.

One of the program’s investments includes a multi-level structure building at 9th and Shipley Streets in Wilmington. The project is still in the beginning stages but will include 355 public parking spaces, more than 200 apartments and ground-level retail shops.

In Seaford, there’s a unique construction project that will build apartments on the Nanticoke River. The structure will include boat docks outside.

And in Dover, the DDD program has allowed the Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity to transform vacant lots into homes on New Street and Kirkwood Street ultimately encouraging home ownership.

“The Downtown Development Districts program has helped people to realize the investment opportunities we have in downtown Dover,” Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen said.

According to Christiansen, the Dover project is also in the early stages but is expected to make downtown more attractive in both business and residential neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, the application deadline for local cities interested in being designated as a Downtown Development District is June 1st.

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