New Delaware law designed to spur development

 Gov. Jack Markell signs SB 191, authorizing the Downtown Development Districts proposal (photo courtesy of Gov. Markell's flickr account)

Gov. Jack Markell signs SB 191, authorizing the Downtown Development Districts proposal (photo courtesy of Gov. Markell's flickr account)

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell signed into law a measure he hopes will jump-start development, spur job growth and create stable communities within urban areas.

Flanked by state lawmakers, local officials and community leaders from all three counties on Thursday, Markell signed Senate Bill 191 to establish economic development incentives that would make Delaware’s downtowns attractive to builders who are looking to invest. 

First proposed in the governor’s State of the State address in January, SB 191 creates what are called “Downtown Development Districts,” or a small number of areas in cities and towns that would qualify for significant development incentives and other state benefits.

Markell said people across the country are rediscovering their cities and towns, and Delaware should get in on the ground floor.  

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“This urban resurgence is beginning to happen in Delaware as well — but it could use a ‘shot in the arm,'” Markell said. “It is my hope that this innovative new program to revitalize our downtowns will bring much-needed energy and resources to areas of our state that have been overlooked for too long.”

The bill passed unanimously in the General Assembly after receiving support from various municipalities and community organizations. 

“Strong downtowns have the potential to be tremendous catalysts for developing stronger cities across the board, but to achieve that, downtowns have to overcome the challenges of aging buildings and infrastructure.” said Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington East, the bill’s lead sponsor. “This new law will help marshal the kinds of resources we need to meet those challenges and will encourage the all-important investment and support from the private sector that is needed to make this succeed.”

Through the new program, localities can apply to have a portion of their city, town, or unincorporated area designated as a Downtown Development District (DDD). Applications will be evaluated based on need, the quality of the submitted development plan and local incentives offered. Following the initial round of applications, the governor will select at least one, but no more than three districts.

Under the program, the first three districts must include one district in each county. Up to 15 total districts will be able to qualify at one time. Subject to funding, investors in the selected districts would be entitled to grants of up 20 percent of their construction costs.

“A downtown like Dover’s draws as much from its rich past as it does from its plans for the future, and our history compliments and enriches what we want to see come next,” said Rep. Darryl Scott, D-Dover, who also sponsored the bill. “This initiative is about infusing these historic neighborhoods with fresh ideas and renewed enthusiasm.”

Grants will be available for all types of projects (residential, commercial, and mixed-use), and may be used by for-profit builders and investors, nonprofit organizations, businesses and homeowners. The grants will be administered by the Delaware State Housing Authority.

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